Richard Attenborough Tribute: Brighton Rock

Jarrod Emerson’s tribute to Richard Attenborough:


What do you get when the crime classic, Brighton Rock, (by acclaimed novelist Graham Greene) falls into the hands of pioneering British filmmaker John Boulting? Only an incredible film noir of British cinema, whose influence I can now see in many modern British gangster flicks (The Long Good Friday and Sexy Beast come to mind). Set in the 1930s, Brighton Rock tells the story of a young, ambitious gangster whose violent impulses ultimately work against him.

In one of his earliest film roles, Richard Attenborough plays “Pinkie Brown”, the lethal hoodlum I am referring to. Pinkie has just assumed leadership of a small but brutal syndicate operating in the popular English resort of Brighton—thanks to a damning article written by journalist “Fred Hale” that led to the death of the gang’s previous leader. For his first order of business, Pinkie and his associates track Hale down and murder him. While Pinkie initially appears to have gotten away with it, he soon discovers there are some loose ends. Local resort entertainer “Ida Arnold”, having encountered the frightened Hale shortly before his death, refuses to accept the authorities suicide ruling and begins her own tenacious detective work. In addition, naïve waitress “Rose” has seen a crucial piece of evidence left behind by one of Pinkie’s goons. As Pinkie struggles to maintain control over the situation, he becomes increasingly impulsive and psychotic.  

It may be tempting for many younger viewers to write Brighton Rock off as an old-fashioned, terribly dated piece of cinema. Yes, the film’s over-the-top, melodramatic musical score, bits of choppy editing and an emphasis on dialogue-over-action, might be off-putting to some. But, I urge you to look beyond all of that. Brighton Rock has endured remarkably thanks to passionate filmmaking. John Boulting takes full advantage of the medium, with many memorable sequences (including Hale’s death scene, which was inventively shot). While I admit to not reading Graham Greene’s novel, he and co-screenwriter Terence Rattigan seem to have done a fine job translating the story into a film, fleshing out the characters.

The nearly unrecognizable, 23-year-old Attenborough is perfectly cast in a role he seemed born to play. In the film’s introduction, Pinkie is lying on his bed, handweaving a cat’s cradle. That’s how he sees himself: cool, calm and collected—and pulling the strings. For example: Pinkie forges a false courtship with Rose so he can hastily marry the impressionable girl—all to prevent her from being able to give any testimony against him. In one of the film’s more jarring scenes, Rose asks her new husband to record a vinyl love message in an enclosed gramophone booth. Instead of words of love, Pinkie records a cruel message. As the film progresses, pressure mounts and things begin to backfire. Hotheaded Pinkie starts making irrational decisions that will lead to his downfall.  

The remaining supporting characters are also well written, particularly that of determined citizen-sleuth Ida Arnold, played wonderfully by Hermione Baddeley. Doctor Who fans may also get a kick out of the presence of the very first Doctor himself, William Hartnell, as one of Pinkie’s goons.

If the detective in you is craving a gangster noir, I urge you to start your investigation with this classic potboiler.

© Jarrod Emerson (12/10/16) FF2 Media

Tags: BRIGHTON ROCK, FF2 Media, Graham Greene, John Boulting, Richard Attenborough, UK

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