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Year: 1947
Director: John Boulting

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Richard Attenborough (Pinkie Brown), Carol Marsh (Rose Brown), Hermione Baddeley (Ida Arnold), William Hartnell (Dallow), Harcourt Williams (Prewitt), Wylie Watson (Spicer), Nigel Stock (Cubitt), Victoria Winter (Judy), Reginald Purdell (Frank), George Carney (Phil Corkery), Charles Goldner (Colleoni), Alan Wheatley (Fred Hale), Lina Barrie (Molly), Joan Sterndale-Bennett (Delia), Harry Ross (Bill Brewer), Campbell Copelin (Police Inspector), Marianne Stone (Lazy Waitress (as Mary Stone)), Norman Watson (Racecourse Evangelist), Michael Brennan (Crabbe (uncredited)), Cyril Chamberlain (Detective (uncredited))


Pinkie Brown is a small-town hoodlum whose gang runs a protection racket based at Brighton race course. When Pinkie orders the murder of a rival, Fred, the police believe it to be suicide. This doesn't convince Ida Arnold, who was with Fred just before he died, and she sets out to find the truth. She comes across naive waitress Rose, who can prove that Fred was murdered. In an attempt to keep Rose quiet Pinkie marries her. But with his gang beginning to doubt his ability, and his rivals taking over his business, Pinkie starts to become more desperate and violent. Written by measham


Along with Ealing's 'Pink String and Sealing Wax', this film established Brighton as England's most Noirish location, a corrupt place full of tacky delights hiding violence and desperation (Blackpool occupies that place in British pop culture now - see particularly the TV series 'Funland'). It's hardly surprising that an island nation so frequently locates threatening forces at coastal locations - just look at the Whitby sections in 'Dracula', or Powell and Pressburger's 'The Spy in Black', for two of the more obvious examples.

This, the Boulting Brothers' masterpiece and arguably the greatest of all British Gangster films (a relatively select, prestigious genre until the rush prompted by 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'), is also the closest thing to a proper British film noir. All the elements are in place - the seedy milieu, the violence, the pathological central character, the betrayed innocent, even the thread of Catholic imagery that is highly unusual in British film but fairly common in American crime dramas (other than Rose, I can't think of a single character in 1940's British cinema who owns a rosary - everyone tends to be very Church of England).

Although Attenborough's electrifying Pinkie is the centre of the film, the heart of the story seems to be the confrontation of Ida and Rose in his bedroom. Rose, naively, thinks she can change him. Ida knows better, and interestingly refutes the possibility of redemption, invoking the eponymous image of the Rock, stamped through with one word no matter where you cut it. In the context of the Catholic background of the characters, that's an incredibly bleak assessment, and the film supports her - Pinkie can't change, and doesn't even want to. The Nun at the end offers a more optimistic take on events, suggesting that the possibility of redemption can be found in all love - but Pinkie's love was a lie, and the cruel irony of the final moments is that Rose never discovers his true nature. She is not saved from her absurdly romanticised ideal of him (and it would be salvation, no matter how soul destroying; the film almost feels like a response to all those lovers-on-the-lam films from America, although it predates most of them, puncturing their romanticised depiction of the life of crime. 'They Live By Night' seems somewhat absurd after this).

Hermione Baddeley is brilliant as Ida; Nemesis reinvented as a raucous broad, her clattering laughter pursuing Pinkie like the rhythm of Poe's Tell-Tale Heart. She's the one character who won't compromise or be corrupted - she self-effacingly insists that she's 'just like everyone else' in believing that justice should be done, but no-one else in the film gives a damn about justice. She also believes in saving Rose from herself - when she announces herself as Rose's mother in order to gain access to her, in some ways she's not far off the truth. She's a mother figure for the desperate - Fred wants her to protect him, to be 'looked after'. She pursues the truth behind his death with a vigour normally associated in crime dramas with bereaved parents, but with the clarity of a Private Detective - she figures out Pinkie's motives with great acuity. Her transition from comic relief to dynamic moral compass is remarkable. There may be no more forceful female figure - certainly no more heroic one - in British cinema of the Forties.

William Hartnell is equally good as Dallow, Pinkie's quietly menacing right-hand man who reaches a line he finds he can't cross. There are great supporting turns from Harcourt Williams, as a dissolute lawyer alleviating his misery with Shakespearean quotation, and Wylie Watson, as an ageing gangster aware that he is running out of luck and favours. Charles Goldner is pretty good, unexpectedly restrained and business-like rather than menacing, as rival gangster Colleoni (tantalisingly close to Corleone), and Victoria Winter shines in her brief screen time as Dallow's girl Judy, both warm and down to earth.

