“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.”
When Richard Attenborough died a few months ago, most tributes seemed to be built around his portrayal of Big X in the perfect The Great Escape. Or, his last high profile role, that of Professor John Hammond, the crack pot who thinks bringing dinosaurs back to life is a good idea in Jurassic Park. But the third most cited entry in his resume seemed to be his performance in Brighton Rock. Surprisingly, the guy who writes a movie blog that almost nobody reads, also listens to a lot of movie podcasts, and Brighton Rock got mentioned on a lot of them. Enough that I decided I had to see it.
It’s the 1930s in England’s quaint seaside, holiday village of Brighton. Families are enjoying ice creams on the beach, games and amusements on the boardwalk and the elusive British sun as it shines for its mandated one or two days of the year. But behind the innocent revelry is a seedy underbelly of crime and intimidation. Local gangs stalk the local race track, stand over local businesses and treat Brighton like everything and anything is theirs for the taking. One gang is lead buy the teenage Pinkie Brown (Attenborough).
When one of his gang notices an article in the local paper about a journalist coming to town as part of a cheap, promotional gimmick by the paper, they immediately recognise the writer (Alan Wheatley) as Fred Hale, the journalist who recently wrote an expose about their former gang leader. And since said article lead to the death of said former leader, Pinkie and his boys decide it’s time for a bit of the old revenge. Once revenge has been extracted, Pinkie has to deal with local brassy broad Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley), who knows something’s up, and the doe eyed Rose (Carol Marsh) who’s innocent obliviousness could be the key to Pinkie getting away with it, or the key to his whole gang being taken down.
Brighton Rock is an amazing combination of classic, old school story telling naiveté, and pitch black darkness. The execution of the story might be pure 40s cheese and melodrama, but the story and the fates of almost every character are gut punches of relentless suffering. Sometimes emotional, sometimes physical, sometimes moral, but always there, for every character, good and bad.
Adapting his own novel, co-screenwriter Graham Greene apparently changed his original ending at the behest of the studio to make it happier. I don’t know if Greene is a subversive genius, or if I have my own issues to sort out, but what IMDB describes as an ending of salvation, I saw as an ending of tragic denial. And I loved it.
It’s a pity it took the death of Richard Attenborough for me to learn this movie existed. But on the upside, it has made me want to see more of his work. Despite loving The Great Escape my entire life, I never latched on to the character of Big X in a way that made me want to see more from the actor who played him. But Pinkie and Brighton Rock make me realise I do need to see more.