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Kind Hearts and Coronets(1949)

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teaser Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

SYNOPSIS

Louis Mazzini is an Englishman born into poverty but with a distant connection to a dukedom on his mother's side. Louis decides to claim the title of duke, which he believes is his birthright, to avenge the shabby treatment his mother received by her aristocratic D'Ascoyne relatives. The only trouble is that no less than eight D'Ascoyne family members stand between him and his title. Louis solves the problem by systematically bumping off each D'Ascoyne in increasingly clever ways.

Director: Robert Hamer
Producer: Michael Balcon
Screenplay: Robert Hamer and John Dighton
Based on the novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Art Direction: William Kellner
Editing: Peter Tanner
Costume Designer: Anthony Mendleson
Cast: Dennis Price (Louis), Alec Guinness (The Duke / The Banker / The Parson / The General / The Admiral / Young Ascoyne / Young Henry / Lady Agatha), Valerie Hobson (Edith), Joan Greenwood (Sibella), Audrey Fildes (Mama), Miles Malleson (The Hangman), Clive Morton (The Prison Governor), John Penrose (Lionel), Cecil Ramage (Crown Counsel), Hugh Griffith (Lord High Steward), John Salew (Mr. Perkins), Eric Messiter (Burgoyne), Lyn Evans (The Farmer), Barbara Leake (The Schoolmistress), Peggy Ann Clifford (Maud), Anne Valery (The Girl in the Punt), Arthur Lowe (The Reporter).
BW-107m. Closed Captioning.

Why KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS is Essential

With its delicious bone-dry humor, Kind Hearts and Coronets is widely considered to be one of the smartest and best black comedies from England ever made.

Kind Hearts and Coronets is also recognized as possibly the greatest creative achievement of British writer/director Robert Hamer as well as one of the most successful films that Ealing Studios ever made.

Kind Hearts and Coronets was one of distinguished actor Alec Guinness's earliest films, following on the heels of Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948). Guinness is a marvel to watch in his tour de force performance as he takes on eight different roles throughout the film as the doomed members of the D'Ascoyne family. His work in the film made him an international star and quickly established him as one of Britain's most talented and versatile actors.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

In 1995 there was a British radio broadcast of Kind Hearts and Coronets on BBC7. It featured Michael Kitchen as Louis Mazzini and Harry Enfield as the various members of the D'Ascoyne family.

Kind Hearts and Coronets turned out to be one of Ealing Studios' most successful films. It ushered in a string of popular Ealing comedies that followed including The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Man in the White Suit (1951), and The Ladykillers (1955). Quirky comedies soon came to define the work that came out of Ealing until Michael Balcon lost control of the studio at the end of the decade.

Following the film's success, Alec Guinness embarked on a long fruitful relationship with the studio. He made five more films with Ealing and three more with director Robert Hamer, though none ever surpassed the success of Kind Hearts and Coronets.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

The title Kind Hearts and Coronets comes from the Tennyson poem Lady Clara Vere de Vere: "Kind hearts are more than coronets / And simple faith than Norman blood."

Much of Kind Hearts and Coronets was shot on location at Leeds Castle in Kent, England. The castle has a fascinating history that dates back to its original construction in 1119. It was the home to six medieval queens of England before becoming privately owned. Since its days attached to royalty, the castle has also served as a prison and a convalescent home. Currently Leeds Castle is a beautiful tourist destination that attracts visitors from all over the world.

Kind Hearts and Coronets was the first of four films total that Alec Guinness made with director Robert Hamer. The others were Father Brown (1954), To Paris with Love (1955) and The Scapegoat (1959).

Writer/director Robert Hamer also directed the wonderfully chilling mirror sequence in the classic 1945 British horror film Dead of Night.

Alec Guinness admitted that he had based his character of the D'Ascoyne Admiral who goes down with his ship on someone he knew. When Guinness had been in the British military, there had once been an admiral who had reprimanded him for wearing a scarf over his uniform on a freezing day. Guinness thought of him on the day they shot his Admiral character's demise into a watery grave. "I am ashamed to say it now," said Guinness, "but I had my little revenge and it tasted sweet."

