In prison awaiting execution the next morning, Louis, the 10th Duke of Chalfont, puts down on paper the events that led him to his current situation.
His mother has been banished from her family, the D’Ascoynes, after she married Louis’ father, who was considered far beneath her. After her death, the D’Ascoynes refused permission for her to be buried in the family crypt.
Louis then plots his revenge and kills all those ahead of him in the succession until he becomes the Duke. Along the way, he becomes involved with the married Sibelia who, when spurned, makes sure he ends up in prison.
The day before his execution, Sibelia recants her testimony, saving him not only from the gallows, but also sets him free. Once outside the prison, however, he realizes he’s forgotten one little thing.
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Movie Reviews: “Kind Hearts And Coronets”
Movie Review: The Guardian
The Ealing genre reached utter perfection with this superb black comedy of manners, made in 1949, and now on rerelease for its 70th birthday.
It’s history’s greatest serial-killer movie, directed by Robert Hamer and adapted by Hamer with accomplished farceur John Dighton from the 1907 novel Israel Rank, by Roy Horniman.
All of us in the KHAC fan community have been gripped by new research from critic and historian Matthew Sweet, showing that the original draft script included startlingly melodramatic scenes, including a murderous attack with a hammer and a collection of violent swans.
I am grateful to Sweet for discovering these unfilmed ideas and more grateful still to Hamer and Dighton for rejecting them in favour of something more subtle and effective, just as they radically improved the story in the original novel.
Movie Review: Time Out
Sang doesn’t come much more froid than in Ealing Studios’ tartest and perhaps most sophisticated achievement: ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ is at once a witty comedy of manners, a grotesque serial-killer caper and an acerbic satire on the class system.
Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price), scion of the D’Ascoyne clan by blood but denied his ducal due on account of his mother’s marriage to an Italian commoner, sets out to murder his way to the title he considers his birthright.
His targets – all eight of them – are played by Alec Guinness in a succession of beautifully wrought miniature turns, from bibulous cleric to strident suffragette.
But it’s Price who holds the piece together, endowing Louis with a feline mix of charm, taste and ruthlessness that anticipates Tom Ripley and Hannibal Lecter; as in their stories, the general ghastliness of everyone else makes it all the easier to root for his success.
Credit is also due to Robert Hamer for his elegant direction and a screenplay (adapted from Roy Horniman’s novel) that is lean, sprightly and bristling with thorns.
Movie Review: Chicago Reader
Robert Hamer’s 1949 film is often cited as the definitive black, eccentric British comedy, yet it’s several cuts better than practically anything else in the genre.
Dennis Price, as a poor, distant relative of the rich D’Ascoynes, must murder eight members of the family (all played by Alec Guinness) to obtain the title and fortune he believes are his right.
Hamer’s direction is bracingly cool and clipped, yet he’s able to draw something from his performers (Price has never been deeper, Guinness never more proficient, and Joan Greenwood never more softly, purringly cruel) that transcends the facile comedy of murder; there’s lyricism, passion, and protest in it too. With Valerie Hobson and Arthur Lowe.