Thursday, June 13, 2019

Comedy Movie Churches: Kind Hearts and Coronets

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
I’ve preached some boring sermons through the years, but fortunately, no one has threatened my life because of them. In the 1949 comedy, Kind Hearts and Coronets, the Parson was not so fortunate. (To be fair, the killer was already planning to murder the Reverend Lord Henry D’Ascoyne. The boring sermon just “moved him up the list.”) Still, the worst I’ve faced for being dull in the pulpit is a little snoring.

Kind Hearts and Coronets was produced at Ealing Studios, a company that made quite a number of excellent comedies in postwar Britain. The film tells the story of Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini (Dennis Price), the son of an aristocrat who was disowned by her family when she married an Italian opera singer. When his mother dies, Louis asks the D’Ascoynes if his mother can be buried in the family crypt, according to her wishes. When they refuse, he vows revenge.

He plans to kill off every D’Ascoyne in the line of ahead of him until he takes the inherited title of Tenth Duke of Chalfont. (It should be noted that every member of the D’Ascoyne line -- except Louis and his mother -- is played by Sir Alec Guinness.)

Of course, Dennis knew murder was wrong. He was educated in a British Public School (which would be a private school in the US) where he was taught the Ten Commandments. He knew the Sixth Commandment about not killing well enough, but he grew up to break it (along with the Seventh Commandment).

Eight aristocrats that stand in between Louis and Dukedom, and he first dispatches Ascoyne D’Ascoyne, a man who got Louis fired from his job at a department store. Next, he goes after Henry D’Ascoyne. Louis had befriended Henry (“It’s so hard to kill people with whom one is not on friendly terms”), and so he attends his funeral. The service is conducted by another D’Ascoyne named Henry, the Reverend Lord Henry D’Ascoyne.

Louis describes the sermon commemorating the other Henry as “interminable nonsense.” After opening with the "seasonal" passage from Ecclesiastes 3, he moves on to commemorate Henry.  In the eulogy, the Parson said, “The life cut short was one rich in achievement and promise of service to humanity.” Louis knew that Henry's greatest goal was to sneak a drink while hiding from his wife -- not serving humanity.

Louis believes Henry is part of the English tradition of sending the dimmest member of the family to serve in the clergy (an idea often found in English novels). Louis finds him such a bore, he decides to move the Parson up to number three on his kill list.

So Louis takes on the “garb and character” of a visiting bishop and goes to see the Reverend D’Ascoyne, claiming to be making a collection of brass rubbings in country churches. When Henry greets Louis with, “Good evening, my Lord,” Louis is quite shocked to be addressed by his ecclesiastical title.

Henry happily gives Louis a tour of the church, speaking nonsense, “Have you noticed our cheristry? The corbels are very fine. You will note our chantry displays the crocketed and final ogee, which marks it as early perpendicular. The bosses to the pendant are typical. And I always say my west window has all the exuberance of Chaucer, without any of the crudities of his period.” Some of these are real architectural terms, but Henry seems to have no idea what they mean.

But the thing Parson Henry takes the most “pride” in, is the D’Ascoyne family crypt. “Every member of the family is buried in the vault,” he says, though Louis’ mother was not buried there. “The dead, as it were, keeping watch over the living.”

Quite notably absent in his tour is any mention of God, let alone Jesus.

Henry invites “the Bishop” to dinner. Louis notes that, “Fortunately, he was not one of those clerics who brings his vocation into his private life.” Henry luxuriates in wine and cigars, though his doctor advised him against both. But it gives Louis a good opportunity to put poison in Henry’s wine.

Yeah, murder is bad. But one doesn’t feel that the church will suffer greatly from the loss of the Reverend Lord Henry D’Ascoyne. Therefore, we are giving the Rev. a rather low Movie Churches rating of Two Steeples.

(And if you feel compelled to watch more black and white black comedies from the forties about serial killings, might I suggest 1944’s Arsenic and Old Lace. Directed by Frank Capra, the film has a minister, the Reverend Harper (who's also Cary Grant’s father-in-law). He doesn’t have much screen time, but he if he did, he would be likely to get a higher Steeple rating than Rev. Henry.)

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the Reverend was a little shall we say, bats in church belfry driven, but served with a little Guiness non-stout, he was fine.