Kind Hearts and Coronets was made by Ealing Studios, whose trademark is on many of the most remembered British comedies in the immediate postwar period. They were produced by Michael Balcon, who had previously produced films (including early Hitchcocks) for both Gainsborough and MGM British in the 1930s. In the spring we’ll be doing a classic British film series, and we’ll see two more Ealing comedies then.
The novel on which the film was based was written by Roy Horniman. The screenplay was by John Dighton and Robert Hamer. Hamer also directed. The cinematographer was Douglas Slocombe, who photographed many Ealing films and ended his career with Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels. The film was released in the U.K. in June, 1949, and a year later in the United States. An alternate ending was filmed for the States to meet production code guidelines. The version we’ll see tonight has the original ending.
In a sensitively depicted Edwardian setting, Dennis Price plays Louis Mazzini, an outsider from a noble family who tries to get closer to the throne, in a portrayal that has been described as “quiet, dignified and polished,” and “altogether the best-spoken and most aristocratically behaved person in sight.” Alec Guinness, in an interview, remembered "I was invited to play four (characters). I started reading and burst out laughing on the first page or so. I sent back a telegram that said: 'I see no point in playing four parts. How about me playing eight?' To my astonishment, they agreed." British critic David Thomson wrote “the only reservation in the film, I think, is that in all his gallery of D’Ascoynes Alec Guinness doesn’t get the chance to be an attractive young woman.” Joan Greenwood plays one of the women in Louis’ life. Time magazine wrote of her: “(she) exudes more sex appeal in her throaty voice than most Hollywood belles summon up from head to toe.”
This is a much remembered film, and many critics have had something to say about it. Thomson wrote “Yes, it is funny, but haven’t we learned yet that good comedy is a very serious matter, and generally the most confounding and subversive way of dealing with important issues?” The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael wrote, “This tart black comedy...has a brittle wit that came as a bit of a shock: such amoral lines were not generally spoken in 40s movies. The film is heartless, and that is the secret to its elegance.” Roger Ebert wrote, “(It) has a dry and detached air, established by the memoirs of Louis, who maintains a studied distance…the movie is unusually dependent on voice-over narration, objective and understated, which is all the funnier by being so removed from the sensational events taking place…”
Please join me in watching, and enjoying, Kind Hearts and Coronets.