In Brighton in 1935, small-time gang leader Pinkie Brown murders a journalist and later desperately tries to cover his tracks but runs into trouble with the police, a few witnesses, and a ri... Read allIn Brighton in 1935, small-time gang leader Pinkie Brown murders a journalist and later desperately tries to cover his tracks but runs into trouble with the police, a few witnesses, and a rival gang.In Brighton in 1935, small-time gang leader Pinkie Brown murders a journalist and later desperately tries to cover his tracks but runs into trouble with the police, a few witnesses, and a rival gang.
In 1999 the British Film Institute voted for what they regarded to be the 100 greatest British movies ever made. Brighton Rock came in at 15th position, a short way ahead of perhaps more realistic gangster offerings such as Get Carter! and The Long Good Friday. It's deserved, though obviously the film's major complaint with a modern audience would be the stilted speech patterns that are now too quaint for a modern context (a time when men still called women "ducks" and "Bogeys" were policemen); and the "harsh violence" is now tame and ripe for parody.
Amazing that Richard Attenborough, he of ever-changing accent in Jurassic Park, is here cast as a viscous gang leader. Stranger still is the sight of William Hartnell as a tough-talking Cockney, exclaiming "stick yer mincers on that". Much later in his life Hartnell was to suffer a nervous breakdown, leaving him with a poor memory and occasional stammer. This produces ill-advised amusement as his most famous role that of the first lead in television's Doctor Who was performed with regular fluffs and stammers. Here, however, sixteen years before he was to take on that part; we are treated to just what a striking and charismatic actor Hartnell could be. While the violent aspects can look dated in context, seeing cuddly Bill Hartnell spitting in a man's home after Attenborough has just slashed the man's face with a razor blade is still disconcerting.
Attenborough is "Pinkie", caught between the police and a larger rival gang who have taken over the Brighton protection racket. After a waitress, Judy, gets too close to his false alibis, he marries her to assure her silence. Though the girl is played with believable insecurity, it's unlikely that anyone could really fall in love with someone as openly spiteful as Pinkie. The notion of charming a girl is completely alien to him, and he begins their first date by implying he'd slash her face. His character is drawn up by having him believe in Hell (though not necessarily in Heaven) and showing a predilection for cat's cradles. Though these displays could overstate his "evil" credentials, in Richard's performance and John Boulting's direction it is a coldly accurate portrayal.
If there's one grain of sympathy for Pinkie, it is that of an underdog. His "territory" eaten up by the much larger Colleoni gang, he's effectively forced out of Brighton with nowhere to go. Photography is excellent, the black and white adding style to what could have easily been a flatter, run-of-the-mill crime yarn. I especially liked the shots of Brighton town and scenes on the ghost train. Best of all is the scene where everyone's laughing at Pinkie's expense, including, it seems, a china doll. There's a real sense of the classic to this one, each shot set up with some precision, a directoral style that Variety blasted at the time of release, claiming it to be "too leisurely for this type of picture". Personally I think it adds a real sense of style, or maybe it's just the long shadows that add a touch of noir. Interestingly, the somewhat obscure title refers not to a romantically-sounding desolate landmark but to the seaside sweet. Concern artist Ida (Hermione Baddeley) claims that no matter how far you bite down into her, she'd have Brighton "written through her all the way". Understandably, this esoteric if powerful title was changed in America to a more comprehensible "Young Scarface".
- May 20, 2000