Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

A delightful little film about civility, class and murder, Kind Hearts and Cornets is a morbid revenge tale set in the prim and proper times of dukes and ladies in the country of Britain. While Alfred Hitchcock was making grotesque little tales for the masses, Kind Hearts and Coronets removes all the low art trappings, creating a film for the more sophisticated and refined viewer.

However, much to the shock of the audience, the protagonist, Louis Mazzini (Dennis Prince), is on the lowest rung of the social ladder. His mother, by blood, is of the affluent D’Ascoyne family, but ostracized after she marries for love. After her death, the hero decides to avenge her death and kill everyone in line to be the Duke of D’Ascoyne, placing himself in the position.

His motivation, be it misguided, is understandable, given the fact he far outclasses those around him. Furthermore, it’s clear he has the mind of a refined man, a sharp tongue, a quick wit and a superb acting talent. Dennis Prince embodies the noblest of the traits of the upper class, while simultaneously questioning the competitive aspects of nobility.

To delve into the nuances of this man’s ambition, the film employs a trick often abused picture shows: the voiceover. While often a boorish and undesirable tool used to guide those of the lowest intellect through the events of a film, here it is essential, delving into the fascinating inner workings of Louis’ mind, expressing that which fuels him but subtlety and grace demands must never be said outright.

After all, it would take a man of lesser wit and self control to talk to himself, to verbalize his innermost desires and the device he intends to employ to gather them. It’s a mistake Louis learns early on when he attempts to court the common Sibella Holland (Joan Greenwood). As he matures, he realized the error of his ways, treating her more as an amusement than a desire.

It is often the mistake of similar films to express intentions clearly. If anything, one must never compromise intentions, say the exact opposite to deflect any suspicions, play along, fool oneself into ignorance, as Dennis Price does in his understated performance.

It is, therefore, in frustration, that the film ends with a tinge of heavy-handed delivery. While the situation is gratifying and uplifting, the undermining force runs contrary to the nature of Louis built over the runtime of the film, portraying something that is clearly unlikely given the ruse that he maintains throughout the entire film.

Perhaps there was a lapse? Even the most refined must admit a level of common predisposition to the occasional mistake, but that would to be deflect and reroute the great virtue and triumph of this film, a complex and compelling look into the lives of the upper class, a celebration of the great drama that is nobility. It’s a goal often strived for but rarely achieved and while this film achieves it in part, it may still be a thing only fully understood by those who have lived it.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing

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One Response to Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

  1. Dan says:

    Got to love Alec Guinness in this film. Good review James.

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