Pinkie Brown is a small-town hoodlum whose gang runs a protection racket based at Brighton race course. When Pinkie murders a journalist called Fred Hale whom he believes is responsible for the death of a fellow gang-member, the police believe it to be suicide. This doesn't convince Ida Arnold, who was with Fred just before he died, and she sets out to find the truth. She comes across naive waitress Rose, who can prove that Fred was murdered. In an attempt to keep Rose quiet Pinkie marries her. But with his gang beginning to doubt his ability, and his rivals taking over his business, Pinkie starts to become more desperate and violent.Written by
Opening credits prologue: Brighton today is a large, jolly, friendly seaside town in Sussex, exactly one hour's journey from London. But in the years between the two wars, behind the Regency terraces and crowded beaches, there was another Brighton of dark alleyways and festering slums. From here, the poison of crime and violence and gang warfare began to spread, until the challenge was taken up by the Police. This is a story of that other Brighton - now happily no more. See more »
You're Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do?)
Written by Walter Donaldson
Played when Ida looks up Prewitt See more »
The Be-All and the End-All
During the inter-war years the Sussex resort of Brighton became notorious for the activities of criminal gangs, and this side of Brighton life was dramatised in Graham Greene's 1938 novel, Brighton Rock. (The title refers to a type of confectionery traditionally sold in British seaside resorts). The book was made into a film in 1947 by which time, according to the introductory captions, gangsterism had entirely ceased and the town was once again a tranquil, law-abiding community. In actual fact this was far from true- wartime black marketeering had, if anything, given a boost to criminal activity, both in Brighton and elsewhere- but this disclaimer, however fictitious, was necessary of the film-makers were to secure the support of the town's Corporation for location filming.
The main character is Pinkie Brown, the youthful leader of a gang of thugs whose principal activity is protection racketeering. Early in the film, Pinkie murders Fred Hale, a journalist who has been investigating his gang's activities, by pushing him off the town's Palace Pier. Although the police regard the death as an accident, Pinkie tries to cover his tracks by creating a false alibi for himself, which leads to the commission of further crimes and to Pinkie's marriage to Rose, a young waitress who he believes might be in possession of evidence which could send him to the gallows. Pinkie is not in love with Rose, but marries her because at the time the film was made there was a rule of English law that a wife could not give evidence against her husband.
Greene himself wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation, together with Terence Rattigan, but he changed the ending, which is perhaps not the most successful part of the original novel. He kept the novel's concern with Roman Catholicism, but changed its emphasis. In the book Pinkie is a convinced Catholic believer who somehow manages to reconcile his religious faith with his criminal lifestyle. In the film he never mentions religion until he catches sight of a rosary in Rose's handbag, the implication being that he is only pretending to be a fellow-Catholic in order to impress her. The film places a much greater emphasis on Rose's spiritual development, including a final twist which is not in the novel but which nevertheless makes for a more satisfying ending.
The film is not flawless, and there are a couple of plot-holes. Would a national newspaper really have used one of their leading investigative reporters as their seaside "mystery man", even sending him to a town where his journalism had made him enemies? Would an innocent young girl like Rose really have fallen for someone as charmless as Pinkie, who makes little attempt to hide his contempt for her? (A girl with the looks of Carol Marsh would hardly lack for male admirers). And yet this is one of the greatest British crime films of the period, perhaps of all time.
Although "Brighton Rock" was made in black-and-white, it was not, unlike some British crime films from the period, made in direct imitation of the dark, moody American film noir style. There is a clear distinction between the public and private realms. Those scenes set outdoors, or in public places, are light and cheerful, reflecting the atmosphere of a warm summer's day by the seaside. (The film is set in early June, perhaps at Whitsun which was still an official Bank Holiday in the thirties). By contrast, Pinkie and his gang live in a drab, seedy lodging house of the type familiar from many British "kitchen sink" dramas. Crime has clearly not paid for the gang; it is notable that one of the victims of their protection rackets lives in more style than they do.
The acting in the film is of a uniformly high standard. There are good contributions from the likes of Carol Marsh and Harcourt Williams as the corrupt lawyer Prewitt, but the two which really stand out are from Hermione Baddeley as Ida Arnold and Richard Attenborough as Pinkie. Ida, the one person who believes that Fred's death was suspicious, is at first sight not a particularly attractive character. She is an ageing showgirl, loud, coarse and brassy. She does, however, have a strong sense of right and wrong, and is determined to secure justice for Fred, who was neither her lover nor a close friend, merely a casual acquaintance. It is her investigations which eventually persuade the police to take action. ("Brighton Rock" takes an unusually critical view of the police, who are portrayed as too complacent; other British films of the period, notably "The Blue Lamp", show them in a much more idealised light).
Attenborough's Pinkie is one of the greatest representations of pure evil in the history of the cinema. Young in years, but old in sin, his smooth, boyish face never betrays any emotion but hatred, resentment and self-pity. He has no feelings for anyone but himself, not for Rose, whom he despises, nor for his fellow gang members, one of whom he murders for alleged cowardice. Like Macbeth, he discovers that his first murder can never be the "be-all and the end-all", and is forced, in desperation, to commit further crimes as his attempts to cover his tracks misfire and his criminal empire starts to crumble.
This is a short film, but one packed with action, and director John Boulting paces it superbly to create both a sense of mounting tension and a sense of an inevitable nemesis hanging over its vicious anti-hero. The cinema rarely comes closer to pure tragedy than this. In my view this is perhaps the greatest ever British gangster film, greater even than "Get Carter", which is high praise indeed. 9/10
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