Starring: Dennis Price, Alec Guiness, Valerie Hobson
Director: Robert Hamer
Louis Mazzini (Price) is the son of a disinherited woman and an Italian opera singer. Raised knowing that he’s the 8th in line for a Dukedom, he plots to kill everyone in the way of his succession after his mother is denied the rights to be buried in the family plot.
It’s a comedy of manners from the golden era of the famous Ealing Studios, and sends up the culture of class snobbery and the airs people put on, as well as the superficiality of the upper classes. The victims in the D’Ascoyne family are all played by Alec Guiness, in masterful turns as different types and personalities, with hilarious aplomb. It’s hard to feel sorry for the dispatched, and yet Mazzini is hardly a sympathetic character himself, with his romantic entanglement with two women, one wealthy and pious, the other a social climbing minx. The little sting in the tail of the ending is particularly delightful.
Amusing to note, the cinematographer on this film would go on to work on Indiana Jones, and Valerie Hobson, who plays one of the love interests, was the wife of Profumo, the man at the heart of the Profumo scandal in British Government.
Ealing Comedies are a delightful part of British film history, and indeed film history in general. Dark comedy and excellent performances abound, and there’s something so cheerful about murder, it’s a complete joy to watch, and comedically has stood the test of time.
See It If: if you’ve never seen an Ealing comedy before, this is the place to start. Hilarious!