“The D’Ascoynes had not only wronged my mother; they were the obstacle between me and everything I wanted.”
Response to Peary’s Review:
Despite his discomfort, Peary ultimately lauds the film as “beautifully played”, calling out its “absolutely exquisite script” with “sophisticated dialogue [that] reminds [him] of Oscar Wilde”. [“While I never admired Edith as much as when I was with Sibella, I never longed for Sibella as much as when I was with Edith”, our protagonist drolly intones at one point.] Peary points out that part of what adds “to the amusement is that while the educated characters engage in smart conversation, or Price’s silver-tongued narration hints at his egocentricity, absolutely silly events occur” — such as a victim who’s “blown up in the background”, or “lovers [who] plunge over a waterfall”. He notes that his “only complaint” is what he considers to be “an overly convenient (for the writers) ending that saves Price from having to make a difficult decision”, but I disagree; I find it a suitably open-ended finale to a story with an undeniably challenging moral compass.
It’s been pointed out that Guinness’s tour de force work as no less than eight supporting characters (including, in a hilarious bit, one woman) often overshadows Price’s perfectly controlled performance in the lead role; each actor ultimately deserves a different type of kudos, one no less than the other. Joan Greenwood, meanwhile, is suitably sibilant and cat-like as Price’s kindred spirit — an ambitious young woman who takes the first opportunity she sees for social ascension, but immediately regrets her decision. The cinematography (by Douglas Slocombe), sets, and direction (by Robert Hamer) all contribute to the success of the movie — one which film fanatics (and their loved ones) can safely return to time and again when seeking a generous helping of deliciously dark humor.
Note: As far as I know, this was the first comedy to feature one actor playing so many different parts, thus paving the way for similar work by Peter Sellers, Jerry Lewis, and Eddie Murphy, among others.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)