Monday, January 13, 2014



The eccentric Father Brown is always trying to save souls, and play detective when he can—as the movie opens, we see him caught by police one night returning some "swag" that a parishioner stole. He even gets the would-be burglar a job as chauffeur to the rich widow Lady Warren. Father Brown's church holds a holy relic, the cross of St. Augustine; the Bishop wants the cross transported to a church congress in Rome but is worried because professional thief Flambeau has threatened to steal it, so Brown suggests taking it himself. Along the way, Brown becomes suspicious of a fellow traveler, a car salesman, and confides in a bearded priest; but, surprise, the salesman is actually a Scotland Yard inspector assigned to keep an eye on Brown, and the bearded priest is Flambeau, who manages to get the best of Brown during a sightseeing visit to some catacombs. Brown has nine days to find Flambeau and recover the cross before he's called before the archbishop.

I haven't read any of the Father Brown stories by G.K. Chesterton, and some fans of the character don't like the liberties taken by this film version, but I found this to be a charming slightly off-kilter comic thriller, with Alec Guinness perfect in the title role. He's a little bumbling but also rather clever, and quite likable. A young Peter Finch (pictured above to the left of Guinness) is just as good as Flambeau, to the point where you're almost not sure who you're rooting for. Each scene in which Guinness and Finch interact is a gem: on the train to Rome, in the catacombs, and at the end in Flambeau's home. Cecil Parker (as the bishop) and Joan Greenwood (as Lady Warren) are fine if underused, and Ernest Thesiger is delightful in what amounts to a cameo as a doddering old archivist. It's a shame Guinness didn’t make more Father Brown films. [TCM]

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