Dennis Price did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Louis Mazzini in Kind Hearts and Coronets.
Playing the lead of this film certainly is a challenge as Price must be the one really to create and maintain the tone goes by through his portrayal of the serial killer. Of course Louis Mazzini is not the standard psychopathic serial killer instead he kills as a process to meet his goal of becoming the Duke in spite of the D'Ascoyne's disowning his mother. Price finds the right tone here in a similar manner to the way Charlie Chaplin did for Monsieur Verdoux, although Price probably goes even more head first into the approach than Chaplin did. This approach being that of being incredibly dry in their portrayal.
Dennis Price is all about being dry here which works for Louis perfectly. To have Louis really sadistically enjoy the murders, or to even greatly be troubled by them would not work at all for the tone the film is looking for. Price doesn't either portray his as an every man hero for us to follow either, which also would not have worked for the tone either. Instead he takes the dry approach portraying Louis as a particularly cunning, and astute killer. He makes it so the murders are perhaps personal in a certain way, but for the most part they come off as a bit of a sport that any jolly old man from Britain might find quite agreeable to them.
Price hits just the right note with his portrayal of Louis which is really quite a cold portrayal in a certain way in terms of how he goes about the murders, and even how he goes about his romantic relations with a married childhood friend and the widow of one of the men he has murdered. He is cold which works for the black comedy that is present, but importantly he has just the right degree of wit in his portrayal. This never an obviously humorous portrayal of Louis, except his brief scenes at the beginning when he portrays Louis's Italian father, but a far more subtle ones found in his deadpan within character deliveries of his lines.
Price gives a fairly consistent performance here that is fitting of Louis who is steadfast in his desire to become Duke, and basically starts acting like the would be Duke even before he is one. There are variations to this such as when he is trying to get into the graces of one of his eventual victims or the women in his life. Price does not change all that much in demeanor just changes into slightly more welcoming in his behavior although his eyes always suggest that his mission is always on his mind even when he exchanges pleasantries with the people he intends to kill. This again works in favor of the film's very specific tone.
This is a strong performance by Dennis Price that stays constant in tone and style throughout the film. He keeps it dry, intelligent, and wit filled as the murderous Louis Mazzini. This absolutely works to the benefit of the film that has such a particular and difficult fashion of comedy found in the film. Price makes it all work through his effective and efficient performance that moves through the plot in a fantastic fashion. Honestly this was a performance that if it had been off at all, which would have been very easy to say the least, the whole film could have faltered. Price though succeeds entirely with the role, and in turn allows the film to succeed as well.