Today’s Throwback Thursday post is another short review from Crane’s Crabinet of Kinetographic Curiosities, this time about an English gangster film called Brighton Rock. I really have nothing new to add to my old review, mostly because I haven’t seen the movie since–which in and of itself can be a topic of conversation, as it seems we have a serious problem in the US with offering decent releases to older English films. England’s releases of Brighton Rock are fantastic; it’s America that’s suffering from a lack of suitable transfers. If anyone from Criterion is reading this (doubtful), you might want to get on that ASAP. As important a film as Tootsie (1982) starring a cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman apparently is, this film from 1947 is arguably more so. But, hey, what do I know? I’ve just been watching movies for my entire life.
Originally posted February 2, 2018.
Summary: When gang leader Kite is killed (seemingly) because of a story printed by journalist Fred Hale (Alan Wheatley), newly-crowned boss and psychopathic teenager Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough) orders his gang to find and kill Hale while Hale leaves prize cards sanctioned by his newspaper around the resort town of Brighton. After successfully eliminating Hale, gang member Spicer (Wylie Watson) spreads the prize cards around town in an attempt to secure an alibi for the gang and throw the police–who think Hale had a heart attack or committed suicide–off their trail. But when young waitress Rose (Carol Marsh) notices that the man who left the card under the tablecloth in her restaurant was not Hale, Pinkie hatches a plot to romance the waitress and marry her, thereby preventing her from being able to testify against him. But when barfly Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley) turns amateur detective and starts to connect the dots between Pinkie’s gang and Hale’s death, Pinkie panics–and the noose closes a bit tighter with every attempt to tie up an old loose end. Hilarity ensues.
Thoughts: Based on a 1938 novel of the same name by author Graham Greene (which I have not read), Brighton Rock is a rise-and-fall crime story in the same vein as Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), and Scarface (both the 1932 and 1983 versions). What sets it apart is that it’s British, and therefore superior in almost every way.
Okay, so that was hyperbole–but really, it’s pretty mother fucking nifty, dagnabit.
Richard Attenborough’s portrayal of Pinkie is unsettling; his cold, dead-eyed stare betrays the murderous sociopathy behind his boyish charm.
Carol Marsh plays well opposite Attenborough as the doe-eyed, naive waitress Rose, whose dedication to her Catholic faith both reinforces her loyalty to Pinkie (especially after marriage) and ultimately plays a hand in his undoing. William Hartnell of Doctor Who fame (specifically, the first incarnation of the character) surprises as Dallow, Pinkie’s second-in-command. Level-headed and cool, Hartnell’s Dallow is a bit of a surrogate older brother for Pinkie (the surprise is that Hartnell never bungles a single line, which is quite unlike his stint on Doctor Who). And Hermione Baddeley as Ida presents herself as an interesting foil for the amoral Pinkie and idealistic Rose, challenging them both in different ways throughout. All-in-all, the characters serve to present a complex–if not complicated–tale of crime, corruption, and lost innocence.
But as great as the acting is (it’s British, after all), what makes this film stand out is the setting. Like Coney Island combined with Atlantic City, Brighton will look oddly familiar yet oh-so different to anyone who has ever lived on the East Coast of the United States. A resort town with a grimy underbelly, the juxtaposition between Brighton’s days–marked by carnival games, roller coasters, restaurants–and its nights–marked by its crumbling shanties, pubs, and gambling dens–is presented perfectly during the course of the film. One can almost smell the salty ocean breeze mix with the stench of cheap stogies when watching it. That’s something you don’t quite get from any other picture of it’s kind.
Conclusion: While Brighton Rock shares much in common with other rise-and-fall crime tales of the 1930s and 1940s, it approaches those similarities with a posh accent, British sophistication, and novel (as in new, not the codexed written word) setting. It’s a dark little film with much to offer those who love early gangster pictures but are looking for something a bit more fresh than yet another Cagney or Robinson picture.
The only thought I can add to this is the following:
A great and potentially jarring double-feature would be to follow this film with Jurassic Park (1993), where Attenborough plays kindly old Dinosaur daddy John Hammond, or the 1994 Miracle on 34th Street, where he plays none other than Santa Claus himself. That would be quite the mind fuck.