Yet Ealing had a flip-side; The Man in the White Suit and The Lady Killers are cool exercises in the blithely sardonic which could teach Mr Tarantino a thing or two. They positively hum with understated malice.
Kind Hearts and Coronets (right), on the other hand, yodels from the rooftops; it's Ealing's blackest farce - a tale of multiple murder beyond Wilde's most outre epigrams. It wants to call attention to its delicious heartlessness - will social climber Dennis Price actually shoot, poison, blow-up and drown all nine members of the D'Ascoyne family in order to inherit a dukedom? - and 45 years later it still does.
In fact, Kind Hearts remains rather shocking. It's certainly corrupting. Outside of Hitchcock, there aren't many movies that expect you to identify with the murderer, even if each of the victims are played by Alec Guinness, thereby somewhat drawing death's sting. Still, it's a bit of a shock to find yourself looking forward to the spilling of blue blood: we watch Price kill his simple, cheery cousin (an early sketch for Harry Enfield's Tim-Nice-But-Dim) and give the current Duke both barrels, and our response is not revulsion but applause.
Kind Hearts knows that the merciless British class system deserves no mercy in return. And, like Wilde, it knows that natural elegance covers a multitude of sins, among which murder is ranked many, many rungs below the inability to appreciate a good joke, yea, even at one's own expense.
'Kind Hearts and Coronets' shows at 7.30pm, Wed MOMI, SE1 (071-928 3232)
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