Detective, The / Father Brown (1954)

“I want to help him — to cure him of a sickness in his soul.”

Detective Father Brown Poster

Synopsis:
A priest (Alec Guinness) with a penchant for sleuthing is determined to save the soul of a notorious, disguise-happy thief named Flambeau (Peter Finch).

Genres:

Review:
British writer G.K. Chesterton is perhaps best-known for creating the character of Father Brown, a humble priest who uses his empathic understanding of human nature to intuitively solve crimes — with the unique aim of helping to save the souls of criminals, rather than imprison them. Chesterton’s “Father Brown stories” have been interpreted through various media over the years (radio, T.V., film), but this Robert Hamer-directed version is one of the most highly regarded, thanks largely to the casting of Alec Guinness in the title role. Guinness’s Father Brown is a clever, measured chap — unafraid to stand up to his superiors in pursuit of what he feels is best for his parishioners (and humanity at large), and doggedly persistent in his goals. The film’s storyline is taken up exclusively with Brown’s pursuit of a notorious French criminal known as Flambeau (Finch), a master of disguise who is entirely capable of fooling Brown more than once. Their cat-and-mouse interactions — made all the more unusual given Brown’s desire to convert Flambeau, not just capture him — are set in a series of inspired locales, most notably the Parisian catacombs. Unfortunately, the proceedings in general are just a tad too genteel, and a couple of excellent character actors — Joan Greenwood and the inimitable Ernest Thesiger — are sadly underutilized; yet as Time Out’s reviewer puts it, this remains a “stylishly civilized” affair, one which will surely appeal to fans of comedic thrillers from this era.

Note: Robert Hamer is best known for directing Alec Guinness in the classic black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), and for helming one segment (“The Haunted Mirror”) of the horror anthology Dead of Night (1945).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Alec Guinness as Father Brown
    Detective Guinness
  • Peter Finch as Flambeau
    Detective Finch
  • Nice use of authentic locales and settings
    Detective Settings1
    Detective Settings2
  • Atmospheric cinematography
    Detective Cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a one-time look, and is probably must-see for Guinness fans.

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One Response to “Detective, The / Father Brown (1954)”

  1. First viewing. Not a must.

    A very mildly entertaining film which, alas, has not stood the test of time and now comes off as merely quaint. Saddled with a thin script, Hamer directs competently and the photography is nicely handled. The cast tries its best but even Guinness – who is never bad – only manages so-so results. The film contains a modicum of worthy philosophical thought – i.e., “The more you learn about yourself, the more you understand other people.” – but momentum is not a constant and ultimately things turn rather feeble.

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