Saturday, March 15, 2014

Father Brown aka The Detective ( 1954 )

When Father Brown's beloved cross of St. Augustus is stolen en route to Rome, he is determined to capture the thief and restore not only the cross, but a lost soul as well. The daring thefts of Flambeau, a master of disguise, are known throughout all of England. Here is a lost sheep just waiting to be saved. But is it Flambeau's soul that Father Brown is truly seeking to save? Or is it the challenge of matching wits with the great thief that the pastor pursues instead? Has he committed the ultimate of the seven deadly sins and allowed pride in his own intellect to become his ruling passion? 

Alec Guinness' Father Brown is not a highly sophisticated crime-solver, but instead an elderly man who thrills at the occasional puzzle that comes his way. He has the appearance of a naive, bumbling man ( Chesterton described him "a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling" ), and the observation of a Sherlock Holmes, but his greatest skill is his keen understanding of the human heart. 

When the twelve-centuries old cross of St. Augustus, belonging to his parish church, is stolen right from under his arms he feels personally responsible for bringing it back. He had had great success in bringing former criminals to justice, befriending them,and helping to convert them to honest livelihoods that he does not doubt his capabilities in capturing the great Flambeau as well. To aid him in his holy endeavor is the lovely widow Lady Warren ( Joan Greenwood ), a dear friend of the padre. Peter Finch, Sidney James, Bernard Lee and Cecil Parker round out a stellar cast. 

" The more you learn about other people, the more you learn about yourself. The more you learn about yourself, the more you learn about other people. "


Like all of his roles, Alec Guinness attacks the character of Father Ignatius Brown with a whole-hearted rigor....and yet, he doesn't quite manage to convince us of the devout spirituality of the character. Perhaps it is because Guinness was not of the faith himself when he made the film. Having grown up a strict Catholic, Guinness had an ingrown distaste for all things Catholic. One day, during location filming in France, a small boy ran up to Guinness ( who was in costume ) calling "Mon pere! Mon pere!". Since Guinness did not speak French he was unable to tell him he was not really a priest. The boy was so happy talking with him, just knowing he was a priest, that Guinness realized that a Church which could inspire such confidence in a child, making its priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable could not be all that bad. Soon after he was converted to Catholicism. 


Father Brown ( released as The Detective in the States ) was not the first film to feature C.K. Chesterton's famous sleuth. Father Brown, Detective ( 1934 ) took one of his best short stories "The Blue Cross" ( 1910 ) and reworked it into a fine film featuring Walter Connoly as Father Brown and Paul Lukas as Flambeau. Halliwell Hobbes, Una O'Connor and E.E Clive also starred in this Paramount film. 

The Detective followed suit and used "The Blue Cross" as the basis to its clever story line which leaves the audience in suspense guessing what the latest disguise of the great Flambeau would be. Georges Auric's inspiring score was well-suited to the picture and his particular musical motif for Father Brown is indeed charming. 

Although The Detective bogs down in certain spots, Robert Hamer's taut direction, the intriguing locales - most notably the Parisian catacombs - and the many endearing cat-and-mouse sequences redeem the film and till today it has remained a favorite among Father Brown aficionados. 

" For this my son was dead and has come to life again; was lost and is found. And they began to be merry. "

11 comments:

  1. I agree that Alec Guinness--though a fine actor--misses the mark as Father Brown. Actually, I haven't seen a Father Brown adaptation yet that captures the flavor of the G.K. Chesterton novels. It's interesting that for the film's U.S. release, any mention of Father Brown was removed from the title! Thanks for sharing the story about Guinness's conversion to Catholicism. I hadn't heard that before.

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    1. When I was delving in for information for this post, I found that Barnard Hughes made a television pilot for a proposed Father Brown series. He seems like a good choice ( not that I've read the books ). If I was a casting director for this 1954 film however, I would have chosen someone like Cecil Kellaway to play the venerable priest. I think he would have been a wee bit more convincing in character.

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  2. Now I must check out Connolly in the role. I enjoy "The Detective", but wanted to love it. To love Father Brown is to love the Chesterton stories, on a porch with a warm sun and a light breeze. Ah, now that's what I call sleuthing!

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    1. I would love to see that 1934 version too. If you manage to find a copy of it, give me a holler...we can compare notes. ;-)

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    2. By the way, I haven't read Chesteron's Father Brown stories yet. I have The Complete Father Brown on order at the library and can't wait for it to arrive.

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  3. Thanks for the review and the fascinating background information of Father Brown and Alec Guinness. I have to confess that (being a child of the Star Wars-obsessed 80's) that it took me a while to be able to accept Mr. Guinness as anyone other than Obi-wan Kenobi. I'm sure that would have annoyed him no end.

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    1. I felt that way about Leslie Nielsen ( still do in fact ). But I must agree, Guinness would have been crushed to know that. I'm sure he took great pride in being a very versatile actor, even if he couldn't hide that very-recognizable face of his in his different characterizations.

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  4. I found your review particularly interesting because I recently saw the 2013 television adaption with Mark Williams as Father Brown. He does a fair job, but many Chestertonians complain about the series. Thank you for sharing with us all.

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    1. I have yet to see the new Father Brown series, but I've been hearing mixed reviews about it ( like every version prior to it received as well ). Glad you enjoyed our post!

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  5. Oh boy. I did not know there were Father Brown movies, let alone Alec Guinness as Father Brown...!

    That was an interesting story, about Guinness being in France and meeting that young boy. I have a friend who has recently converted to Catholicism – I'm going to share that with her.

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    1. It's a film well worth checking out, especially if you are a Father Brown aficionado. When the Walter Connolly version gets released I'm going to spring at the chance to see that film. We're glad you enjoyed the post!

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