The Great Movies – 100 Years of Film brings me this English comedy I had never heard of before, starring Dennis Price and Alec Guinness.
A tale of murder and woe told from the point of the killer seems like it may not be very funny, but this one proved to be very entertaining. Price plays Louis Mazzini, a young man, disinherited from the D’Ascoyne family, and the dukedom that passes through it.
Setting his sights high, and urged on by the death of his mother, who is denied burial in the family vault, he decides to take it upon himself to work his way to the dukedom, and remove, as discreetly as possible those who stand in his way.
The story is told from Mazzini’s jail cell as he pens his memoirs before his scheduled hanging the next morning, arrested for the one murder he didn’t commit. The film then takes us through a series of flashbacks as Louis gets to know members of the D’Ascoyne family (all played by Guinness) and then helps them shuffle off this mortal coil.
Each death moves him closer and closer to the title, and he believes he has everything in place, a suitable bride, appearance, behavior…
There’s just one little thing that may cause him a problem.
Since he was a child, he had two companions, Sibella (Joan Greenwood) and Lionel (John Penrose). He abhorred Lionel, and lusted after Sibella, telling her one day he may become a duke, so he was a wiser choice than Lionel. Sibella, however, chooses Lionel, and then after learning he is possibly the most boring man in all of England, commences an affair with Louis. There, the seeds for Mazzini’s downfall are laid.
Something he hints at early in the film, subtly, in a very funny classroom scene.
This one was a delightful little charmer, and it always made me smile when Mazzini would take the picture of the D’Ascoyne home that hung on his wall, turn it over, and cross another name off the family tree.
Guinness is a lot of fun in his multiple characters, all of them reaching an unfortunate demise, some in very funny ways, from an uncle who doesn’t know port from starboard, to one who likes to sneak a drink in his dark room, to an aunt who flies a balloon over London for the Suffragette movement.
As the film progresses, Sibella turns against Mazzini, but offers him a final way out, and a release from prison. He agrees, now that he’s a duke, he’s not quite ready to die yet!!
So as the film moves to its final moments, and Mazzini seems on the verge of triumph, a last reveal provides one last comedic moment!
This one was a lot of fun, especially since I had never even heard of the film before. So it was fun to settle in, enjoy a classic English comedy, and chortle along at the happenings.
I’m looking forward to exploring the recommendations that follow this title, the last one is a personal favorite!!
Have you seen this one?