Friday, April 27, 2012

Ebert Thoughts ‘12—Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) ***½

NR, 106 min.
Director: Robert Hamer
Writers: Robert Hamer, John Dighton, Roy Horniman (novel)
Starring: Dennis Price, Valerie Hobson, Joan Greenwood, Alec Guinness, Audrey Fildes, John Penrose

I’m not sure what I expected from this British classic. It’s good. It’s a little twisted. It certainly isn’t what Hollywood was making in 1949. Well, maybe Hitchcock, but even he wasn’t quite so subversive. And, eight roles for Alec Guinness? Take that Jedi Masters.

“Kind Hearts and Coronets” is one of the most delicious stories of revenge to be found in film. A woman and her little boy are left with nothing when her husband dies even though she by birthright belongs to one of the richest families of the country, the D’Ascoynes. The mother dies and is even denied burial in the family cemetery. The boy, now a man, sets out to kill the remaining eight heirs to the fortune to assure his own birthright. Guinness plays all the heirs, remarkably differently.

Of course, it’s Guinness’s multiple roles that gain the attention, but Dennis Price is indispensible as the vengeful hero. Price might’ve known something about being a family outcast as he denied his own father’s wishes to go into the military. It probably didn’t endear him to his brigadier general father that he became an actor instead.

He’s a very meek actor. He doesn’t ever push, even when all the other actors around him do. He’s quiet and contemplative. I imagine were this role to be taken on by a Hollywood star today it would be all teeth gnashing and sinister looks. Price’s approach is more informed by someone whose been injured by the people on which he’s taking his revenge. He’s justified his actions as equal and just rewards. He even likes some of his victims, but he doesn’t seem to think he really has any choice in the matter. He’s unequivocal in his ability to get the audience on his side.

“Kind Hearts and Coronets” is certainly a movie that should not be missed by any cineaste. It’s an extremely sophisticated movie for the time in which it was made. It’s a sophisticated movie by today’s standards. And, it provides an early example of the ironic twist.

Kind Hearts and Coronets | Robert Hamer | Alec Guinness | Dennis Price | Movie Trailer | Review

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