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John Howard Reid

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Father Brown, Detective
By John Howard Reid   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Monday, July 20, 2009
Posted: Monday, July 20, 2009

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I must admit that not all the two hundred plus entries in "AMERICA'S BEST, BRITAIN'S FINEST: A SURVEY OF MIXED MOVIES" are long. Here is an EXTRACT from one of the shorter reviews. A "mixed movie" I define as a film that features players that appeal to both British and American audiences.

 

Father Brown, Detective

Alec Guinness (Father Brown), Joan Greenwood (Lady Warren), Peter Finch (Flambeau), Cecil Parker (Bishop), Bernard Lee (“Car Salesman”), Sid James (chauffeur), Gérard Oury (French inspector), Ernest Clark (secretary), Aubrey Woods (Charlie), John Salew (station sergeant), Sam Kydd (Scotland Yard file clerk), John Horsley (Inspector Wilkins), Jack McNaughton (railway guard), Hugh Dempster (man in bowler hat), Eugene Deckers (French officer on train), Betty Baskcomb (widow on train), Billy Shine (ticket-taker at station), Diana Van Proosdy (waitress), Dino Galvani (Italian professor), Lance Maraschal (Texan millionaire), Noel Howlett (auctioneer), Marne Maitland (Indian potentate), Austin Trevor (herald expert), Ernest Thesiger (herald expert in Paris), Hugo Schuster (optician), Guido Lorraine (cafe patron), Jim Gérald (French stationmaster), Daniel Clérice (garagiste), Everley Gregg (governess) and the singers and dancers of the Matisconia DeMâcon.

Director: ROBERT HAMER. Screenplay: Thelma Schnee, Maurice Rapf, Robert Hamer. Story: Thelma Schnee. Based on characters created by G.K. Chesterton. Music composed by Georges Auric, played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Photography: Harry Waxman. Film editor: Gordon Hales. Production designer: John Hawkesworth. Costume designer: Julia Squire. Make-up: Bob Lawrance. Hair stylist: Pauline Trent. Production manager: Leigh Aman. Assistant director: Max Varnel. Sound recordists: L.B. Bulkeley, George Burgess. Camera operator: James Bawden. Set continuity: Phyllis Crocker. Music conducted by Muir Mathieson. RCA Sound Recording. Associate producer: Vivian Cox. Producer: Paul Finder Moss.

Copyright 1 September 1954 by Facet Productions Ltd, London. Released through Columbia Pictures. New York opening at the Fine Arts: 1 November 1954. U.S. release: March 1955. London trade show: June 1954. Australian release: 9 June 1956 (sic). Sydney opening at the Lyceum. 8,200 feet. 91 minutes. Cut to 86 minutes in the U.S.A.

U.S. release title: the DETECTIVE.

U.K. release title: FATHER BROWN.

SYNOPSIS: A master thief has his eyes on the priceless Cross of St Augustine carried by Father Brown on his way to Rome.

COMMENT: A delight. True, the screenplay isn’t quite as colorfully witty or chock-full of weird surprises as the original Chesterton pieces, (and the long arm of co-incidence in the storyline strains — but by no means shatters — credulity in one or two places), but the writers make some pretty ingenious stabs in the right directions. Moreover, the direction is so deft and pacey, there’s no time to ponder any trivial inconsistencies of plot or characterisation. Plus the movie has been produced on a class “A” budget, with lots of extras milling around in plenty of fascinating sets and real-life locations.

But, aside from the polished screenplay, astute direction, sprightly music score and appealing visuals, the movie excels in its acting department. Alec Guinness makes a fine Father Brown, every inch as likable — and accurate — as Chesterton’s creation, whilst Finch enjoys one of the best roles of his career as the masterful yet quirkily misanthropic thief, Flambeau. Supporting honors lie in the hat-tossing hands of such stalwart character players as Bernard Lee, Sid James, Ernest Thesiger, Cecil Parker, John Salew, and Gerard Oury.

Oddly, despite its credentials as one of the best British comedies of the year, plus box-office super-favorites Guinness and Finch in the leads, the movie was not successful in Australia. Perhaps the lack of a traditionally boring love interest swayed audiences to give the picture a miss. True, Joan Greenwood is co-starred, but her role is small and colorless.

OTHER VIEWS: Whilst the movie has not a great deal in common with Chesterton, does it really matter? On its own terms, the movie is mightily engaging. Not just for its performances, although these are no mean attractions. Guinness makes Brown so deliciously sly, full of almost mischievous humour, whilst Finch’s equally appealing portrait of the suave, melancholy Flambeau, Joan Greenwood’s charmingly mannered aristocratic parishioner, Sid James’ fluent reformed thief, Cecil Parker’s lordly bishop and Ernest Thesiger’s fumbling master of heraldry, add greatly to the overall merriment.

What makes Father Brown such an unalloyed delight is not just the story and the stars — appealingly attractive though they be — but Robert Hamer’s stylish direction which — as Penelope Houston points out in her Monthly Film Bulletin review — has such a wonderfully detached, highly civilised air, “the more welcome because, in the British cinema, it is so uncommon.”

But what more could you expect of the director of Pink String and Sealing Wax, It Always Rains on Sunday, Kind Hearts and Coronets, and The Long Memory?

— G.A.

Web Site: New Movie Books



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