Robert Hamer after Ealing
LOUIS M AZZINI, SERIAL killer and tenth Duke of Chalfont, emerges from jail, cleared of the murder for which he was about to hang. Waiting for him, along with two attractive rival widows, is a bowler-hatted little man from a popular magazine bidding for his memoirs. `My memoirs?' murmurs Louis, the faintest spasm of panic rufﬂing his urbanity, and we cut to a pile of pages lying forgotten in the condemned cell: the incriminating manuscript that occupied his supposed last hours on earth.
So ends Robert Hamer's best-known ﬁlm, Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). It's an elegant, teasing sign-off from a movie that has teased us elegantly all through — luring us into complicity with its cool, conﬁdential voice-over, holding us at arm's length with its deadpan irony. The ﬁnal gag, with an amused shrug, invites us to pick our own ending: Louis triumphant, retrieving his manuscript, poised for glory and prosperity; or Louis disgraced, doomed by his own hand. (For the US version, the Breen Ofﬁce priggishly demanded an added shot of the memoirs in the hands of the authorities.)
Films have an eerie habit of mirroring the conditions of their own making — and of their makers. Or is it that we can't resist reading such reﬂections into them, indulging ourselves in the enjoyable shudder of the unwitting premonition? Either way, Kind Hearts' ambiguous close seems to foreshadow the options facing Hamer himself on its completion. His ﬁnest ﬁlm to date, it could have led to a dazzling career. Instead, it marked the high-point before an abrupt and irreversible decline. Apart from Preston Sturges, it's hard to think of another director who has fallen so far so fast.____________________