KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (Robert Hamer, 1949)
209 West Houston St.
Friday, June 13, and Saturday, June 14, 12:45, 3:00, 5:10, 7:30, 9:50, and Tuesday, July 1, 2:30
Festival runs June 13 - July 3
After being spurned by their aristocrat family and watching the wealthy D’Ascoynes turn their back on his mother even in death, Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) decides that he is not going to let them get away with such awful treatment. So Louis, the tenth Duke of Chalfont, comes up with a plot to get rid of the eight D’Ascoynes standing between him and the dukedom. In Robert Hamer’s wickedly funny black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, each one of those haughty D’Ascoynes is played by Alec Guinness, young and old, male and female, to deservedly great acclaim. The film is told in flashback as an elegant, distinguished Louis is writing his memoirs in prison on the eve of his execution. He eloquently describes the details of his multiple murders, as well as his unending yearning for the questionably prim and proper Sibella (Joan Greenwood), who continues her flirtations with him even after she marries Louis’s former schoolmate Lionel (John Penrose), as well as his relationship with Edith (Valerie Hobson), the wife of one of the D’Ascoynes he kills on his march to power, glory, and revenge. But his hubris leads to his downfall — and one of the most delicious twist endings in film history. Based on Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel, Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal, and adapted by Hamer (The Spider and the Fly, School for Scoundrels) and cowriter John Dighton (The Barretts of Wimpole Street), Kind Hearts and Coronets takes on British high society, class conflict, royalty, and hypocrisy with a brash dose of cynical humor and more than a hint of eroticism, pushing the sexual envelope amid all the laughter. Price is terrific as the dapper Louis, but it’s impossible to steal the show from Guinness, who is a riot as the succession of doomed D’Ascoynes. Guinness was originally asked to play four of the roles but suggested that he do them all, and thankfully Ealing Studios agreed; one of the key shots in the film is when six of the D’Ascoynes are seen together. Kind Hearts and Coronets, which was turned into the Tony-winning musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, is screening June 13-14 and July 1 at Film Forum, kicking off “Alec Guinness 100,” a three-week festival celebrating the centennial of Sir Alec’s birth. Among the many other none-too-shabby films in the series honoring the ever-graceful actor, born Alec Guinness de Cuffe in London in 1914, are Doctor Zhivago, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suit, Tunes of Glory, Lawrence of Arabia, The Ladykillers, and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.