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No Lighter Treatment of a Serial Killer Ever Made,
This review is from: Kind Hearts And Coronets [DVD] (DVD)
Kind Hearts and Coronets,"(1950), a black comedy/drama, is one of the most famous, and acclaimed, post World War II releases by the British Ealing Studios. See The Definitive Ealing Studios Collection [DVD]. It's generally agreed to be a minimalist masterpiece of wit and irony, made in black and white. Roy Horniman wrote the novel on which it's based, Robert Hamer wrote the screenplay and directed. Two celebrated witty novelists, Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, were hired to work on the script, though nothing specific seems to survive of their efforts. The title of the film is quoted from a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The picture is a costume drama, set at the turn of the 20th century, though it's generally held to reflect the mood of post-war disillusionment common at the time it was made. And some viewers may be startled by the film's use, three times in a few minutes, of the racist n----r word: it was in common use in the U.K. at the time, in the child's nursery rhyme "Eeeny, meeny, miny, mo."
Dennis Price, a leading man of the British cinema in the 1940's, (A Canterbury Tale [DVD] ) stars as Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini. His Mumsie was a D'Ascoyne, one of a leading, influential, titled and wealthy family that disowned/disinherited her when she eloped with an Italian tenor, leaving her to a life of miserable poverty after the singer's untimely death. And to crown insult with injury, they won't even allow poor Mumsie to be buried in the family crypt after her death. So Louis vows revenge - something he's happy to point out that the Italians have always preferred served cold. He decides to murder all the eight D'Ascoynes that stand between him and the family dukedom and estates. He doesn't actually know any of them, of course, not as a poor man working as a sales assistant in a shop, but where there's a will, there's a way. And this is surely the lightest treatment of a serial killer that the world ever has seen, with a cleverly ironic ending.
The movie's probably best known now for the fact that all eight of Louis's victims are played by the talented young Alec Guinness, (most honored recently, as the Jedi Obi Wan Kenobi in 1977's Star Wars - The Original Trilogy [DVD] ; he also won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for 1957's The Bridge On The River Kwai [DVD] ). Guinness was hired to play four of the victims, and volunteered to play them all, in a feat that's never been matched and probably never will be. The vics are of different ages and sexes, talk and walk differently, have different mannerisms, etc. Unfortunately, his two funniest performances are also two of the briefest, the General, and Lady Agatha, suffragist - he's got the galumphing British actress Margaret Rutherford Agatha Christie's Miss Marple Collection - Murder she Said / Murder Ahoy / Murder At The Gallop / Murder Most Foul (4 Discs) (Box Set) (DVD)) down pat, if only he were a little heavier. Guinness said at one point that he lived in terror he would confuse his characters: that he would open his mouth as the "Suffragette," as he persisted in calling this character -- and the General's voice would come out.
The young Joan Greenwood, (The Man In The White Suit [DVD] ), famous for her plummy, husky, sexy voice, and chosen by "Empire Magazine" as #63 of the 100 Sexiest Movie Stars in 1995, plays Louis' life-long chum, and then mistress, the fickle, selfish, manipulative Sibilla. That tall, quintessentially beautiful and elegant English rose (though she was born in Northern Ireland), Valerie Hobson,Great Expectations [DVD] , plays prim Mrs. Henry D'Ascoyne, whom Louis first widows, and then marries. And, says, Louis, how well he could love the one, if only the other were not there.
Miles Malleson briefly shines as a snobbish hangman, wondering how to address a duke, before hanging him. The Welsh-born Hugh Griffith, ( "The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain"), who joined the British Army and served in India and Burma during the War, plays Lord High Steward. Hobson, daughter of a British Army officer, was married to John Profumo, a Member of the British Cabinet, when a sex scandal broke around him in 1963 and rocked the country. She retreated to private life, where she did outstanding charity work for leprosy sufferers.
Dennis Price, star of the film, was a tall, suave, elegant, popular leading man of the time. He was born to privilege, as the son of a brigadier general, whose family expected him to go into the army or the church, as they had for generations. But he became an actor, generally playing upper-crust characters. His initial entry into the theater was mentored by John Gielgud and Noel Coward. Hello; you have to say, didn't that ring any bells, as both performers were members in good standing of Britain's elite gay mafia? And his vibe in the movie is hardly that of a lusty man? Be that as it may, very soon after making "Kind Hearts," by the 1950's, Price was a serious alcoholic, no longer capable of carrying a movie. (He did contribute a good cameo to 1959's I'm All Right Jack [DVD] . Sadly, it seems likely his double life undid him. Truth is so much tougher to handle than fiction.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Oct 2011 01:34:14 BDT
Fascinating review Stephanie, particularly the litle known details you give. If I may be so bold, however, I think you mistake Hugh Griffith for Kenneth Griffith (birth name apparently Griffiths) in 'The Englishman who went up a hill...' Hugh Griffith died in 1980, another of many fine performers whose lives involved a surfeit of alcohol.
In reply to an earlier post on 8 Oct 2011 15:30:22 BDT
Bedinog, You may well be right on the Griffiths, though I have always been fond of Hugh, and his eyebrows. Or ever since TOM JONES, at any rate. He makes an early appearance in THE HORSES MOUTH, and MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, too, trying to play it straight,
Posted on 23 Feb 2013 12:30:53 GMT
Jazz Person says:
I do not see that a review of a great film, with a great and in some ways unequaled performance by Dennis Price, needs to contain information, some of it disparaging, about his private life.
In reply to an earlier post on 23 Feb 2013 13:11:41 GMT
Jazz Person, You make an excellent and appropriate point, and I may even have broken a protocol here, am not a professional reviewer. I did, and do feel that it is too bad about Price, he was obviously a highly-skilled light comedian, but it appears his dark secret ruined his work and life: I hope that never happens to anyone else.
In reply to an earlier post on 23 Feb 2013 17:56:18 GMT
Jazz Person says:
Whatever you consider to be Dennis Price's "dark secret" and what you call the subsequent ruination of his work has no place in a review of a film in which he excels.
If you have nothing to say about his performance in this film, you should consider saying nothing.
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