Monday, September 08, 2008

Alec x 8

I've been remiss in not pointing you in the direction of Kind Hearts and Coronets, a 1949 comedy released by the UK's legendary Ealing Studios, which I caught several weeks ago at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, one of my neighborhood's gems. The most often repeated fact about the movie is that Alec Guinness plays eight parts, and he's terrific. But that gimmick is not what makes the movie so great.

Dennis Price plays Louis Mazzini, who is in line to be a duke. But it's a long line. In front of him stand eight members of the D'Ascoyne family (all played by Guinness), including Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne. Louis narrates the story of how he methodically picks off family members in order to inherit the dukedom. It's the best movie I've seen in a while, beautifully written, and funny in ways both morbid and goofy. I'm a big critic of voiceover narration in movies, but this is mostly when it's done in the third person -- Little Children and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, to name two recent examples. First person tends to be more successful. In any event, the quality of writing in Kind Hearts makes the narration more like a novel than a movie.

On the commentary for another DVD, Guinness said, "I read [the screenplay] on a beach in France, collapsed with laughter on the first page, and didn't even bother to get to the end of the script. I went straight back to the hotel and sent a telegram saying, 'Why four parts? Why not eight!?'"


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