KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS: A Comedy Classic about Chopping Down the Family Tree [Blu Review]

Alec Guinness’ hilarious eight-character/victim performance finds new life on Kino’s new release

As a longtime devotee of Star Wars and a newfound admirer of Bridge Over the River Kwai, I was eager to check out a first-time viewing of Alec Guinness’ multi-character performances in Kind Hearts and Coronets. This was my first exposure to Guinness’ Ealing Comedies in general — of which Kino has also recently released The Lavender Hill Mob and The Man in the White Suit alongside this film. I’m glad to say that after Kind Hearts and Coronets, I certainly need to check out the others: Kind Hearts and Coronets is a delightfully dark comedy featuring a king’s ransom of fantastic performances by Guinness as well as leads Dennis Price, Joan Greenwood, and Valerie Hobson.

Louis Mazzini is hell-bent on revenge. After Louis’ mother married the Italian Opera singer who fathered him, she was forsaken by her family, the ruling D’Ascoynes of Chalfont, Louis’ mother was subsequently denied her birthright and burial in the family crypt. Now denied the respect and dignity of the woman he loves, Mazzini endeavors to kill off the immediate D’Ascoyne relatives that stand between him and ruling the D’Ascoyne estate.

Guinness is a comedic powerhouse in Kind Hearts and Coronets, infusing his eight members of the D’Ascoyne family with individualized smarmy wit. Surprisingly, though, Dennis Price manages to outperform Guinness as much as he outlives his many incarnations — despite being a heartless serial killer at his core, Price ensures that Louis is endlessly hilariously relatable and charming. No matter how many people he kills, success permanently seems to elude him — a fact exacerbated by the two loves of his life, Sibella (played by a delightfully venomous Joan Greenwood) and Lady Edith (a headstrong, regal Valerie Hobson). The film is rife with endless variations of gallows humor, and writer-director Robert Hamer always knows just how to surprise the viewer with another unexpected and consistently devious plot to off another of Guinness’ characters.

Long regarded as a crown jewel of British comedy and long-absent from video release since the Criterion DVD went out of print, Kind Hearts and Coronets makes a welcome return to shelves. Hopefully it will rightfully claim a place among viewers’ collections without leaving too populous of a body trail in its wake.

Video: Kino presents Kind Hearts and Coronets in an 1080/24p HD master, which appears to have been sourced from the 2011 StudioCanal Blu-ray. Some imperfections and scratches are present, but on the whole this is a vibrant transfer rich in varied grays and blacks. It was once reported on some sites that this edition was to receive the recent 4K restoration released by StudioCanal in the UK, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. However, Kino Lorber looks to be working something out with StudioCanal to clarify this issue.

Audio: Kind Hearts and Coronets is presented in 2.0 DTS-HD Master audio. The track is free of clicks and hiss typical of older films, leaving the film’s poisoned honey dialogue crisp and clear for enjoyment.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary by Film Historian Kat Ellinger: A newly recorded audio commentary by the Diabolique Magazine editor that dives deep into the history of Ealing comedies, Kind Hearts and Coronets’ production history, the troubled life of lead Dennis Price, and an elaboration on the themes that make this serial killer tale so charming and endearing.

Introduction by John Landis: A succinct introduction by the director on the film’s comedic tone and Alec Guiness’ multiple performances.

Those British Faces — Dennis Price: An episode of British TV series Those British Faces profiling Kind Hearts & Coronets’ main lead, from the start of his career in Post-War England to an ignominious end in the 1970s.

Audio Interview with Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe: A half-hour archival audio interview with Kind Hearts and Coronets’ cinematographer, ported over from the Region 2 Vintage Classics DVD.

Alternate American Ending: A version of the film’s conclusion for audiences across the pond, which makes the film’s final wry joke on its protagonist’s fate far more explicit.

Theatrical Trailers: Included are Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suit, and The Captain’s Paradise.

Kind Hearts and Coronets is now available on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics.

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