Sunday, December 12, 2010

"Kind Hearts" is a Disturbing, Yet Funny Film

Alec Guinness is a name that is perhaps lost on those of my generation. However, when the name "Star Wars" is uttered, everybody immediately knows what that is, it's famous characters and plot lines. Maybe they can even remember where they were when the first saw it. Alec Guinness played Luke Skywalker's jedi master and mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original three films. But his film career was decades old when he played this role. He was a very accomplished actor, in fact. This film from 1949 certainly shows his versatility.

As the film opens, were are introduced to a man, Louis Mazzini, (Dennis Price) a duke who is in prison for multiple homicides. His story unfolds through flashback, as he sits in prison awaiting his impending death. Long ago, his mother belonged to the D'Ascoyne family, a very wealthy family in 19th-century England. She falls in love and elopes with a man, much to her family's dismay. She is disowned by her family, and thus, is no longer able to inherit her rightful place within the family, nor shall any of her offspring. As Mazzini grows up with only his mother, he sees over the years how this has affected both of their lives. As Louis comes into adolescence, then adulthood, he too begins to work menial jobs in order to make ends meet. Then, tragedy strikes. His mother is in an accident. He can't bare the sight of his mother's small grave site. Had she never been disowned, she would have been laid to rest in grand style with her family. He makes a vow, then and there, that he will dispose of every D'Ascoyne that stands in his way of the dukedom. Come to find out that there are eight of them. Enter Alec Guinness...again and again. He plays all eight heirs, including one woman, Lady Agatha. And so, Mazzini's horrific plan comes to fruition. He gets a job at a bank, at first as a teller, but he quickly works his way up, and becomes the personal assistant of "The Banker", who happens to be one of the heirs to the D'Ascoyne dynasty. As he befriends each of the heirs, they suddenly begin disappearing in increasingly mysterious ways.

Firstly, Guinness's portrayal, or rather, portrayals, is worth noting. This, more than any other film, shows how flexible and versatile an actor he was. As mentioned earlier, he was perhaps best known for his role in "Star Wars". However, it was a film he famously grew to lament. This manner of playing multiple roles in one film is undoubtedly difficult, and can only be done with the right actor. There are three notable actors who have done this successfully. The first is Peter Sellers, who played multiple characters in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 dark comedy "Dr. Strangelove". The next two played the same role, one who originated the role, and the other, who made a remake years later. Those would be Jerry Lewis (who originated the "Nutty Professor") and later Eddie Murphy. Lewis was known to play multiple roles in several of his films. Murphy was very impressive because his multiple characters were often in the same scene together (such as at the dinner table). But I believe it was Guinness who did it first. His characters may not have been in the same room as another, and often, each character would be in the film for only a few minutes, but he played each character as if it were the only character he played. Secondly, Dennis Price's role as Mazzini is also worth noting. Mazzini is not a murderer in the sense of Jack the Ripper, or a character in a James Patterson murder novel. He is subtle. He does not want people to know that he is the perpetrator. He plays along with everybody, believing that each member of this family has died under "mysterious circumstances". It was a shame that Price did not have a very prominent film career. This was one of the few films in which he played a very prominent role. He was later relegated to small roles in "B" films as a servant or butler. Finally, I want to briefly acknowledge the female roles in the film, those NOT played by Guinness. The first is the role of Mazzini's mother, played by Audrey Fildes. She was perhaps one of the strongest parts of the film, because, had she not been thrown aside by her family, Louis would not have had to go through with such a plan. Secondly is the role of Sibella Holland, played by Joan Greenwood. When Louis loses his mother, he is taken in by the Holland family. Louis and Sibella become close friends, and grow to love each other. But in the latter part of the film, Sibella becomes just as dastardly as Louis. Sibella, you could say, is the femme-fatale. Finally is the character of Edith D'Ascoyne, played by Valerie Hobson. After her husband's death, she starts to spend more time with Louis, not knowing that he is the very man responsible for her husband's death. Edith is perhaps the weakest, or perhaps the most naive women in the film. Nonetheless, her role is one of the most important.

This film was very entertaining, despite the plot of the film. It goes without saying, but Guinness was the heart of the film. Without his eight distinct characters, the film would have just been another film about a mass-murderer, out to avenge his mother, and restore her name. This was an excellent film with a complex story and great acting. I'd highly recommend it.

No comments:

Post a Comment