Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

02 Oct

6a00d8341c2b7953ef013485c24605970cKind Hearts and Coronets is a completely droll and delightful comedy of murders, which happens to feature Alec Guinness eight times over. He also dies eight times over. He is blown up (twice), shot, drowned (twice), poisoned, and has his hot air balloon punctured by an arrow. He also manages to die of a perfectly ordinary heart attack. By the end, there isn’t an Alec Guinness left standing.

The story follows the quest of a draper’s assistant, Louis Mazzini, (Dennis Price) to murder his way to the D’Ascoyne Dukedom. There are seven D’Ascoyne’s standing in his way (all played by Guinness), not to mention the duke himself (also played by Guinness).

Louis is himself the son of a D’Ascoyne, but she romantically ran off with an Italian tenor and was cut off by the family. But that doesn’t prevent her from raising her son with the utmost conviction of his family worth and the grievous offense done to his mother by the family. He decides on revenge after she dies and gets to work, starting things off with an improvised double drowning.

The film makes ruthless fun of the aristocrats and one is almost on Louis’ side for how they all refuse to acknowledge his existence, except that Louis is just as much of a snob as they are.

The two women in Louis life are Sibella (Joan Greenwood), his childhood sweetheart, and Edith (Valerie Hobson), the teetotaler wife of young Henry D’Ascoyne. After Henry is blown up (in his dark room – he’s a photography enthusiast), Edith becomes a widow and Louis determines to marry her. He believes she would make an ideal, dignified and gracious Duchess.

In the meantime, he carries on an affair with Sibella, who he does not think would make a very good Duchess, though she is the only person to see through him. Louis thinks that he has the upper hand and can discard her at will, but she turns out to be every bit as good at scheming as he is, if not a bit better. In hindsight, he really should have just married her – they would have been unstoppable.

Alec Guinness

Alec Guinness

Dennis Price is superb as the man who would be a duke, narrating his story on the night before he is to be hanged (by an executioner thrilled to his core that he is to meet – and hang – a Duke…with a silk noose, no less). It is primarily his story. However, the film is most famous for allowing Alec Guinness the chance to play eight different members of the same family, roles which he approaches with a hilarious kind of tongue-in-cheek deadpan expression. Suppressed glee, perhaps. All one has to do practically is look at Alec Guinness in one of his roles and break out laughing.

He plays the duke, a young photography enthusiast oppressed by his wife’s extreme goodness (and insistence that he abstain from alcohol), a stubborn admiral, a general, a doddering old clergyman, a radical suffragette (my favorite of his roles), an old banker, and a roue, who is also the son of the banker.

Apparently, Alec Guinness was offered four roles, but when he read the script he thought it was so marvelous he suggested that he play eight, instead.

What is interesting is how understated it is all done, though. There is only one shot where we have all eight Guinness’ D’Ascoyne’s together and in every other case they are in separate scenes of their own. None of it is in the least showy. The one scene where he does appear in full force (at church) was evidently very difficult to do, however, and it took several days. They would expose different portions of the film, each with a different Alec Guinness.

This is brilliant British comedy, about as funny as anything I’ve ever seen, in truth. I think, in time, this could become a real favorite.

This is part of the Dual Roles Blogathon. The rest of the posts can be found in recaps for Days 1, 2, and 3.

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Posted by on October 2, 2016 in Movies


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24 responses to “Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

  1. Silver Screenings

    October 2, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    This sounds like almost too much fun. When you think about it, it would have been a shame if Alec Guinness HADN’T starred in a movie with eight different roles – and one of them a suffragette, no less! I also love the idea of his being done away with 8 times.

    I laughed when you said at the end of the film, there wasn’t an Alec Guinness standing.

    Thanks for inviting me to co-host this terrific blogathon, and thanks for the introduction to this film! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • christinawehner

      October 2, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      It’s true…it’s almost too delightful, one hardly knows how to contain the glee. Every time we are introduced to a knew version of him, I had to laugh, just seeing him. 🙂 He does seem absolutely perfect for the role(s). His suffragette was particularly hilarious – I loved the beneficent expression he adopted. 🙂

      Thank you so much for co-hosting! I couldn’t have done it without you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Simoa

    October 2, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    Eight roles?! That is astonishing. Looks like the perfect British comedy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      October 2, 2016 at 6:08 pm

      Yes, I think you are right – it is the perfect British comedy. Utterly delightful!


