No 42 - Kind Hearts and Coronets
Director - Robert Hamer
Frack me! It has been a long time since I last posted. I must apologise to those that read these messages. I have been distracted by Battlestar Galactica. It has been taking up all my free time. If you haven't ever seen it, I heartily recommend cracking out the 4 series and having a watch. I am only half way through series 3 and it is an intense roller coaster.
And there are so many lovely pretty people. Like this one. And this one. And this one. Space is a good place to be.
Yet, whilst this seems like an odd way to start a blog about a 1949 Ealing classic, there is common ground. The common ground is that of the Cylons (man made robots that rebelled and are now trying to wipe out the human race). For as well as the magnificently elegant chrome machines (a real step up from those of the 60s) there are the 'skin jobs'. Robots that look like humans - and there are many copies.
This opens beautiful scenes of multiple cylons arguing with each other, all played by the same actor. I would love to show you some of these amazing 'how did they do that' scenes, but they are so rich with spoilers that I wouldn't dare.
The doors for such multiple character acting was really thrust open by Sir Alec Guiness' D'Ascoyne family. Allowing us to have the cylons. Allowing us to have Dr Strangelove. Allowing us to have..... Norbit.... and the Klumps......... hmmmm
I was very happy to finally find this film in Fopp for £3. It just seems to be one of those films which is always on sale for about £20.... far more than I'm willing to pay. Because of this, it has been a film that I had never seen. Despite really wanting to.
Luckily, after finally getting a copy, it lived up to the expectations that had amassed over the years and years of longing. It turned out to be far funnier and far darker than I was initially expecting. This is a pitch black comedy.
I presume that it is hard to really write a comedy about mass murder without it being anything but pitch black, but this sets the scene and the tone straight away. Following the bumbling hangman as he gets very excited about being able to kill a Duke. Fretting over the correct terminology of what to call him and worried that he'll mess it up as the last execution of a duke (back in the old days) was a terribly bungled affair.
Once the tone is established, we get to meet the characters. A despicable bunch of bastards to be honest. There are not that many likable characters. Louis, the protagonist, is shallow, bitter, petty and a murderer. Sibella, his great love, is even shallower - an adulterous, money grabbing, blackmailing tease. The only characters that come out seeming decent people at all are the people that get offed.
Let us begin with a look at the D'Ascoyne family. They may have initially segregated Louis' mother but after that you see that some of them are jolly nice chaps.
The priest - may be boring, but his heart is in the right place
The Banker - May initially refuse him a job but is certainly a kind sort.
However, the real heart ache goes to poor young Henry D'Ascoyne. A fellow who is terribly kind and terribly sweet. However, not only does Louis murder young Henry, he then woos and courts Henry's widow. The poor poor chap.
I realise now, that I haven't even put up a synopses of the plot yet, instead plunging straight into character analysis. However I have my reasons. There is a strong motivation for me to begin with the D'Ascoyne family and with Sir Alec Guiness. Before I even knew what the film was about, I knew this was the film where Guiness played 8 characters. This is the talking point of the film. It doesn't matter how clever the story is. How witty the script is. The selling point is the D'Ascoyne family.
It is a terrific piece of acting and it shows how skilled Guiness is at creating characters. For whilst wardrobe and costume is there to help differentiate, each character's mannerisms, speech and body language is completely different and glorious to behold.
If you need one solid reason to see this film, the D'Ascoyne family should be that reason. Luckily you'll then be pleasantly surprised by a savagely funny and inventive story and a horrible leading man.
I love that Louis is a horror. He is a murderer. He is an opportunist. He is obsessed with wealth and power and status. He has an affair with a married woman who is equally shallow and cruel, leading to the suicide of her husband. He manipulates. He lies. He bullies. He is just utterly splendid.
The film opens the night before Louis' execution. So there is no need for a moral high ground. You can delight in his shenanigans and plotting knowing full well that he will get his comeuppance.
Rightfully so, the final scenes in the prison have one of the best laughs in the whole film, especially the final moment.
The only point where I found morality kicked in and I was genuinely shocked was one of the aspects that date the film. That is the use of the N word. I'm used to it appearing in films in order for it to be offensive or racist. I'm used to it being said by the rappers, reclaiming it for the hippety hoppety music. But I'm not used to it casually being mentioned in conversation. It is casually mentioned in this film. Twice. Both times in the context of Eenie Meanie Miney Mo.... but even so.... I was a little startled.
It is a truly brilliant film, a superb comedy and black as hell. If you're the type of person who can get a giggle out of murder. Then I'd recommend this little gem to you.