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Clever and amusing: A movie of thievery and faith
on 15 August 2007
"What are you really after, your cross or my soul?" asks the international art thief, Flambeau, of Father Brown.
"Both, of course," Father Brown replies.
"Well, come and find us," Flambeau says. "I'll make you a bargain. Whatever you can find you shall have."
"I accept your bargain," Father Brown says, and we're off into a gentle, amusing and thoughtful movie which stars Alec Guinness as Father Brown and Peter Finch as Flambeau.
Father Brown is a parish priest in an English village. He takes care of his flock, saves the souls he can, and tries to put the erring members on more wholesome paths. He also is eccentric -- or at least very honest. He practices karate, loves mysteries, is very near-sighted, is no one's fool and has great but realistic empathy. "I'm disappointed in you, Bert." he tells one of his flock who is a petty thief. "I'm sorry, Father, it was just..." "Firstly," Father Brown interrupts, "because you did wrong. Secondly, because you did wrong in the wrong way. Frankly, you are an incompetent thief." "Well, I wouldn't go that far," Bert says. "I would," Father Brown says. "You are clearly incapable of earning a dishonest living. Why not experiment with an honest one?"
A master art thief has been stealing works of art throughout Europe and one day manages to steal a priceless cross from Father Brown's church. With the assistance of Lady Warren (Joan Greenwood) and over the exasperated objections of his bishop, Father Brown is determined to find the cross, locate Flambeau and in the process, if he can, save Flambeau's soul. The search takes Father Brown to Paris and the French country side, down into catacombs and into Flambeau's chateau. At last there is a confrontation, and then a resolution that involves Lady Warren as well as Flambeau.
There are some first-rate, clever set pieces in the movie. An amusing triple exchange of packages takes place at a Parisian table. An excursion deep into the catacombs is complicated by the French police following Father Brown who is trying to follow Flambeau. Ernest Thesiger makes a brief but very funny appearance as an aged fellow assisting Father Brown in locating a document very high up on a shelf. In the process they break both their glasses. There also are a number of thoughtful exchanges between Flambeau and Father Brown as the one explains his philosophy of life and thievery and the other explains his philosophy of faith.
The movie can get a bit talky at times, but who cares when the talking is by three such first-rate actors as Guinness, Finch and Greenwood.