Release Year: 1954
Director: Robert Hamer
Writers: Thelma Schnee (adaptation & screenplay), Robert Hamer (screenplay), Maurice Rapf (screenplay), G.K. Chesterton (based on his Father Brown stories)
Starring: Alec Guinness, Peter Finch, Joan Greenwood, Bernard Lee, Cecil Parker, Sidney James, Gérard Oury
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #236, week 52 2018
The master thief Flambeau (Peter Finch) steal the priceless Blue Cross for his collection sending Catholic parish priest Father Brown (Alec Guinness) on the a quest to recover the cross and save Flambeau’s immortal soul.
Several British detectives of the classic detective era have maintained a steadfast popularity since they were first introduced to the public, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, to name few, but not so much G.K. Chesterton’s humble priest, Father Brown. Based on a real life priest and acquaintance of Chesterton’s the character hinged on the idea that what a priest hears in the confessional must give them great insight into the darker regions of human existence and thus an aptitude for solving crime. In this regard, Brown is the antithesis of Holmes; where the latter solves crime by deduction based on clues, the former relies on a keen perception of human nature. The film incorporates element from several of the Father Brown short stories but mostly follows the plot of The Blue Cross. Alec Guinness (Kind Hearts and Coronet, 1949) plays th character wonderful, giving him a humbleness and sincerity that balances his more quirky personalities traits. Brown has a, some would say, unhealthy interest in crime but his heart is in right place and his goal is never to catch the criminal but to save the criminal from himself. This is a nice break from many crime films in which criminals are shot down left and right. Finch (The Trials of Oscar Wilde, 1960) as Flambeau is as captivating as Guinness and the two face each other in a battle that is most of all spiritual. But this is not a serious and dark film, it has plenty of excitement and light-hearted comedy. With interesting settings (Paris, Burgundy) and a great script as well as memorable performance this is a classic detective film that deserves more attention (and wider release). Highly recommended!
The St. Augustine referred to in the film is not the famous St. Augustine of Hippo (author of Confessions and City of God) but St Augustine of Canterbury who was commissioned by Pope Gregory the Great in 596 A.D. to evangelise the Anglo-Saxon tribes in Britain. He is known ”The Apostle of the English”.
One day during filming, Guinness was walking in costume by a local boy. The boy ran up to him and yelled ”Mon père! Mon père!” (my father) and took his hand. Guinness did not known enough French to correct him and the boy didn’t seem to noticed that he didn’t understand much of what he said. The boy then proceeded to tell him about his day before he said goodbye and ran home. Guinness was so impressed by this experience that it was one of the reasons he converted to Catholicism shortly after the film was released.
Father Brown was released as The Detective in the US. An earlier adaptation by Paramount released in 1934 was entitled Father Brown, Detective.
Picture Copyright: Columbia Pictures