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Kind Hearts And Coronets (Ealing 1949, Alec Guinness, Dennis Price)

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Dennis Price, in his best screen role, plays the son of a duke’s daughter and a penniless Italian singer who died at his birth. He vows to avenge his mother’s treatment by her noble family by eliminating all those who stand between him and the dukedom: a fascinating gallery of victims all played by Alec Guinness; camera trickery was skilfully employed by director Robert Hamer to show no fewer that six different Guinness characters at one time, five of them surrounding Valerie Hobson in family pews in church while the sixth, a dodderingly endearing vicar, preaches from the pulpit.

Guinness’s eight characterisations, however, were not a product of special effects but of what American critic Pauline Kael called “a casting stroke of genius”. The Observer added: “This delightful burlesque of Victorian melodrama takes its gusto from the fact that Alec Guinness, an actor, I need hardly remind you, of part, plays eight of them without flagging… with the ease of a Wimbledon champion at a suburban tennis-tea, and such is his versatility that I was only sorry he didn’t play, at least, every male role in the picture.”

Price, female leads Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood, and a superb supporting cast that includes Miles Malleson as a hangman and Arthur Lowe as a reporter from Tit-Bits, could hardly have been better. Hamer had been attracted to the idea “of making a picture which paid no regard whatever to established, although not practised, moral convention” and “of making a film not noticeably similar to any previously made in the English language. He succeeded. The film, a comedie noir masterpiece, was the apogee of his short career.

production details
UK / Ealing / 106 minutes / 1949

Writers: Robert Hamer, John Dighton, from the novel Israel Rank by John Horniman
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Producer: Michael Relph
Director: Robert Hamer

cast
Alec Guinness as The D’Ascoyne Family: The Duke / The Banker / The Parson / The General / The Admiral / Young Ascoyne / Young Henry / Lady Agatha
Dennis Price as Louis
Arthur Lowe as The Reporter
Richard Wattis as Defence Counsel (uncredited)
Jeremy Spenser as Young Louis (uncredited)
Carol White as Young Sibella (uncredited)
Valerie Hobson as Edith
Hugh Griffith as Lord High Steward
John Salew as Mr. Perkins
Clive Morton as The Prison Governor
Laurence Naismith as Warder in Jail (uncredited)
Eric Messiter as Burgoyne
Miles Malleson as The Hangman
Lyn Evans as The Farmer
Cecil Ramage as Crown Counsel
Joan Greenwood as Sibella
Audrey Fildes as Mama
John Penrose as Lionel
Barbara Leake as The Schoolmistress
Peggy Ann Clifford as Maud
Anne Valery as The Girl in the punt
Peter Gawthorne as First Lord Delivering Verdict (uncredited)
Molly Hamley-Clifford as Lady Redpole (uncredited)
Leslie Handford as Gamekeeper Hoskins (uncredited)
Cavan Malone as Young Graham (uncredited)
Gordon Phillott as Clerk of Parliament (uncredited)
Harold Young as Captain (uncredited)

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