Kind Hearts And Coronets - Film (Movie) Plot and Review





UK, 1949


Director: Robert Hamer

Production: Ealing Studios; black and white, 35mm; running time: 106 minutes; length: 9529 feet. Released 1949. Filmed in England.


Producer: Michael Balcon; screenplay: Robert Hamer and John Dighton, from the novel Israel Rank by Roy Horniman; photography: Douglas Slocombe; editor: Peter Tanner; music: Wolfgang Mozart.


Cast: Dennis Price ( Louis Mazzini/Mazzini's father ); Joan Greenwood ( Sibella ); Valerie Hobson ( Edith ); Alec Guinness ( Ascoyne d'Ascoyne/Henry d'Ascoyne/Canon d'Ascoyne/Admiral d'Ascoyne/General d'Ascoyne/Lady Agatha d'Ascoyne/Lord d'Ascoyne/Ethelbert/the Old Duke ); Audrey Fildes ( Mrs. Mazzini ); John Penrose ( Lionel ); Miles Malleson ( Hangman ); Clive Morton ( Prison governor ).


Award: Venice Film Festival, Best Scenography, 1949.

Publications


Script:

Hamer, Robert, and John Dighton, Kind Hearts and Coronets , New York, 1974, revised edition, 1984.

Books:

Tynan, Kenneth, Alec Guinness , New York, 1955.

Balcon, Michael, A Lifetime of Films , London, 1969.

Butler, Ivan, Cinema in Britain , New York, 1973.

Betts, Ernest, The Film Business: A History of British Cinema , New York, 1973.

Barr, Charles, Ealing Studios , London, 1977, 1982, 1999.

Perry, George, Forever Ealing , London, 1981.

Hunter, Allan, Alec Guinness on Screen , London, 1982.

Kurdish, Laurence, Michael Balcon: The Pursuit of British Cinema , New York, 1984.

Taylor, John Russell, Alec Guinness: A Celebration , London, 1984, 1994.

Guinness, Alec, Blessings in Disguise , London, 1985.

Missler, Andreas, Alec Guinness: Seine Filme, sein Leben , Munich, 1987.

Von Gunden, Kenneth, Alec Guinness: The Films , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1987.

Brown, Geoff, Michael Balcon: Pursuit of Britain , New York, 1990.

Guinness, Alec, My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor , New York, 1998.


Articles:

Schwerin, Jules, in Films in Review (New York), March 1950.

Lockart, Freda Bruce, "Interview with Robert Hamer," in Sight and Sound (London), October-December 1951.

Hill, Derek, "Man of Many Faces," in Films and Filming (London), February 1955.

Tynan, Kenneth, "Ealing: The Studio in Suburbia," in Films and Filming (London), November and December 1955.

McVay, Douglas, "Alec Guinness," in Films and Filming (London), May 1961.

Houston, Penelope, "Survivor," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1962–63.

Stanbrook, Alan, in Films and Filming (London), April 1964.

Mazoyer, J., "Noblesse oblige," in Image et Son (Paris), no. 274, 1973.

Barr, Charles, "Projecting Britain and the British Character: Ealing Studios," in Screen (London), Summer 1974.

Hopkins, Charles, in Magill's Survey of Cinema 2 , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.

Porter, Vincent, "The Context of Creativity: Ealing Studios and Hammer Films," and Ian Green, "Ealing: In the Comedy Frame," both in British Cinema History , edited by James Curran, and Vincent Porter, London, 1983.

Glassman, M., and J. Wolfe, "The Studio with the Team Spirit: a Look at Ealing Comedies," in CineAction (Toronto), no. 9, Summer 1987.

Sontag, S., "In Conclusionp" in East-West Film Journal (Honolulu), vol. 2, no. 1, 1987.

Kind Hearts and Coronets
Kind Hearts and Coronets

Palmer, James, "Enunciation and Comedy: Kind Hearts and Coronets ," in Screen (Oxford), vol. 30, no. 1–2, Winter-Spring 1989.

Andrew, Geoff, "Ealing Touch," in Time Out (London), no. 1197, 28 July 1993.


* * *


Kind Hearts and Coronets is an Ealing Comedy in name only. True, it is a comedy, and it was produced by Michael Balcon's Ealing Studios. Even so, the film has little in common with its stablemates. Ealing comedies (with the exception of Mackendrick's) were cosy. Kind Hearts is callous, even cruel. The humour of Ealing comedies was generally warm, cheerful, and folksy; Kind Hearts is cool, ironic and witty. Sex, in Ealing comedies, was kept at a safe distance, and handled (if at all) with embarrassed jocularity; Kind Hearts includes scenes that carry a powerful erotic charge.

Hamer stated his intentions as: "Firstly, that of making a film not noticeably similar to any previously made in the English language. Secondly, that of using this English language, which I love, in a more varied and more interesting way. Thirdly, that of making a picture which paid no regard whatever to established, although not practised, moral convention." Much of the humour is indeed verbal, elegantly Wildean, carried by the hero's voice-over narration—yet always aptly counterpointed by the visual effects. The shape of the film is satisfyingly classic, a long flash-back. It opens with Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) in prison, condemned to death for a murder of which he is innocent, composing his memoirs, in which he recounts all the murders of which he is guilty. His mother, a member of the proud d'Ascoyne clan, had married an Italian singer; for this they disowned her, condemning her to poverty and eventual death. At her grave, Louis vows vengeance, and gradually eliminates every d'Ascoyne (all played by Alec Guinness) between himself and the dukedom.

Louis's narration serves as a unifying factor, effectively sustaining the tone of cool irony throughout the film. Cool—but not cold; there is a pervasive undercurrent of passion beneath the urbane wit, motivating Louis in his systematic slaughter, and surfacing both in the erotic passages with his mistress Sibella (Joan Greenwood), and in his embittered outburst before shooting the Duke, his final victim. The Duke, most repellent of the d'Ascoynes, has been decoyed by Louis into one of his own mantraps; but Louis, too, is caught in his own trap. In revenging himself on the d'Ascoynes for their heartlessness, he has become as heartless, cold and calculating as they.

But the film can readily be enjoyed without any such consideration of its serious undertones. Kind Hearts is very funny, wickedly subversive, and probably the finest black comedy the British cinema has every produced. It is certainly Hamer's masterpiece, a highly successful fusion of his dominant influences: Wildean comedy, and classic French cinema (notably, in this case, Sacha Guitry and the Renoir of La règle du jeu ). The film made Alec Guinness's international reputation, and rapidly attained the status of a classic—which it has consistently maintained. Such polished excellence makes it even more regrettable that Hamer's masterpiece was also the last major film of his sadly blighted career.

—Philip Kemp

Also read article about Kind Hearts and Coronets from Wikipedia

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