(director: John Boulting; screenwriters: from the novel Brighton Rock by Graham Greene/Graham Greene/Terence Rattigan; cinematographer: Harry Waxman; editor: Peter Graham Scott; cast: Richard Attenborough (Pinkie Brown), William Hartnell (Dallow), Carol Marsh (Rose Brown), Hermione Baddeley (Ida Arnold), Wylie Watson (Spicer), Harcourt Williams (Prewitt),Virginia Winter (Judy), Frank (Reginald Purdell), Charles Goldner (Colleoni), George Carney (Phil Corkey), Nigel Stock (Cubitt), Alan Wheatley (Kolley Kibber), Harry Ross (Brewer), Victoria Winter (Judy); Runtime: 92; Associated British/Charter Films; 1947-UK)
“If you have any kind of feel for noir films, this one is in the don’t miss category.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Possibly the best British noir film ever made, a film adapted from the Graham Greene novel. It is a vicious story of a sadistic teenage baby faced gangster, Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough), who works a protection racket around the racecourses in the seaside resort of Brighton. The tourist bureau was so afraid that this gloomy look at Brighton would scare off tourists, that the film opens with a “crawl” telling what a safe and jolly playground community Brighton now is.
At the lair of the 17-year-old Pinkie’s mob are his older henchmen, who tell him that an unimportant journalist Kolley Kibber, ‘alias’ Fred Hale (Wheatley), is visiting Brighton. Pinkie gets his picture in the newspaper and the newspaper article mentions that his visit has to do with him passing out cards in hidden spots that if found the finder will get paid for it. Kollee inadvertently caused the death of a former Brighton gang leader, Kite — the only person for whom Pinkie has ever felt affection for. Pinkie decides to go after him with his mob and meets up with him in one of the bars, where he puts a fright in him.
Kolley is trying to flee back to London after realizing that he is being followed by Pinkie’s gang. In the bar seeking protection he tries to get acquainted with a bosomy, beer-guzzling, loud-laughing singer, Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley), who has a short engagement with one of the shows performing on the boardwalk. She sees that Fred is scared out of his wits and that he wants her to not leave his side. When Fred meets her later on at the boardwalk and pays for some beach seats to get some sun he begs her to stay with him, he even gives the woman who is short on cash some money to buy tickets for the train so that they can go home together. When she leaves him for a moment to get the tickets, Fred sees Pinkie’s men coming for him and rushes into “The Ghost Train” ride to elude his pursuers. Inside the tunnel Fred recognizes that his fellow passenger is Pinkie. His body is later found washed up on the beach and the police rule the death as a heart attack. But Pinkie is afraid that one of his men, Spicer (Wylie Watson), while trying to help him, took Kibber’s cards and placed one of them under a tablecloth in a restaurant, and this might come back to haunt him if the police later on believe they are dealing with a murder and a witness comes forward to recognize who put the card there. The cunning young gangster wants absolutely no witnesses to his crime.
Meanwhile Ida is convinced that Fred was killed. She performs some kind of magical ritual which convinces her of that, believing in this superstitious practice over the conventional disciplines of knowledge: religion and science. Ida goes to the police asking them to investigate this death as a murder case, but they tell her that there is no evidence of that. She tells them, I will go after the killer myself because “I believe in right and wrong.”
Ida becomes an allegorical figure, a do-gooder, who represents the popular mass culture, a class of people Graham Greene had no love for. In fact he is more sympathetic to the killer, no matter that he is a certifiable maniac. While Pinkie is a psychopath who rejects all goodness in people and enjoys inflicting pain on others, being a cross between a bully and a cringing child afraid of the dark; but for Greene, at least, he stands for something real—evil. In his twisted way, according to Greene, Pinkie is a Catholic despite himself. For Greene, the church’s strict dogmas are more real than Ida’s banal humanism.
Pinkie returns to the restaurant and strikes up a relationship with the inexperienced 17-year-old waitress, Rose (Marsh), who is taken with the bravado of Pinkie and falls in love with him, not caring how rotten he is as long as he loves her.
Pinkie is overmatched by the big-time gangster in Brighton, Colleoni (Goldner), who tells him there isn’t room for the two of them in Brighton, warning Pinkie to stay away from his clients. Pinkie sees this as an opportunity to knock off Spicer, as he warns the Colleoni gang about Spicer interfering with their operation. At the racetrack they slice Spicer up, but Pinkie also gets slashed in the face. Not realizing that Spicer escaped Pinkie is told by his drunken, washed-up, crooked lawyer, Prewitt (Harcourt), that Spicer is here to see him. In a rage, Pinkie tosses old man Spicer over the banister to his death and gets Prewitt to swear that it was an accident.
