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Friday, September 21, 2012

FATHER BROWN (1974)

Before the BBC begins their new series of G. K. Chesterton Father Brown murder mysteries (with DR. WHO’s Mark Williams as the cross-bearing sleuth), you can bone up on the 13 trimly-made episodes from the mid-‘70s. Much in their favor is Kenneth More who plays the title role with a light touch and just the right blend of scepticism & personal reserve. He can’t do much about the tinny production values & the surprisingly hit-and-miss casts (some of the foreign accents are downright alarming), but he was lucky enough to have playwright Hugh Leonard (DA; A LIFE; a fine tv NICHOLAS NICKLEBY/’77) on board for about half of them. The stories work best when the good Father merely clears a path to the solution and then lets others figure things out; and some even dare to end without full resolutions. Two of the most intriguing come right at the end. One, features an American billionaire killed in a fortress-like bunker. Leonard didn’t write this one though, and it’s just too ambitious (and oddly acted) to fulfill the set-up. But Leonard was hired for the finale, which does much better with a similar claustrophobic angle. Set in France, with a beheading or two, it has a dandy resolution and even a nice character arc for a couple of ex-lovers. Throughout the series, there’s some fun in spotting guest stars like James Bond’s M (Bernard Lee) and a young Charles Dance, but after so much dreary lighting & sets, you do start to wish that radio drama was still an option.

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