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Anchor Bay presents
"All your cousins seem to get killed. I really wouldn't be surprised if you'd murdered them all."
DVD ReviewSir Alec Guinness had appeared in a few films already in 1949, attracting notice for his notorious portrayal of Fagin in David Lean's Oliver Twist. But he really lit up the screens with his unforgettable portrayal of the entire D'Ascoyne family in this black comedy from the legendary Ealing Studio. One of the best-regarded of the Ealing films, it still holds up quite well indeed.
Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini, Duke of Chalfont (Dennis Price), is sentenced to hang for murder. His memoirs, in the form of flashback, make the greater part of the picture, telling the tale of how he ended up in such a situation. Briefly, his mother had been a D'Ascoyne, but she and her son were disowned by the family for marrying a poor Italian musician. When her dying wish to be buried in the family vault is denied, Louis determines that he will systematically eliminate the family until the dukedom is his. Since there are eight surviving members of the family (all played by Guinness) who need to be eliminated, he has his work cut out for him. In the meantime, he falls in love with Eliza (Valerie Hobson), the widow of one of the relations, and is simultaneously carrying on with his boyhood love, the married Sibella (Joan Greenwood), a sure recipe for danger if there ever were one.
Guinness is justly famous for his multiple portrayal, though several of the characters are little more than broad caricatures (the admiral and the general, in particular). However, most of the others are finely realized, with a great deal of character conveyed in mere posture and gesture. Indeed, an unknowing viewer might be surprised to find that all these characters were portrayed by a single man. Although Guinness has the tour de force performance, the balance of the cast is excellent as well. Price has a determined vigor fueled by hatred, thinly disguised by gentility and a quiet demeanor. Classic character actors such as Miles Malleson and Hugh Griffith also make brief but memorable appearances. But one of the characters that sticks with me longest is Sebilla; Joan Greenwood's dusky voice combined with her little-girl attitude, barely masking her manipulative vanity and pure mercenary heartlessness, is highly entertaining.
The murders themselves tend to be fairly creative, though one shouldn't confuse Louis Mazzini with The Abominable Dr. Phibes. In keeping with the dry tone of the picture, the homicides tend to be discreet and mostly off-camera. The dialogue is mordant and clever, with a quiet British wit that will probably not sit well with Adam Sandler fans. However, those who appreciate a more subtle humor will find very much indeed to enjoy in this classic that well deserves that label. Deliciously entertaining from beginning to end, leavened with a generous dose of irony.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The negative for this film has been lost, so the transfer here necessarily comes from a print. Nonetheless, the transfer is highly attractive, with plenty of detail and a nice range of greys. The main defect is a frequent aliasing, but it's not overwhelming. Hardly any frame damage is visible, though there are occasional jumps from splices. Textures and shadow detail are excellent, as are black levels.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 English mono track suffers from the usual hiss and noise frequently found on older British films. In addition, music is distorted and harshly unpleasant. Dialogue is often difficult to make out; it took me three listens to verify that the hangman (Malleson) makes reference to 'hanging a Duke' rather than 'hanging a Jew,' which seemed both gratuitously nasty and out of place.
Audio Transfer Grade: C-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: The sole extras are a dupey looking trailer that emphasizes Guinness' multiple roles, and the usual biography and filmography that appears on the other discs in this series from Anchor Bay. One wishes that this film, at least, had gotten a little something more; even a text essay would have been welcome. Chaptering is generous.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsThe prototypical Ealing black comedy, given a very attractive transfer, though without much for extras.
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