Ida: I’ve never changed. It’s like those sticks of rock. Bite one all the way down, you’ll still read Brighton. That’s human nature.
At only seventeen years old, Richard Attenborough’s Pinkie Brown makes Harry Lime look like a pussycat. Brighton Rock is an absolutely gripping British film noir.
A title card informs us that between the wars, the English seaside resort of Brighton used to be over run by gangs preying on racegoers. When the former gang leader is killed, fresh-faced Pinkie Brown takes over the collection of much older hoodlums through sheer force of will. The deceased was fingered by a reporter named Fred Hale. His newspaper has enlisted him to play “Kolley Kibber” out on a walking tour of Brighton for the day. The gimmick is that the first person to challenge “Kolley” will win a prize and anybody picking up one of the cards he leaves around will win a smaller prize. Fred’s picture appears on the front page of that day’s edition.
Forearmed, the gang is ready for revenge. The first act of the film follows Fred’s terrified flight from the thugs. One of Fred’s ploys is to enlist a good-natured lush, Ida (Hermoine Baddeley), to spend the day with him. He begs her not to leave him for a minute. He’s a goner when she does. She gets back just in time to catch a brief glimpse of Pinkie. Then we see Pinkie elaborately establishing his alibi for the crime. Part of this is to order his men to distribute cards around town as though Fred had been in action later in the day.
But henchman Spicer, already very nervous about the gang’s involvement in murder, slips up. He leaves a card under the tablecloth in a cafe where he stops for a beer. Pinkie is irate and goes to retrieve the card. Unfortunately for her, the waitress, Rose, has already found the card and reveals that she has an excellent memory for faces. So Pinkie begins wooing the innocent young Catholic, who quickly adores him.
Meanwhile, Ida does not believe that Fred’s death was a suicide as ruled in the coroner’s inquest. She takes it on herself to see that justice is done. The remainder of the film is taken up with her investigation and Pinkie’s increasingly heartless efforts to stay one step ahead of the law.
Greene was a convert to Catholicism and a great student of human nature. He certainly was not afraid to name Satan and incarnate him. There is a very interesting morality play buried deep in what is basically a crime film. I’d like to read the source novel some time.
This is a great movie, so dynamic that I was able to ignore the numerous coincidences and remain thoroughly engrossed. It all hinges on the performances of Attenborough and Baddeley, both probably at career heights. But the film is also full of unforgettable set pieces like the Hanes chase, the ghost train at the pier, the double cross at the racetrack, the gramophone recording and more. Highly recommended.
Clip – sorry folks, it was the best I could do
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