Watched: March 26 2017
Director: Robert Hamer
Starring: Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Valerie Dobson, Joan Greenwood
Runtime: 1h 46min
Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini, Duke of Chalfont (Price – looking very much like Gene Wilder), is awaiting his execution for murder. As he calmly enjoys some wine in his cell, he writes down his memoirs, and we are invited to watch how his life unfolded and what led him to his prison cell.
Louis’ mother was a wealthy aristocrat until she ran off to marry an Italian opera singer and her family disowned her. When her husband died minutes after the birth of their son, the new mother is left destitute and forced to (gasp!) do manual labour. The horror! She feels this life is beneath her, and never misses a chance to remind her impressionable young son that he deserves better.
After his mother’s death, Louis becomes obsessed with reclaiming his place in her estranged family and becoming the next Duke of Chalfont – the family estate. Partly because of their awful treatment of his mother, but also partly because of his own ambition and his desire for Sibella (Greenwood), a silly girl he grew up with. However, unfortunately for him, there are eight other family members ahead of him in line for the Duke title. Something has to be done. So he goes on a hilarious murder spree.
We cannot begin to describe how much we loved this one, and we’re surprised and appalled that we have never heard of it before (a curse on whoever is supposed to be our cultural educators!). Louis is equal parts hilariously sarcastic and genuinely creepy. His systematic approach to trim the family tree is a joy to watch unfold, though his juggling of his two love interests is increasingly sociopathic. Especially as one of them, Edith (Hobson), is the widow of one of his earliest victims.
The visual and verbal humour made us laugh throughout the film, and we’re definitely watching this one again! Price’s stoic and sardonic Louis reminded us of Gene Wilder (they look alike too), and Alec Guinness is wonderful as all eight (unfortunate) members of the D’Ascoyne clan. Joan Greenwood’s Sibella is certainly a silly girl, but she too has a dark side – the two are perfect for each other. If you like sarcasm, murder and fancy dresses (and honestly, who doesn’t?) this is the film for you.
What we learned: 8 different ways to kill Alec Guinness. Also, the Latin word for killing family members is parricide. You’re welcome.
Next time: The Third Man (1949)