The films of Ealing Studios can often be characterised as good-natured,
down-to-earth comedy offerings, light-hearted in tone and always steering
towards the attainment of community betterment; characters typically
conclude the film having learned a valuable lesson, and the ending
is usually most ideal for all concerned. Later films such as 'The
Lavender Hill Mob (1951)' and especially 'The Ladykillers (1955)'
returned to the murky themes of Hamer's film, but they couldn't avoid
reinforcing the age-old adage that "crime doesn't pay,"
whereas this comedy leaves ample room for the possibility of our killer
film's antihero is verbose, narcissistic Louis Manzzini (Dennis Price),
who is awaiting his own execution for the murders of eight members of
the d'Ascoyne family. That's the "what" of the story…
the "who" and "why" are revealed as the Manzzini,
ever the egotist, jots down his memoirs in his jail cell. Manzzini's
mother, it is revealed, was once part of the d'Ascoyne family but was
disowned for marrying beneath her class (to a tenor, no less!). As a
result, she is forced to raise Louis in poverty and never lets him forget
her misfortune. Louis's frustrations in life come to a head when his
mother dies and his true love Sibella, a smarmy gold digger, dumps him
for a dull but wealthy beau. When Louis discovers he's technically ninth
in line for the title of Duke d'Ascoyne, he schemes to kill off each
successor one by one until he gets what's rightfully his (his job is
made a little easier when one dies from illness).
is especially remarkable, with lush bedroom eyes, a voice like a dipso
courtesan, and a talent for drawing big laughs from her character's
selfish pronouncements. She's so monstrous at times, teasing out Louis's
early expressions of desire and taunting him about his aspirations for
dukedom ("Maybe pigs will fly"), yet as the tale unfolds and
she finds herself on the outside of Louis's bright future, we find ourselves
pulled as much by her desperate, dark measures as we have been by Louis's.
The two, as they agree, are made for each other.