When Kind Hearts and Coronets was released, it was well-received by critics and audiences who embraced the film's wicked but good-natured humor. Alec Guinness was quickly singled out in rave notices for his tour de force performance. The attention quickly elevated Guinness into the spotlight as one of Britain's most talented and versatile actors. The attention, while certainly deserved, unfortunately eclipsed Dennis Price's memorable turn as Louis, the main character of the story. Price's nuanced characterization of the unapologetic murderer was the glue that held the story together and contributed immeasurably to the film's overall success.

When Kind Hearts and Coronets was released in the U.S. the following year in 1950, the ending had to be slightly changed. The British version had ended on an ambiguous note with Louis realizing with horror that he has left his incriminating memoirs in his prison cell following his release. In order to clarify the situation and satisfy the U.S. censors for American theaters, a new sequence was added in which the executioner and prison head discovered the evidence, leaving no doubt that Louis would pay for his crimes.

Of all the feature films made at Ealing Studios under his direction, Michael Balcon always considered Kind Hearts and Coronets to be his personal favorite. The quality of the film, he felt, would always stand the test of time. He was right. Kind Hearts and Coronets has endured as a shining example of British comedy at its absolute blackest, funniest and best.

The British version of Kind Hearts and Coronets is the one most commonly seen today while the alternate version (featuring the different ending) still occasionally turns up on television.

Famous Quotes from KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS

"I shot an arrow in the air; she fell to earth in Berkeley Square." Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) after killing Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne by shooting an arrow into her hot air balloon

"While I never admired Edith as much as when I was with Sibella, I never longed for Sibella as much as when I was with Edith." Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price)

"The Reverend Lord Henry was not one of those newfangled parsons who carry the principles of their vocation uncomfortably into private life." Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price)

"It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms." Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price)

"I always say that my west window has all the exuberance of Chaucer without, happily, any of the concomitant crudities of his period." The Parson (Alec Guinness) to Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price)

"Even my lamented master, the great Mr. Benny himself, never had the privilege of hanging a duke. What a finale to a lifetime in the public service!"
"Finale?"
"Yes, I intend to retire. After using the silken rope, never again be content with hemp."

--Mr. Elliot (Miles Malleson) and Prison Governor (Clive Morton)

"Oh, Louis! I don't want to marry Lionel!"
"Why not?"
"He's so dull."
"I must admit he exhibits the most extraordinary capacity for middle age that I've ever encountered in a young man of twenty-four."
--Sibella (Joan Greenwood) and Louis (Dennis Price)

"He says he wants to go to Europe to expand his mind."
"He certainly has room to do so."
--Sibella (Joan Greenwood) and Louis (Dennis Price) talking about Lionel

"I had not forgotten or forgiven the boredom of the sermon of young Henry's funeral, and I decided to promote the Reverend Lord Henry D'Ascoyne to next place on the list." Louis (Dennis Price) reflecting on who he decides will be murdered next

"I couldn't help feeling that even Sibella's capacity for lying was going to be taxed to the utmost. Time had brought me revenge on Lionel, and as the Italian proverb says, revenge is a dish which people of taste prefer to eat cold." Louis (Dennis Price)

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

England's Ealing Studios had been around since the beginning of sound under various names and ownership before being taken over by new head of production Michael Balcon in 1938. Surrounded by a pool of some of Britain's top creative talent, Balcon strove to make quality original films. During World War II Ealing churned out some excellent war films and costume dramas. However, it was the comedy genre that ultimately came to define Ealing Studios under Balcon's leadership.

The Ealing comedies of this period generally focused on somewhat eccentric British characters who had been thrust into unconventional circumstances. "The comedies reflected the country's moods, social conditions and aspirations," said Michael Balcon in his 1969 autobiography A Lifetime of Films. "Our theory of comedy - if we had one - was ludicrously simple. We took a character - or group of characters - and let him or them run up against an apparently insoluble problem, with the audience hoping that a way out would be found, which it usually was. The comedy lay in how the characters did get around their problem..." The protagonists, no matter how despicable, were usually characters the average person could relate to in some way. Balcon went on to add that Ealing comedies were "about ordinary people with the stray eccentric among them - films about daydreamers, mild anarchists, little men who long to kick the boss."

