‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ arrives on UK Region B locked Blu-ray with a superb 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, framed in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. This is, without doubt, the best looking of all the black-and-white Ealing Comedies to have appeared on the High Def format within the last few months. It would seem that the original elements have survived the ravages of time better than ‘Whisky Galore’ or ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’. This time round the original 35mm negatives were transferred in 2k definition on a Northlight 2 Film Scanner before being digitally restored using Film Master D.V.O. tools and PFClean software. This removed dirt, scratches, warps, torn frames and improved stability issues. The result just hits you right between the eyes with its wonderful contrast and deep blacks. The image is sharp yet filmic and with very fine grain. It’s hard to believe that you are looking at a movie that was released just a few years after World War II. Forget all the pale grey, scratched prints that you’ve seen on TV over the years. If you can appreciate great black-and-white photography for its lighting and atmosphere then you’ll be stunned by cinematographer Douglas Slocombe’s work on this film. Optimum really have excelled themselves with this transfer. If I had to be Mr Ultra Picky, I’d mention that in the scene where the seafaring D’Ascoyne meets his demise, at the point where the two ships collide, something wierd occurs with the picture densities. There were just a couple of shots of Mazzini that looked a bit soft compared to others – and I’m not confusing them with deliberate soft focus close-ups. You can see this intended effect on head shots of Joan Greenwood towards the end of the film where Mr Slocombe would have put a black net filter on the lens. Overall, the film looks eye poppingly good.
To sum the restoration up in words of one syllable – Wow!
The audio on ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ comes in an LPCM 2.0 track containing a much cleaned up version of the original mono sound. It’s clear that instances of pops, clicks, hiss and distortion have been removed or minimised. You have to really wind the wick up high to hear any hiss at all. The dialogue is very clear throughout and Mazzini’s 'Voice Over' has a hollow quality reminiscent of the timbre of many a cinema’s big centre speaker. We get the chance to compare it to a previous version, courtesy of the Dennis Price Documentary on the disc – and what a muffled, indistinct clip they chose. It makes you fully realise just how good the version we now have is.
Despite the digital restoration of the sound, those with control of the mouse were careful not to ruin things like the comedic distant boomph, as Henry D’Ascoyne meets his maker in the potting shed, by making it sound too clean and clinical. To have done that would have simply lost the laugh. A nicely cleaned up soundtrack, but it’s the image that really shines.
Audio Commentary - Peter Bradshaw (Film Critic at ‘The Guardian’), film director Terence Davies and Matthew Guinness (son of Sir Alec Guinness) talk us through the movie – picking out individual performances like that of Miles Malleson as the Hangman and they give Dennis Price the credit he was due for holding the film together. There are some long silences but they’re quite well informed companions with whom to watch the film. Terence Davies’ enthusiasm overtakes him and if he says, “It’s gorgeous!” once he says it a hundred times. Honestly, those luvvies.
Introduction by John Landis (HD, 3 mins) - A wordy intro from John Landis who shows his appreciation for the film, backed up by a few timely clips.
Dennis Price: Those British Faces (HD, 26 mins) - This tribute to Dennis Price looks back over his career which took off after he was signed up by the Rank Organisation following World War II. His peak was really with ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ and his career faltered in the early 1950’s when he even appeared in a film with Max Bygraves before his attempted suicide in 1954. It looks like a 16mm print has been transferred here, making the quality of the main feature appear even better than ever, when you compare it to the quality of the lengthy clips in this documentary.
BBC Radio 3 - The Essay (Audio only, 14 mins) - Taken from the BBC 3 radio series ‘British Cinema of the 1940s’, in this episode broadcast on 16th September 2010, Daily Telegraph journalist Simon Heffer looks at ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’. He puts it into the context of post war Britain and investigates the attitudes and themes reflected in the film. It certainly sounds like an essay being read out loud.
Alternative American Ending (HD, 2 mins 41sec) - The Americans were so shocked by the film’s ambivalent ending that they ordered the shooting of another final scene. Here it is in a fairly ropey print, but it shows what the Brits had to do to please the U.S. mass market audience in 1949.
Restoration comparison (HD, 6 mins) - A before and after restoration comparison shows the original to have been in pretty good nick, with some adjustments required to the contrast. The original is what we’ve seen on TV over the years and the restoration has been well worthwhile. It’s obvious that this film has fared much better than ‘Whisky Galore’ although it was released in the same year.
Behind the Scenes Stills Gallery - Some beautiful studio portraits and location shots as well as hanging around on set with the cast. This was when the work of a stills photographer really made a star look special.
Excerpts from BECTU Interview with Douglas Slocombe (Audio only, 28 mins) - Sidney Cole interviewed Lighting Cameraman Douglas Slocombe back in November 1988. We hear how he started work as a cinematographer just as war broke out and he talks about his experiences on ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’, working at Ealing Studios as well as what makes a good cameraman. It’s a little muffled and Mr Slocombe has a bit of a misfire when he speaks at times so you need to tune in your ears, but it’s interesting to see the world through his eyes. Most fascinating was his trip to Danzig just before World War II to take stills.
Trailer (HD, 3 mins) -They don’t make trailers like this any more – full of wipes and superimposed titles. It gives a tantalising flavour of the movie.
Probably the darkest of all the Ealing Comedies, ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ finds its way on to UK Region B locked Blu-ray with a truly wonderful looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, framed in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Douglas Slocombe’s black-and-white photography is treated with the utmost respect in this new digitally restored release. Contrast is punchy, blacks are black, the image is sharp and the transfer makes it hard to believe this was released in 1949.
The original mono audio has been digitally cleaned up too and there’s no evidence of hiss, snap, crackle or pop to spoil your enjoyment of the crisp, clear dialogue.
Among the extras there’s an audio commentary, a nice doco on the career of Dennis Price, an audio interview with cinematographer Douglas Slocombe as well as the alternate ending produced for the U.S. of A.
The film itself allows Alec Guinness to play eight members of the D’Ascoyne family who fall prey to the plot of murderous revenge perpetrated by Dennis Price as Louis Mazzini as he pursues the Dukedom. Dark, delicious, witty comedy at its best.
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