The comedy "Kind Hearts and Coronets" is said to have helped transform Alec Guinness from merely a respected actor to a legitimate movie star in Britain, a performer with box office charisma beyond his obvious talents.
The climbing popularity of Guinness, previously successful on the stage and in more serious films of varying commercial appeal, came in part from the public's romance with the masquerade and the quick-change artist. "Kind Hearts," which screens at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center Friday, Aug. 10, let him toy with one identity after another, an opportunity he thrived on.
Made in 1949 by the famous Ealing Studios--the London company known for its defiantly British dramas and dry, highbrow laughers, the blacker the better--"Kind Hearts" offered Guinness eight supporting roles, from an arrogant and amorous country squire to a starchy suffragette with a fondness for hot air ballooning.
By using a minimum of makeup and scene chewing (even when in drag), and instead relying on the sly gesture and inflection, Guinness gives the movie much of its accent. "Kind Hearts," in the Ealing tradition, is low-key and probably a bit stuffy by American standards, but Guinness' satiric sketches of English aristocracy add color to director Robert Hamer's screenplay.