In the years following World War II there was a collective need to lighten up, which contributed to Ealing's decision to start making their own brand of eccentric comedies. "...I think our first desire was to get rid of as many wartime restrictions as possible and get going," said Balcon. "The country was tired of regulations and regimentation, and there was a mild anarchy in the air. In a sense our comedies were a reflection of this mood...a safety valve for our more anti-social impulses."

According to Balcon, the idea for Kind Hearts and Coronets came when a writer named Michael Pertwee discovered a "tattered Victorian novel" called Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman while browsing in an old bookstore. The book about how one man systematically murdered all those who stood between him and a substantial inheritance was not a comedy. Balcon speculated that "it must have been Michael and Robert [Hamer] who had the idea to use the theme for a comedy - surely the first 'black comedy' made in [England]."

Writer/director Robert Hamer was one of the many talented people at Ealing Studios. He had previously directed the memorable mirror sequence in the 1945 horror classic Dead of Night as well as the feature film It Always Rains on Sunday (1947). Hamer was looking to make a film that was "not noticeably similar to any previously made in the English language," he told Sight and Sound in a 1951 interview. He wanted a film that would not shock, per se, but ignore moral conventions "from an impulse to escape the somewhat inflexible and unshaded characterization which convention tends to enforce in scripts." The novel Israel Rank, he knew, would be the perfect source material for such a film.

Hamer teamed up with John Dighton to adapt Israel Rank into the screenplay that became Kind Hearts and Coronets. Only the basic plot structure from the novel remained by the time Hamer and Dighton were done, and the tone had been changed from serious to droll, tongue-in-cheek satire. Hamer, it was decided, would direct the film.

British actor Dennis Price was cast in the leading role of Louis Mazzini. It was a plum role but required a subtle touch that was crucial to the success of the film.

In an inspired idea, Hamer wanted the same actor to play all of the doomed members of the D'Ascoyne family, which numbered only three in the initial stages of the screenplay. Michael Balcon immediately thought of Alec Guinness. Guinness had just come off of two films in which he had done solid work: Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948). He was not yet a major star, but Balcon had always wanted to work with him. "As a theatergoer I had watched Alec's performances with great admiration," said Balcon in his autobiography, "and I was determined to use him in films at the earliest opportunity." Guinness had recently been placed under contract with the Rank Organisation, a British entertainment company that enjoyed a professional alliance with Ealing. "There was nothing much planned for Guinness's future in the Rank programme," said Balcon, "so I had no difficulty in obtaining his services for Kind Hearts and Coronets, as Ealing was able to draw on the Rank group of contract artists."

Guinness read the script and thought it was "brilliant". It was he who persuaded Hamer to increase the number of D'Ascoyne family members he played from three to eight. "If you want seven or eight people to look like me," he told Hamer at the time, "why don't I play them all myself?"

Not everyone was as supportive of Alec Guinness taking on such a massive role in the film. "There were those who, to put it mildly, had doubts about my wisdom in casting Guinness not just for one comedy part but for eight in one film," said Michael Balcon in his autobiography. "I remember standing on the steps of the Dorchester Hotel one night after a dinner party of film men when I had mentioned my plans for Kind Hearts. One of my fellow guests, who was leaving with me - an important man in the film business-suddenly stood quite still and stared at me. He had apparently been thinking about what I had said earlier and now with this strange expression fixed on me he said slowly, 'Mick, do you really believe you can make a film star out of Alec Guinness?' 'Yes,' I said confidently. 'I believe that in the right parts he has a quality comparable with Chaplin.' 'Then,' said the other man conclusively, 'you must be out of your bloody mind.'"

Rounding out the stellar cast of the dark comedy were Joan Greenwood as Sibella, Louis' unscrupulous childhood sweetheart, Valerie Hobson as Edith, the aristocratic widow of one of Louis' victims, and John Penrose as Lionel, Sibella's weak-willed husband.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Kind Hearts and Coronets was shot at Ealing Studios with some location work done at Leeds Castle in Kent, England. The postcard-perfect castle doubled in the film as Chalfont, the D'Ascoyne family retreat.

Director Robert Hamer and Alec Guinness got along extremely well during the shoot and formed a friendship that would last for many years to come. "Robert and I spoke the same language and laughed at the same things," said Guinness in his 1985 memoir Blessings in Disguise. "He was finely-tuned, full of wicked glee, and was marvelous to actors - appreciative and encouraging."

