Robert Hamer directs Dennis Price, Alec Guinness and Joan Greenwood in this Ealing comedy where an underwear salesman begins bumping off his estranged relatives in the hope of working his way up the lineage to inherit a dukedom.
The critics’ final word on this is Alec Guinness performs eight roles and that is genius. He’s very good when given a few scenes as one of the D’Ascoyne clan but half of his workload are near voiceless cameos. And it’s not like the hair and make-up girls have been given strict instruction to make any of the dislikable brood different or unrecognisable from each other. Far more fascinating is Price’s treacle voiced psycho and the women he loves. Valerie Hobson and especially Joan Greenwood give wonderfully slippery, sexually frank performances. Greenwood’s manipulative Sibella, who prematurely and rather bitchily chooses a more secure suitor over our anti-hero and then regrets her marriage the moment Price starts moving up the social rankings is a deliciously cruel creation. Their power struggle / seductive interactions in particular have a heat and worldliness not really acknowledged outside of noir films. The whole thing is bleakly witty, playing with irony and class consciousness with a very modern glee and abandon. Most comedies before the 1960s one respects more than actually enjoys while sitting through them. Kind Hearts & Coronets stands with The Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy and It Happened One Night as a still potently entertaining romp.
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