Pinkie is frightened about being uncovered and even though he can’t stand Rose he decides to have the crooked lawyer fix it so that the under-aged girl could be legally married to him in a civil ceremony, therefore she can no longer be a witness against him. Rose, being a Catholic, wanted a church wedding and is late to the wedding ceremony having gone to church to get sanctified.
Ida is now convinced that Rose is in danger from Pinkie and states, “I’ve got to save her, even if she doesn’t want to be saved.” The film turns into a suspension between melodrama and farce as Ida becomes the amateur detective visiting Prewitt’s chaotic office, where from next door there is heard loud music drowning out her conversation with him. She futilely tries to convince him to turn Pinkie in for the two murders. This very serious part of the film was also extremely comical. Prewitt’s only humanity he has left is from quoting Shakespeare while the vulgar bar singer who is trying to save the world from an evil she can’t even comprehend within herself, tries to communicate with him but can’t. Ida is blind to what goes for good taste and is consumed by what is popularly believed and assumed to be right. He, on the other hand, is too far gone to do anything about what is right or wrong in the world.
While walking on the boardwalk Rose decides that she wants an affirmation from Pinkie that he loves her and seeing a voice message booth, urges Pinkie to make a recording so that she will always have his voice on record. When he goes into the booth, he shuts her out and starts to record: “What you want me to say is I love you.” Instead, Pinkie goes into a diatribe telling her how she disgusts him and how much he hates her. She holds onto this as a wedding present, hoping to get a chance to listen to it even though she doesn’t have a gramophone.
When Ida tracks down where Rose is honeymooning, she tells the young bride that her husband killed two people. But Rose only cares that he loves her, and tells Ida that people change and repent. Ida shoots back–“People never change–I haven’t.”
Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.
The persistent Ida runs into Pinkie’s crony Dallow (Hartnell) on the boardwalk bar; he listens to what she says and he helps her only because he warned Pinkie that he wants no harm to come to Rose. When he realizes that Pinkie, in the driving rain, has taken Rose down to the end of the pier and plans to kill her, he reluctantly calls the cops and gives chase after Pinkie himself. They catch hold of Pinkie just as he has talked Rose into a suicide pact, even though she believes suicide is a sin. She demonstrates that she is willing to do anything for him. But when the police show up Rose throws the gun in the water and Dallow comes after Pinkie, who stumbles to his death by cowardly running and then falling off the pier onto the ocean.
The last scene is one of those memorable ones that just can’t be easily forgotten. It has a raw power that catches the dark side of human nature as it unfolds so suddenly onscreen, even if the scene was changed from the one in Greene’s novel to his utmost disappointment. After Pinkie’s demise, the black waters by the pier dissolve into the last thing seen and the next shot is in a brightly lit room in a Catholic shelter for pregnant teens. A nun wearing lipstick is comforting the pregnant Rose, who feels she should have died with her husband. She is crying out, “I don’t want absolution!” Further saying, “I got his voice–I got proof of his love.” The nun, looking at the phonograph by the girl’s side, says in a grave voice, “There is always hope, it is in the air we breath. We have to hope and pray. Love can bring about salvation.” When Rose puts the record on, we have already heard what Pinkie said and wait to see her reaction, but when she plays the record: “What you want me to say is I love you…” the record gets stuck and plays that over and over, until the final shot of the film is of the crucifix on the wall. Rose is seemingly elated to have her love reaffirmed by such a positive proof. This cynical ending is perfect. The filmmakers thought it could be construed as possibly a happy ending, overcoming the general despair of the film. But the public didn’t see it that way and the film was a failure at the box office.
The only weaknesses in the film were the awkward pacing of the story and the over inflated role of Hermione Baddeley. It was a brassy portrayal that detracted from the noir mood of the film. Richard Attenborough’s manic performance as a psychopathic, androgynous character, who had violent mood swings, was brilliantly done. His sadomasochistic relationship with the naive Rose, coupled with dark shots of the seamy side of Brighton, plus the expressionistic studio shots, gave the film a raw energy that makes it more powerful than the usual gangster film. If you have any kind of feel for noir films, this one is in the don’t miss category.
REVIEWED ON 1/17/2000 GRADE: A