Kind Hearts and Coronets (UK - BD RB)
Marcus finds a man planning to kill his extended family funny and charming....
The 1949 Ealing Studios film Kind Hearts and Coronets tells the dark story of Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) who is the twelfth in line to being the Duke of Chalfont and has slim hope of sharing the D'Ascoyne wealth due to his mother being shunned from the family and long forgotten. That is until Louis decides to take out the lineage in front of him one by one and through devious manipulation weave himself into his into dukedom.
Told in flashback from his prison cell with the knowledge that Louis will be hung the following morning we find out what led our charming man to his death sentence and the number of D'Ascoyne family members (all played by Alec Guinness) he’s managed to off getting there.
Kind Hearts and Coronets is a movie I felt like I’d already seen due to its celebration on film documentaries and clip shows but as I soon discovered this was as fresh to me as a brand new movie that I’d merely seen a teaser for. Meeting Dennis Price in the lead role was unexpected as my limited knowledge of the film had made me think the movie was a simple comedy revolving around Alec Guinness setting a blueprint for what Eddie Murphy does as much as possible on film and play multiple roles for our amusement. In actuality this is Price’s movie and what a leading man he is.
Brimming with charm and providing a fantastic performance as well as a subtly funny and witty voiceover to fill us in on events, Price feels very much like the sort of actor that Johnny Depp must be attempting to emulate. In fact many of his mannerisms are so much like Depp, especially in the scene where he poses as an etcher of church relics in order to get pally with the his next D'Ascoyne victim, it’s like we’re seeing an insight into where Depp’s off-centre performances may have stemmed from. Price absolutely carries this movie and every level of the dark yet strangely light approach to this series of underhand and sinister events remain charming due to his charisma.
Of course he’s got a lot of help from Alec Guinness too. His multiple performances for all the D'Ascoyne family members feel totally individual and unlike one another (other than their facial features of course) and how Guinness provides each character's own presence is really great stuff despite each D'Ascoyne having relativity minimal screen time.
Kind Hearts and Coronets is a perfectly structured story with a fine balance of dark humour, great dialogue and a nice couple of twists concerning Louis’s imprisonment and his potential fate. For a film made in 1949 it doesn’t feel all that dated beyond the olde timey sounding dialogue and fashions and an oddly racist metaphor regarding the ‘N’ word that’s rinsed for all it’s worth. Out of all the Ealing Studio films I’ve watched over the past few months this was the one I enjoyed the most.
1949. Black and White. Could be a bad combination for impressing us right? Wrong. Kind Hearts and Coronets has obviously been treated well over the last sixty-odd years and its restoration and presentation in HD has some fantastic results. Yeah, there’s still a slight flicker and there’s the odd soft element to scenes but the film is artefact free and any specks on the print are only there if you go out of your way to find them. Black levels are solid, detail is rich and outside of the unavoidable softness in those well lit close ups this is a fantastic looking Blu-ray for an old black and white (especially if you look at the alternative ending that hasn’t been restored on the feature – more on that later).
Outside of the good strong dialogue this audio presentation is a mixed bag. The sound effects are a little scratchy, the score a little twee in the strength department but generally speaking this is a good bit of audio for a movie that’s as old as most of your grandparents. There’s not much more to say here as it’s not exactly a lively track but all the elements are a bit better than you’d expect from an old movie but nowhere near as strong as a modern release.
The commentary with Peter Bradshaw, Terrance Davies and Matthew Guinness gives a good combination of detail, expansion on what we’re seeing on screen, behind the scenes stories and a whole bag of enthusiasm from all the participants. This more than makes up for the lack of making of featurettes and is a fine companion to watch along with the movie.
The John Landis introduction (02:50 SD) is more a joyous synopsis with a little bit of personal admiration but you can see Landis’s love of the film all over his face.
'Dennis Price: Those British Faces’ (25:52 SD) seems to be an old TV documentary on the actors works and gives a good bit of detail on his other works. The ‘BBC Radio 3 Essay’ (14:26) is an audio talk about the film by Simon Heffer and set to images from the film. It’s a great insight to the era and the story has just about the right runtime to not outstay its welcome.
The ‘Alternate American Ending’ (02:41 SD ) offers up a more definitive wrap up what happened to Louis’s memoirs as opposed to leaving it in the audience's imaginations and for those who want a glimpse at the quality of the film pre-restoration here’s the place to do some comparing. Also the ‘Restoration Comparison’ (05:47) does more in that arena.
This HD presentation is fantastic and the extra features add a lot of background and detail to the film and its actors. Kind Hearts and Coronets was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The typically English approach to a dark subject was a delight and the characters from all involved (including Alec Guinness-a-plenty) were really great to hang out with.
* Note: The below images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable for all
Release Date: 5th September 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 English
Extras: Commentary, Dennis Price: Those British Faces, BBC Radio 3 Essay, Alternate Ending, Restoration Comparison
Easter Egg: No
Director: Robert Hamer
Cast: Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Length: 106 minutes
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