Monday, December 15, 2008

Obi-wan Kenobi and Father Brown

Last week I watched The Detective, a 1954 movie based on G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories and starring Alec Guinness as the priest who's an amateur detective on the side.

I've seen Sir Alec in only three other movies (that I recall), and those, naturally, were the three original Star Wars movies, in which he played Obi-wan Kenobi.

Has anyone else seen both of those movies? I was happily surprised to find a similarity between the two roles.

Father Brown is a short, vague-looking, clumsy priest whom everyone takes at first for an innocent, sheltered type. Naturally he always proves to be tough-minded, brave, and very knowledgeable in the ways of the world, having learned much from the apparently endless supply of criminals who make confessions to him.

Well, remember how Obi-wan showed up in Episode 4? "He's sort of a crazy old hermit," says Luke, and then when we meet him he seems to be a kindly, simple fellow who takes the time to speak soothingly to R2D2. But of course he's actually way ahead of everybody and he ends up taking out the shield generator and saving the day.

There's a little bit of Father Brown in Obi-wan. Remember how Obi-wan sees Princess Leia's message begging for help, and then he looks at Luke with a sort of smile and says, "You must learn the ways of the Force if you're to come with me to Alderaan." That's a line that could have been delivered forcefully, but Guinness gives it a sort of gentle humor, a bold humility, like Father Brown saying to the latest criminal he's caught, "I am a priest, Monsieur Flambeau, and I am ready to hear your confession." Both characters are so completely secure in themselves that they don't mind appearing silly to others.

Also, they're both members of a religious organization and get to wear cool habits. :)

When Sir Alec was filming The Detective on location in France, there was an incident that contributed to his later conversion to Catholicism. Here it is in his own words from his autobiography:

By the time dusk fell I was bored, and dressed in my priestly black, I climbed the gritty winding road to the village.... I hadn't gone far when I heard scampering footsteps and a piping voice calling, "Mon père!" My hand was seized by a boy of seven or eight, who clutched it tightly, swung it, and kept up a non-stop prattle. He was full of excitement, hops, skips and jumps, but never let go of me. I didn't dare speak in case my excruciating French should scare him. Although I was a total stranger he obviously took me for a priest and so to be trusted. Suddenly with a "Bonsoir, mon père," and hurried sideways sort of bow, he disappeared through a hole in a hedge. He had had a happy, reassuring walk home, and I was left with an odd calm sense of elation. Continuing my walk I reflected that a Church which could inspire such confidence in a child, making its priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable, could not be as scheming and creepy as so often made out. I began to shake off my long-taught, long-absorbed prejudices.

If anyone wants to read some Father Brown, the very first story is The Blue Cross, which introduces the master thief Flambeau. And I like the confrontation between Father Brown and Flambeau at the end of The Flying Stars.

1 comment:

Rachel Ann said...

Sir Alec was Catholic? Awesome.