“When a man knows he is going to be hanged in the morning, it concentrates his mind wonderfully”Louis Mazzini
Serial killers aren’t really supposed to be admired for their humour and wit, nor are they the sort of characters that you’re meant to be rooting for in a film.
You’re supposed to want them to be caught, preferably by an all-action maverick cop or a surprisingly fit criminal psychologist, ideally in the nick of time just before they execute their latest fiendish plan to bring death and destruction upon the innocent.
Hannibal Lecter is a splendid specimen of a serial killer that you’re allowed to like, partly because his victims are generally the sort of people that you weren’t going to miss that much anyway, and partly because he’s absolutely fascinating.
But Lecter’s sophisticated murderousness is as nothing compared to Louis Mazzini in “Kind Hearts and Coronets” when it comes to admirable assassination, as the outcast aristocrat urbanely wreaks revenge on his estranged family, ruthlessly knocking them off en route to a dukedom.
Narrated by the funniest voiceover in cinema history, this deliciously black satire of British society in Edwardian times tells the tale of Louis’s early suffering at the hands of his distant family, remotely punished for his mother’s “incorrect” marriage to an Italian opera singer and his burning desire to right perceived wrongs, by murder of all those ahead of him in the line of succession to the seat at Chalfont.
I shot an arrow in the air; she fell to earth in Berkeley Square.
“Weekends, like life, are short”
Alec Guinness takes on the task of playing all eight of the Ascoynes who stand between Louis and the dukedom, all of whom are doomed, one way or another, as the orphan psychopath prunes his way through the family tree.
Along the way, there is also adultery, blackmail, suicide and perjury to accompany the murderous rampage and a final twist in the tale that concludes the story in a most satisfying manner.
“It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms”
It’s a hugely subversive film in so many ways, delighting in pricking class sensitivities and satirising innate deference to the upper classes and the moral strictures of the time, which means that it ought to have dated badly in the 70 years since it was made.
But it hasn’t. It’s still one of the funniest films ever made.
Even though it’s about a serial killer.