Guinness took his extensive role very seriously, always showing up to work every day thoroughly professional and prepared. Playing eight different roles did come with its challenges, however. "Quick transformation from one character to another has a disturbing effect," he told Collier's magazine in 1952. "I had to ask myself from time to time: 'Which one am I now?' I had fearful visions of looking like one of the characters and thinking and speaking like one of the others. It would have been quite disastrous to have faced the cameras in the make-up of the suffragette and spoken like the admiral."

The impressive trick in the film where Alec Guinness appears as six D'Ascoyne family members at the same time in one shot was a painstaking process since special effects techniques were still somewhat primitive at the time. As Garry O'Connor, author of the 2002 book Alec Guinness: A Life, explains: "The lens was laboriously shuttered and finely adjusted to open in part for each new impersonation. It took three days at Ealing to shoot the requisite number of fifteen-second shots, while at any moment the composite picture could have been ruined if Alec had not complied with the technical complexities of the placings."

In his memoir Blessings in Disguise, Alec Guinness reflected upon his gratitude towards Michael Balcon and Ealing Studios for advancing his career, but noted - tongue-in-cheek - that it seemed that people at the studio often tried to kill him. "Of course I knew they weren't really trying to kill me; it just struck me only that they were rather casual about my safety," he said. One such example occurred on the set of Kind Hearts and Coronets. "During Kind Hearts and Coronets I was required to make a balloon ascent dressed as Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne, in Edwardian clothes," explained Guinness. "It was to take place on an afternoon from a field near Pinewood Studios. The weather was sunny, with a warm westerly breeze and I was enchanted at the idea of going up in a balloon. The only anxiety I had was about insurance, which I guessed would be inadequate to support my wife and young son should there be an accident. Accordingly I spoke to the producers about it. 'You're well covered,' they said, and when I asked for how much I think they told me 10,000 pounds. I decided it wasn't nearly enough and informed them I wouldn't go up more than fifteen feet in the air unless they raised the insurance to 50,000 pounds. They were very huffy and said, 'You will have Belgium's greatest balloonist concealed in the basket with you so you can't possibly come to any harm.' They refused to increase the insurance so when we came to do the shot I insisted on being let down shortly after we had risen from the ground. Contempt was written on all faces. Belgium's greatest balloonist was dressed and be-wigged as Lady Agatha and sailed away. And away. At speed. And then out of sight. The wind took over and the poor man was found some fifty miles away, floundering in a long skirt in the Thames estuary where he had been forced to ditch."

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

A deliciously nasty comedy, Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) pits the British aristocracy against the determination of one man to join its ranks by any means necessary. The movie opens with the aristocratic Louis Mazzini, Duke of Chalfont (Dennis Price), sitting in a prison cell, awaiting execution for murder. Told in flashback as Louis recounts how he climbed from commoner to Duke, the story returns to a turn-of-the-century England sharply divided along class lines. Outraged at his mother's rejection by the aristocratic d'Ascoyne family because she married an Italian opera singer, Louis vows to rise to the top of the d'Ascoyne clan to become the Duke of Chalfont.

First he promises to kill each one of its eight living members. In addition to his plan to avenge his mother, denied a respectable burial in the d'Ascoyne family plot, Louis also plots to win the hand of his childhood sweetheart, the vain and opportunistic Sibella (Joan Greenwood). But when Sibella marries a wealthier man, Louis's desire to rise from a humble department store clerk to Duke intensifies.

Though Louis is presented as an adversary of the spoiled, cruel d'Ascoynes, it has been pointed out that he also shares their callousness, evident in the casual way in which he commits murder. But at heart, Louis is a rebel who dismantles the unjust British class system via murder, giving vent to the audience's own antisocial impulses.

In his biography, Michael Balcon Presents, the Ealing studio head credited writer/producer Michael Pertwee for the film's unique tone, writing that Pertwee "found a tattered Victorian novel which treated with deadly seriousness the murder of a number of people who stood between a man and a fortune, and it must have been Michael and Robert [Hamer] who had the idea to use the theme for a comedy - surely the first 'black comedy' made in this country."

