I haven’t seen too many of the Ealing Studios comedies. The list has provided The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob, both of which I enjoyed to a moderate degree, and both of which starred Alec Guinness, who also stars in this one, Kind Hearts and Coronets. This is along the lines of the other two I’ve seen, in that it’s not overtly a comedy, but rather falls under the class of black comedies that don’t go for outright humor, but instead a sense of amusement at the proceedings going on, as black as they may be.
I probably shouldn’t have seen this so soon after Lola Montes, as this uses the same framing device as that film, that of the film beginning at the end of the main characters life as he explores his life leading up to then in flashback. This time around, we explore the life of a criminal on death row, the incongruously affluent Duke of Chalfont, and how such a man of character ended up in jail awaiting execution. Needless to say, he is denied his birthright, and resolves to kill all his estranged family members one by one until he is left the dukedom. In an amusing twist, all the members of the estranged D’Ascoyne family are all played by Alec Guinness, so he pulls eight-fold duty here. As for the film, the entirety of it is told through voiceover narration, which seemed like a very lazy decision, and one that I had a hard time forgiving (and I can see how many others wouldn’t be willing to). There’s also no, or very little, music, which made this drag on and seem much longer than it was, but the deviousness of the plot and the main character made up for the lacking of the film, at least for me.
As much as I did personally like this, there’s really very little going for it. There’s the blackness of the narrative, for one, and there’s Alec Guinness, who is always memorable, and the performance of the main character, played by Dennis Price, but that’s pretty much it. Still, if the plot sounds interesting enough, and you intend to watch it for that at least, you might walk away from this one satisfied, even if it feels longer than it is. Otherwise, this might be a little too boring for you, and that’s being nice about it.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10