"Kind hearts are more than coronets/And simple faith than Norman blood. - Lord Tennyson."
Tennyson could have been writing about the movie "Kind Hearts and Coronets," a wonderfully twisted movie all about killing one's relatives to get ahead in the world. This classic black comedy is blessed with excellent acting by Dennis Price and Alec Guinness, as well as some very inventive murders and wry dialogue.
A young lady of the D'Ascoyne family was ostracized when she married an Italian singer (he dropped dead when their son was born). Louis (Price) was raised hearing all about his noble relatives, but ignored by them -- and when his mother is refused burial at the family plot, and his devious girlfriend Sibella (Joan Greenwood) spurns him for a rich, dull man, he decides to become the next Duke.
To do that, he has to kill off several relatives, which he does in various ingenious ways. He's also wooing the widow of one such murdered relative, the kindly Edith (Valerie Hobson), while still frisking with Sibella. But you can't commit six murders -- no matter how clever -- without raising some suspicions, and soon Louis finds himself a Duke on death row... but is there a way out?
The whole story is told in flashback, as Louis writes his memoirs in his cell, and there's only a little bit after the memoirs' completion that explains what happened next. But from the first moments onward (the executioner getting excited about the "privilege" of hanging a duke), it's pretty obvious that "Kind Hearts and Coronets" has a rare, wicked sense of humor.
Much of that is through the irony (Louis is morally opposed to hunting, but not murder) and brilliantly dark dialogue ("I shot an arrow in the air; she fell to earth in Berkeley Square"). One of the best things is Louis' narration -- we learn that he's intelligent, droll, and as much of a snob as his richer relatives.
But there's also the great ways in which the D'Ascoynes expire -- exploding labs, drifting boats, shooting down a hot air balloon with an arrow, and a battleship that goes the wrong way and crashes into ANOTHER battleship. A string of murders might normally be dull, but Robert Hamer keeps the wry humor in everything Louis does.
Price does a simply brilliant job as Louis, a poor relation who uses charm, intelligence, pleasant lies, kindness and some disguises to murder his relatives (many of whom are much kindlier than he). Only crackly-voiced Greenwood is as wonderfully amoral as he. And Guinness showed his versatility by playing all the D'Ascoyne relatives -- the dotty vicar, a rather ugly suffragette, a pigheaded admiral, and others.
"Kind Hearts and Coronets" is a brilliantly dark comedy, with some great acting from Guinness and Price, a twisted sense of humor, and a great finale. Definitely a must-see for fans of murder and wit.