An imaginative, often surreal satire in the style of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964), Kind Hearts and Coronets has the entire debauched line of d'Ascoynes - from the furious, window-smashing suffragist Lady Agatha to the drunkard reverend, the Canon d'Ascoyne - played by the chameleon-like Alec Guinness. Guinness's multifaceted role made the actor an international star whom Balcon believed had "a quality comparable with Chaplin."

The clever casting stunt of using the same actor to play multiple roles is a wry commentary on the cloistered, elitist, nearly inbred nature of the d'Ascoyne clan, while adding a touch of absurd comedy to a storyline that might otherwise seem unrelentingly dark. Equally vital to the film's success is its loop-de-loop narrative, which includes many unexpected twists of fate and a surprise ending. In his biography Blessings in Disguise, Guinness revealed a humorous anecdote about the famous balloon sequence where he was playing Lady Agatha d'Ascoyne: "I was enchanted at the idea of going up in a balloon. The only anxiety I had was about insurance, which I guessed would be inadequate to support my wife and young son should there be an accident. Accordingly I spoke to the producers about it....and when I asked for how much I think they told me 10,000 pounds. I decided it wasn't nearly enough and informed them I wouldn't go up more than fifteen feet in the air unless they raised the insurance...They were very huffy and said, 'You will have Belgium's greatest balloonist concealed in the basket with you so you can't possibly come to any harm.' They refused to increase the insurance so when we came to do the shot I insisted on being let down shortly after we had risen from the ground...Belgium's greatest balloonist was dressed and be-wigged as Lady Agatha and sailed away. And away. At speed. And then out of sight. The wind took over and the poor man was found some fifty miles away, floundering in a long skirt in the Thames estuary where he had been forced to ditch. Smugly at home I sat down to a hot dinner."

As equally captivating as Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets is Dennis Price as the self-interested, conniving, amoral antihero of the film who is nevertheless utterly sympathetic and engaging in his murderous quest. The world Price lives in seems in every way equal to his own cruel vantage point, from the scheming of the beautiful but shallow Sibella to the d'Ascoynes themselves, who place "man traps" on their grounds to maim the poor poachers who hunt on their lavish estates and justify any vice with the sense of entitlement great wealth gives.

Director Robert Hamer and John Dighton's mordantly witty script for this classic Ealing Studios comedy was based upon Roy Horniman's Israel Rank. Along with Whiskey Galore!, Tight Little Island and Passport to Pimlico, also released in 1949, Kind Hearts and Coronets sealed the Ealing Studio's reputation for turning out clever, crafted comedies. It was also one of the few notable Ealing comedies not written by Ealing regulars T.E.B. Clarke or directed by Alexander Mackendrick.

Director: Robert Hamer
Producer: Michael Balcon
Screenplay: Robert Hamer and John Dighton, based on a novel by Roy Horniman
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Production Design: William Kellner
Music: Ernest Irving
Cast: Dennis Price (Louis Mazzini), Valerie Hobson (Edith d'Ascoyne), Joan Greenwood (Sibella), Alec Guinness (Duke, Banker, Parson, General, Admiral, Young Ascoyne D'Ascoyne, Lady Agatha), Audrey Fildes (Mrs. Mazzini), Miles Malleson (The Hangman), Hugh Griffith (Lord High Steward).
BW-107m. Closed captioning.

by Felicia Feaster

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teaser Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

AWARDS AND HONORS

In 1999 the British Film Institute (BFI) ranked Kind Hearts and Coronets number six on its list of the Top 100 British films of all time.

In 2000 the British magazine Total Film voted Kind Hearts and Coronets as the 25th greatest comedy film of all time. In 2004 the magazine named it the 7th greatest British film of all time saying that the film was "a reminder that, once upon a time, British cinema could match anything that came out of Hollywood."

Kind Hearts and Coronets was nominated for a BAFTA Film Award as Best British Film.

Alec Guinness won Best Actor from The National Board of Review for his work in Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Kind Hearts and Coronets was nominated for a Golden Lion at the 1949 Venice Film Festival.

Time Magazine named Kind Hearts and Coronets as one of the 100 best movies of all time.

