Saturday, March 4, 2017

In short: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Some time in the late Victorian or early Edwardian age. In theory, Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) is a member of the illustrious noble D’Ascoyne family (all of them independent of gender and age to be played by Alec Guiness), eight people away from a dukedom. Unfortunately, he is the product of a (shudder) marriage of love, his blue-blooded mother having married an Italian opera singer and consequently having found herself struck from the family books. Dear mother never really let Louis forget his oh so noble heritage, and the British class system certainly doesn’t help a boy of meagre means to feel valued. So when she dies and the family even refuses her last wish to be interred in the family crypt, Louis decides to take vengeance by somehow killing every single family member, who just happen to also stand in the way of his becoming a duke.

As it turns out, Louis has quite the knack for this sort of thing.

The very, very black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets is one of the most beloved films of the UK’s posh Ealing Studios most beloved films, and even from a position of not being British and nearly 70 years later, it’s not difficult at all to see why. This is one of those perfectly acted, perfectly scripted, perfectly paced films with perfect production design and perfect direction (by Robert Hamer) of the style that is never so crass as to ever hint at its own existence. In other words, its a bit of chore to actually write the film up because “everything’s perfect” might be a big compliment for a film (and one that happens to be a rather good description of Kind Hearts and Coronets), but it’s not really the sort of thing you want to read a blog post for.

Fortunately, the British class system is coming to the rescue here, for, while the film isn’t out to call anyone to revolution and really hedges its bets a bit by placing its plot in the past, its comedy can very easily be read as a deeply acerbic commentary on a society that poisons every human interaction with the concept of class, wasting talent, minds and lives while an absurd class of inbreds who never need show any merits as actual human beings lords it over everyone else. As the film presents it, it’s the kind of world where Louis’s patient campaign of murder seems perfectly logical and reasonable, even if it is in actuality just a different expression of the values demonstrated by the the world around it. The basic tenets of society being utterly absurd, it lends itself wonderfully to comedy.

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