Sorry old chap, you're next

Leave it to the English to come up with polite movies about such things as murder and kidnapping - The Collector and Felicia's Journey. Whether or not such genteel criminal behavior originated with Kind Hearts and Coronets (I doubt it - look at Agatha Christie's books), there is certainly something owed to this film by these Johnny-come-latelies.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (that's a poetic reference, by the way) is a story of social class and revenge. It's told by our anti-hero, Louis - a duke as we start out - as he writes his memoirs. As it turns out, his mother married for love of an Italian Opera singer rather than loveless aristocracy, and was thusly kicked out of the house of D'Ascoyne. Louis gets educated in excrutiating depth on his family history before his mother dies at a fairly young age. Her last request is to be buried in the family estate, but Louis is harshly rebuffed by a family that wants nothing to do with him. Here is born the seeds of revenge.

I'm generally not a fan of voiceovers, but it works here because there's a point. As Louis slowly knocks off the heirs to the D'Ascoyne dukedom one by one the audience becomes his lone conspirator. His dry and sardonic wit is one of the best things in the movie, and he is generally very careful not to let anything slip, particularly to the D'Ascoyne clan.

The trivial-pursuit angle on this film is that the D'Ascoynes - every one of them - is played by Alec Guinness. Aside from the physical resemblance, these are all very different characters. Anyone who only thinks Obi-Won Kenobi when they hear the name Alec Guinness would do well to take a look at his other work, and this is a great place to start. He has eight roles to his credit here, and I'm sure a lot of people wouldn't notice if they weren't clued off ahead of time.

Kind Hearts and Coronets is fun, filled with ironies and subtle observations on the English condition. I fear any modern remakes of this one - the thought of Eddie Murphy or Jim Carrey all over the screen would tear the core of the film to shreads. This film works best in the time it was made, thank you very much, and nobody's going to find a way to improve on this classic.

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