Director: John Boulting
Script: Graham Greene, Terence Rattigan
Cast: Richard Attenborough, Hermoine Baddeley, Carol Marsh, William Hartnell, Wylie Watson
Richard Attenborough became a cinema icon with his portrayal of small time gangster Pinkie, the baby-faced psychopath forced to marry naive waitress Rose (Carol Marsh) when she becomes a potential witness to his murder of a journalist.
In perhaps the film’s standout scene (though there are several contenders), the doomed journalist Dallow (William Hartnell) darts through the streets of 30’s Brighton with Pinkie and his goons in pursuit. Dallow attaches himself to numerous groups, including two sunbathing women on Brighton Pier. But his interest in these young ladies is out of survival; a futile effort to protect himself from Pinkie by surrounding himself with witnesses. It’s a tense, claustrophobic opening, one which defines Brighton Rock’s protagonist as a persistent, uncompassionate monster.
Brighton Rock doesn’t quite need the reintroduction that Peeping Tom recently enjoyed; we don’t need reminding that it’s a great film. But John Boulting’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel (Greene also worked on the script) remains so unremittingly bleak that it’s a movie that’s easy to appreciate on a critical level but unlikely to make anyone’s personal top 10. On reflection, Rock’s infamously optimistic ending, which differs from the book and shines a ray of hopefulness upon the ill-treated Rose – and ending Greene opposed, too – feels almost compulsory. There’s only so much abuse an audience can take.
It’s an “interesting” film, then, and Greene’s trademark Catholic morality is implemented in a detached manner; Pinkie is already a man beyond redemption, an animal backed into a corner with no escape plan beyond bearing his teeth. Attenborough’s performance as the psychotic Pinkie owes as much to casting as his acting; Attenborough was approaching his mid-twenties during shooting, yet his adolescent features combined with a comically menacing demeanour results in a villain who would be a parody were the movie’s austere backdrop not so unsettling. Pinkie is a force of hatred, one whose past is undisclosed and whose squalid existence is defined by the people he hurts.
With Rowan Joffe’s new take on Brighton Rock currently circulating, Optimum Classics have digitally restored this classic and released it with a few interviews; most notably a talk with Attenborough and Boulting, 7 years after the film’s release. Whether or not the 2011 iteration of Brighton Rock will stand the test of time as well as Boulting’s classic remains to be seen, but it’s unlikely.