The only problematic performance is Carol Marsh, as Rose. In fairness, she's a difficult character to play - how does she fall for a man who is so openly menacing, overtly threatening to cut up her face on their first date if she talks to the police? Marsh is good in the early scenes at the café, believably nervous but friendly, but she struggles to make Rose anything other than a laughably naive twerp once the romance with Pinkie gets underway. It isn't as though either script or actor plays him as irresistible charmer, or even deceiving lover. He threatens and neglects her, and she repays him with puppy-eyed love. It's hard to take, and yet... the simplicity of her performance may be the least awkward way through a script that refuses to explain what she's doing. A better actress might have hinted at or drawn something out, but it would always seem awkward. At least Marsh suggests total helplessness - if ever a performance was asking for the tag of 'lamb to the slaughter', this is it.

Boulting's direction is, for the most part, fabulous, although the ghost-train ride is a little overdone; on the other hand, the pursuit of Fred through the streets that precedes it is brilliant, dynamic in a way too few British pictures are, and the murder of Spicer is unforgettable - a great use of montage.

This film dates from slap bang in the middle of British cinema's golden age, which arguably began with Hitchcock's 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' in the mid thirties and ended with the last great Ealing Comedy, 'The Ladykillers', in 1955. After that, great films became very much rarer. In the midst of the strongest slate of films in British Cinema, however, 'Brighton Rock' still stands out. This was a career high for everyone involved - not least Attenborough.


Brighton Rock is directed by John Boulting and written by Graham Greene (also 1938 novel) and Terence Rattigan. Produced by Roy Boulting, it stars Richard Attenborough, Carol Marsh, William Hartnell, Hermione Baddeley, Harcourt Williams and Wylie Watson. Music is scored by Hans May and cinematography is by Harry Waxman. Plot finds Attenborough as small time Brighton hoodlum Pinkie Brown, whose attempts to cover up a murder sees events spiral out of control for himself and those closest to him.

1947 was a good year for tough, gritty British drama, in fact it was a key year in the progression of British cinema. It was the year that would see the release of They Made Me A Fugitive, It Always Rains On Sunday, Odd Man Out and Brighton Rock. The latter film, arguably the one that looks the most dated, is the one that shocked the most upon its release. Refreshing, then, to find that in spite of the aged edges of the narrative frame, it still today has a power, a bleakness, that justifies the classic status afforded it. Part seedy seaside noir, part character driven observation on Catholic guilt and torment, Brighton Rock overcomes some slight old time technical flaws to thrive on thematic potency and a tense narrative.

Many authors find their respective work losing impetus during the translation to the big screen, Graham Greene is one who hasn't had to suffer in that department. Key issue for those adapting his work is to understand the characterisations at work, thankfully the Boulting brothers grasp that Pinkie Brown, surely one of Greene's greatest creations, has a complexity that needs him front and centre of the brewing maelstrom. The plot then tumbles out around him, as the seedy underbelly of Brighton's everyday life is exposed. The casting of Attenborough as Pinkie was a masterstroke, fresh faced and wide eyed, Attenborough plays it as coiled spring like, his psychosis troubling and ready to explode at any given moment. His cold hearted relationship with the homely, desperate for love, Rose (Marsh), is utterly disturbing, and it's that relationship that underpins the story.

Story is set amongst two sides of Brighton, one side is sunny, full of lights, fun-fairs and candy floss, the other features grimy boarding houses, penny café's and loud back street beer houses. The neat trick the Boulting's pull is that we know the sunny side is merely a facade to darker forces, much of the badness is played out to the backdrop of seaside frivolity and relaxation. With the iconic pier serving as a dual witness to both the good and bad side of Brighton's current denizens. Aided by Waxman's oppressive photography, J Boulting paints in claustrophobic strokes, perfectly enveloping the lead protagonists in a number of restrictive set-ups, where the surroundings deftly match the mood of the individual. It's going to end bad, it has too, the atmosphere tells us that, but the makers are reveling in tightening the noose one turn at a time, and that's a sure fire bonus for film noir lovers.

Film is well cast across the board, with Hartnell most notable as Pinkie gang member, Dallow, while Baddeley as Pinkie's bold and brassy adversary, Ida Arnold, is suitably annoying. Memorable characters, one and all, each one serving to add fuel to Attenborough's malevolent fire. How great it is to also take away a number of memorable scenes from the movie. From the pulse raising chase at the beginning; to the weird and haunting brutality of a ghost train sequence, and to the cruel finale that drips with cynicism, it's a film that refuses to leave the conscious after the credits have rolled. The ending may have been toned down from that of the novel, but what remains still bites hard, as does, in truth, the whole film. 9/10