THE CRITIC'S CORNER KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS

"Kind Hearts and Coronets...is a blue-ribbon British comedy filled with wit, irony and impudent fun. In detailing the memoirs of an Edwardian gentleman who systematically murders his way into the peerage, it combines the overcivilized urbanity and understatement of the English comic style with the saucy irreverence of the French comic spirit...Guinness' eight-role performance is a brilliantly successful tour de force, with each character so sharply defined and acted that it is hard to see how eight different players could have done as well. But it is a measure of the movie's quality that the rest of the picture does not fall in Guinness' shadow. Actress Hobson and Actor Price...perform impeccably, and Actress Greenwood exudes more sex appeal in her throaty voice than most Hollywood belles summon up from head to toe. All of them should be grateful to Writer-Director Robert Hamer and his co-scripter, John Dighton, for exceptional skill in concocting one of the best films of the year."
- Time Magazine

"Despite its murders and intrigues, its betrayals and blood feuds, Kind Hearts and Coronets has a dry and detached air, established by the memoirs of Louis, who maintains a studied distance from the evils he has committed...The movie is unusually dependent on voice-over narration, objective and understated, which is all the funnier by being so removed from the sensational events taking place. Murder, Louis demonstrates,...can be most agreeably entertaining, so long as the story lingers on the eccentricities of the villain rather than on the unpleasant details of the crime."
Roger Ebert

"...Dennis Price is in top form, giving a quiet, dignified and polished portrayal. Greatest individual acting triumph, however, is scored by Alec Guinness who plays in turn all the members of the ancestral family."
Variety

"If the Ealing Studios classic Kind Hearts and Coronets isn't the blackest of black comedies, then it may well be the driest: It's loaded with devastating slig dropped into the most formal of British sentences...it served as the model for all black comedies that followed."
The A.V. Club

"Peerless black comedy of castoff member of titled family setting out to eliminate them all."
Leonard Maltin, Movie and Video Guide

"This tart black comedy on the craving for social position and the art of murder has a brittle wit that came as a bit of a shock: such amoral lines were not generally spoken in 40s movies. The film is heartless, and that is the secret to its elegance."
- Pauline Kael

"An abundance of Alec Guinness, the delightfully clever young man who racked up a personal triumph in The Cocktail Party this past season on Broadway, is probably the first inducement to which the local community will respond in the cunning new British picture, Kind Hearts and Coronets. For in this delicious little satire on Edwardian manners and morals...the sly and adroit Mr. Guinness plays eight Edwardian fuddy-duds with such devastating wit and variety that he naturally dominates the film. And why not? The protean Mr. Guinness as eight members of a ducal clan that must be got around by a young kinsman bent upon becoming the duke is so deft in his brief impersonations, so sharp and trenchant in his economical thrusts, that with this one film he should garner three or four awards for fine support. But don't let this obvious admiration for Mr. Guinness obscure the fact that the picture itself is a sparkling and sometimes devilishly cutting jest or that the other performers in it are of excellent quality, too. Indeed, Dennis Price as the young man who coolly undertakes a monstrous scheme of killing off all his kinfolk in order to succeed to the family coronet is as able as Mr. Guinness in his single but most demanding role, and Joan Greenwood and Valerie Hobson are provocative as women in his life...For the fact is that such a story of unmitigated contempt for the fundamental laws of society could only be tolerable when played as a spoof-a spoof on the highest level of cultivated humor and device. And that, thanks to all who made this picture-and to Mr. Guinness' incredible skill at vivid impersonation-is what this picture is."
The New York Times

"Disarmingly cool and callous in its literary sophistication, admirably low key in its discreet caricatures of the haute bourgeoisie, impeccable in its period detail (Edwardian), it's a brilliantly cynical film without a hint of middle-class guilt or bitterness."
- The TimeOut Film Guide

"The use off flashback works particularly well, since it allows a voice-over by Louis Mazzini which adds to the dry, black humour and gives the film greater cohesiveness. But perhaps the outstanding performance comes from Alec Guinness, who plays the roles of all eight relatives. This was a feat which was to make him a household name, and establish him as one of the leading British film actors. It is a rare film indeed which manages to make cold-blooded murder appear amusing. That this film succeeds admirably is a measure of the brilliance of the portrayal of polite society Edwardian England, and the charm, wit and elegance with which this black comedy is made."
- Matthew Bull, Edinburgh University Film Society

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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