March 22, 2015 – If you were asked to name an old film starring the late Sir Alec Guinness, in which he wore a dark robe and chased a disguised nemesis, what would you say? If we added that the themes of good versus evil as well as redemption figured prominently in this comedic thriller, you might answer: “D’uh… Star Wars!” But that’s not the only answer.
In 1954, Alec Guinness played the part of a genteel Catholic priest in the English film Father Brown The Detective. IMDb.com summarizes the film: “Works of art are disappearing, stolen by a master thief, a master of disguise. Father Brown has two goals: to catch the thief and to save his soul.”
If you enjoy old black-and-white classic movies, Father Brown might be worth your viewing time for its cat-and-mouse detective story along with the added twist that the humble priest doesn’t just want to catch the thief (Flambeau played by Peter Finch); he also wants to convert and save his soul.
Alec Guinness (b. 2 April 1914 – d. 5 August 2000) was only 40 years old when the film debuted in 1954 – a full two decades before he would eventually agree to don the classic brown Jedi robe in the original Star Wars (1977). And yet viewing the good-natured Father Brown now and hearing Guinness’ easily recognized voice, you can’t help but see foreshadowing of the great Obi-Wan Kenobi role he was to assume.
You can watch the film below, which runs 1 hour 31 minutes.
The English actor already had had a long and distinguished acting career, on stage and in film, before he agreed to perform in Star Wars. He had won an Academy Award for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and was knighted in 1959.
Guinness was not a big fan of Star Wars and the pop-culture fandom that followed. He described the film as “fairy tale rubbish”. In an interview, he stated he had convinced George Lucas to kill off Obi-Wan early in the film. “What I didn’t tell Lucas was that I just couldn’t go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines. I’d had enough of the mumbo jumbo.” Guinness claims he “shrivelled up” every time someone mentioned Star Wars to him.
Despite his antipathy to the film, he was prescient enough to believe that it would be a hit and to negotiate a deal for 2% of the gross royalties paid to the director. (George Lucas’s take was one-fifth of the total box office receipts, so this formula made Alec Guinness very wealthy in his senior years.) In his autobiography, Blessings In Disguise, he wrote: “Blessed be Star Wars” for all the income it provided him.
The multiple award-winning actor died on 5 August 2000 (age 86) from liver cancer. His wife of 62 years, Lady Guinness, passed away two months later. They are buried side-by-side in Petersfield, Hampshire, in the U.K.