Brighton Rock

Brighton Rock (1947) movie poster

(1947) dir. John Boulting
viewed: 09/12/09 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

The Pacific Film Archive and the Castro Theatre are doing a series on British noir, which is an interesting thing, given that it’s considered to be a very American style (though brought to America by multiple European immigrant directors).  And unfortunately, I couldn’t get out to see more of the series, but I did earmark Brighton Rock to see, as I’d read Graham Greene’s novel a year or two ago and found it quite striking.  Beyond that, it’s been coming up more and more as a cultural reference, and I was surprised by its significance.

The story is about a small-time thug in Brighton, set between the World Wars, a time in which poverty and crime combined to be quite a menace in Brighton, apparently.  Though the British censors and Brighton tourism made sure that the film had a prologue title to say that this had all been cleaned up by the police.  The thug is quite a character, Pinky Brown, played with ultimate seedy gusto by a very young Richard Attenborough.  He’s a loathsome figure, hating the world, women, himself, everything.  And being a small-time thug, he still thinks he’s bigger than he is.

The book is a bit of a detective novel, using the bawdy character of Ida, a barroom good-time brassy loudmouth, who loves her fellow man, as the unlikely gumshoe who wishes to prove the murder of a man she just met but took a shine to.  She also seeks to protect the innocent waitress who Pinky sidles up to in looking to keep her quiet regarding an aspect of the murder.  She falls for him, delusional and lovingly, though he hates her guts.

The film is a very apt and stylish adaptation.  Characters are well-cast and the film has several moments and sequences with great style and flair.   One of the nicest sequences is when Pinky murders Fred in the Haunted House ride on Brighton pier.  The images of the ghosts, skulls and ghouls flash up like the would in almost animated swoops.  The trip to hell was never quite so literal.

Great book, good adaptation.  Oddly, in my research, I see that it’s being re-made for release next year.  I guess that is less odd all the time since very little gets away with only being made once.  This version, while not necessarily definitive, was co-adapted by Greene himself.  No slouch at the screenwriting either.  Good stuff, indeed.

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