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July 27, 2010

Kind Hearts and Coronets - Classic Film Pick

Kind_hearts_&_coronets_1949_belgium Robert Hamer's 1949 film is an impeccable premiere example of Black Comedy. "Kind hearts are more than coronets/And simple faith than Norman blood." The title is a couplet from the Tennyson poem "Lady Clara Vere di Vere that announces the state of Noblesse Oblige carried by the film's main character, a wily familial assassin of royal ancestry. Dennis Price gives a composed performance as Louis Mazzini, an exquisitely mannered mother's boy who carries out her demurely expressed wish that eight members of her royal lineage perish for refusing to admit Louis as a member of the D'Ascoyne family. Louis is ninth in line to be the Duke of Chalfont. The current Duke's refusal to grant Louis's mother's dying wish, to be buried at Chalfont in the D'Ascoyne family crypt, is the final insult that sends Louis on an efficient mission of murdering his royal rivals. Screenwriters Robert Hamer and John Dighton adapt Roy Horniman's 1907 novel "Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal" with an ear for Edwardian tactical use of speech that operates on a virtuosic level of sophistication. A love triangle develops between Louis and the relationships he carries on with Edith D'Ascoyne, the widow of his second victim, and Sibella (played with shrewish authority by Joan Greenwood) a childhood soul-mate who is every bit as cunning as Louis. Alec Guinness's irreproachable performance as each of Louis's victims adds an additional masterstroke to a ruthlessly pitched satire about British imperialism backfiring on itself. It's not just a saucy comedy of language and manners, it's take-no-prisoners comedy of death.


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