  3. Joshua Wilson

    October 2, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    Glad you loved it. The scene where he visits the parson just kills me. I had to stop the movie from laughing too much when I first saw it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      October 2, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      Oh, yes – that scene is so much fun! And when he gets in the hot air balloon…the beneficent expression he on his face while tossing leaflets down towards the city with his hair streaming in the wind…nearly undid me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. carygrantwonteatyou

    October 2, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    This sounds hilarious. Can’t believe I’ve never heard of or seen it!! Definitely on my list. Thanks for a great blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      October 2, 2016 at 6:13 pm

      I know – it really deserves to be better known! I only came across it accidentally while looking for something else. I hope you get to see it.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the blogathon and could participate! It was lovely to host.


  5. Katie's Time Travelling Kitchen

    October 3, 2016 at 1:53 am

    This is such a ridiculous film, but I love it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman)

    October 3, 2016 at 8:08 am

    Years ago I worked with a young woman at an office who had attended the screening of an “old movie” the night before and was shocked because it was about murder and everyone was laughing. I asked her to describe the movie and when she did I and realized that it was KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, I started laughing. She was one very confused young woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      October 3, 2016 at 10:16 am

      Ha, ha! Oh dear…it’s always interesting how some forms or topics of humor just do not appeal to certain people. 🙂 I actually know some people who I don’t think would be as comfortable with comedies about murders…they consider murder to be too serious a subject. It’s interesting where different people draw the line on what we consider acceptable topics for humor.

      That would have been so lovely to see a screening of Kind Hearts and Coronets, though!


  7. Keisha

    October 4, 2016 at 6:01 am

    This is one of my favorite British films for sure, I love the humor in it. You make a great point about how understated Alec is in each role he plays here. I think he knew he didn’t have to overdo it since he’d essentially steal the show with each different appearance he made.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      October 4, 2016 at 9:25 am

      That is very interesting…I think you’re right. He doesn’t seem to feel the need to overplay his roles and all and is all the funnier for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Quiggy

    October 5, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    Upstaged me with my 7 roles, did you? OK. 😀 Guess I gotta look for this. I’ve heard the title but never seen it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      October 5, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      I didn’t intend to! 🙂 It is really worth seeing, though. Even funnier than I was expecting.


  9. Eric Binford

    October 5, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    I love this film. I’m a huge fan of the Ealing Comedies. Alec Guinness is fantastic. People tend to forget that he was a farceur par excellence! Great review, Christina!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      October 6, 2016 at 10:54 am

      Thanks! Yes, it’s true…I had no idea prior to learning about this film that he could be so incredible funny. He really deserves to be remembered for it, though.

      I can see why you love these Ealing Comedies. Last night I watched Passport to Pimlico and laughed so much. Next up is The Importance of Being Earnest. Like Guinness, they really deserve to be better known!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Eric Binford

        October 10, 2016 at 2:00 pm

        Passport to Pimlico is a little gem! Anyhow, Hollywood never exploited Guinness’s talent for comedy. Murder by Death is an exception to the rule — Guinness is hilarious as a blind butler! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • christinawehner

          October 10, 2016 at 8:02 pm

          That is really too bad they didn’t give him more to work with. I wonder if he preferred comedy or drama more. I’ll have to look up the one, though! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Le

    October 7, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Having just watched The Bridge on the River Kwai yesterday, I’m currently in need of some more Alec Guinness – and here I can find eight times his usual dosis! I’ll certainly check this film, sounds great!
    Thanks for co-hosting this fun event!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      October 7, 2016 at 8:46 pm

      And thank you for helping make it so fun! 🙂 The Bridge on the River Kwai was one of the first films I saw Guinness in (except for Star Wars), but you remind me I really need revisit that one. I think I would appreciate it so much better. Did you like it? He’s an incredible actor, isn’t he! I hope you get to see this one – he has a real gift for comedy, too.



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