Kind Hearts and Coronets
Kris Weberg: “It ruled.”
It's a shame that most people today have only encountered the legendary Ealing Studios comedies via the Coen Brothers' pallid, meandering remake of The Ladykillers, because they contain some of the blackest humor ever committed to film. Take this entry, for instance: Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price), the son of a noblewoman disowned for eloping with her Italian singing tutor, is so appalled by her fate -- burial in "a hideous suburban grave" -- that he determines to take back the title by eliminating the eight heirs in line before him. Price's cold-blooded narration -- at one point he complains that "It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms" -- and his deliberately mannered performance are backbone enough for any movie. In a bravado gesture, all eight heirs are played, in a remarkable gender and age-defying feat, by Alec Guinness, one of the screen's great chameleons. This would be gimmick casting in lesser hands; Guinness convinces so thoroughly that the use of a single actor in the roles of every member of the D'Ascoyne line simply generates the sense of a family resemblance. Likewise, no ingenue has been more naively prim than Valerie Hobson's Edith, nor any femme fatale more sinisterly inviting than Joan Greenwood's cooing Sibella. That Louis is trapped between the two women, one of whom represents the social graces he desires and the other a cunning physicality he lusts for, merely adds to the wicked laughter the film inspires.