The story of a serial killer is pure comedy for Robert Hamer and Ealing Studios. Eight murders, each hysterically calculated and carefully executed by a delicately precise, mild-mannered Louis Mazzini – this masterpiece exudes an entirely English manner which can be so endearing, so misleading and so hilariously twisted. Kind Hearts and Coronets exceeds dark and engulfs the viewer in the delicately evil and strangely likeable nature of its main character.
The film presents its genius on many levels. Mazzini shows no hesitation in killing off his long line of relatives in order to inherit the family fortune. Each victim (each member of Mazzini’s family) is played by Alec Guinness – whose majestic performance doesn’t seem to falter even for a moment. The humour reverberating throughout is distinctively British, proving to be as dark, ironic and satirical as it ever has been. And unlike many other films simply enveloped within the same — rather broad — genre, Kind Hearts, with all of its wit and charm, gets right under the skin even before a chuckle is earned. For many, it has its place among the very best of Ealing. For me, it has its place among the best films ever made.
Hamer’s film is perfectly balanced. The darkness and humour merge as a result of the high level of wit in the screenplay. The lines are comically black, one after the other, without space to breathe. To say that Mazzini’s narration over the entire story is well-suited would be a gross understatement – with hilariously memorable lines like, “It is so difficult to make a neat trump of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms”. At another point in the film, the Hangman mutters, “a difficult client can make things most distressing, some of them tend to be very hysterical”. The script is, and will always remain remarkably ahead of its time, demonstrating well the inventiveness and creativity of Ealing in the 1940’s.
Dennis Price in the lead comes across undeniably charming, yet spectacularly ruthless – a quality seldom found in your average serial murderer. Alec Guinness hides behind his eight different characters with enjoyable ease, while Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood are both fantastic in their roles. Each actor succeeds in bringing the story alive, bringing the brilliance of the writing into the hearts of its audience. When asked to recommend a comedy of real worth, I usually bring up this classic for its unsentimental, unfailingly intelligent values. It has always been a great example of filmmaking at its best, and a lesson on why filmmakers today should strive for the very best that they can offer.
Kind Hearts and Coronets at IMDb
Kind Hearts and Coronets at Wikipedia
Kind Hearts and Coronets at Rotten Tomatoes
Kind Hearts and Coronets (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb