Allan Fish Bonanza: Brighton Rock (1947)
October 8, 2014 by wondersinthedark
Note: The second entry in the Allan Fish Bonanza encore series, ‘Brighton Rock’ was chosen by Film Noir writer extraordinaire Tony d’Ambra, who himself is a huge fan of the film.
by Allan Fish
(UK 1947 92m) DVD2
Calling Colley Cibber!
p Roy Boulting d John Boulting w Graham Greene, Terence Rattigan novel Graham Greene ph Harry Waxman ed Peter Graham m Hans May (including “The Hebrides” by Felix Mendelssohn) art John Howell
Richard Attenborough (Pinky Brown), Hermione Baddeley (Ida Arnold), William Hartnell (Dallow), Carol Marsh (Rose), Nigel Stock (Cubitt), Wylie Watson (Spicer), Harcourt Williams (Prewitt, the lawyer), Alan Wheatley (Fred Hale), George Carney (Phil Corkery), Charles Goldner (Collecni), Reginald Purdell, Constance Smith, Marianne Stone,
Brighton Rock is one of those great British institutions, not just of cinema, but of literature. Of course, it’s never going to be as crucial to those who haven’t known or lived through the days just before the war, when the film is set, and especially to those who do not know Brighton well. I myself have never been to Brighton, and all bar one of the people I know who did once live there had never heard of Greene’s novel. One, however, did know it and know it well, and for him, Brighton Rock was something spoken of in whispers and its hero, Pinky Brown, the essence of myth. He would say that he could almost feel The Lanes around every corner, the old quaint Brighton that would forever be lost after the war. Here was a film that predicted both the teen violence of A Clockwork Orange and the gang warfare of the Mods and Rockers on the Brighton beaches, immortalised in Quadrophenia. For too long, Brighton Rock has been overlooked, looked down upon by a critical fraternity too long dominated by American sensibilities. It should, however, be cherished as one of the truly great British films noir of the forties, superbly shot on location in the streets, piers, sea front and racecourse at Brighton. It’s also the best film the Boultings ever made. Ironically, their other masterwork also told of a rock,Thunder Rock. That was a lighthouse on Lake Michigan, far from the rock hard (hence the name) confectionary so long a staple at British seaside towns. Just as Gracie Fields’ Sing as We Go preserved the “Kiss me quick” mentality of that long gone institution for the North that is Blackpool, so did Brighton Rock for the south. David Thomson has said that Rock contains “an authentic tang of fish and chips.” He’s right, but it’s a tang with an unmistakably strong tang of vinegar.
We won’t waste time detailing the plot, because this is a film of iconic moments; future Sheriff of Nottingham Alan Wheatley’s cameo as ill-fated Colley Cibber, wandering the Brighton streets like a startled rabbit before his dispatching on the Ghost Train; Attenborough’s killing of Wylie Watson, pushing him through the damaged banister and the iconic finale with the young Pinky betraying his cowardice on the Pier.
There are many fine performances in the film; Alan Wheatley, Bill Hartnell and the delicious Harcourt Williams as the drunken crooked lawyer, but the real praise must go to Richard Attenborough, whose Pinky is one of British cinema’s great villains. It’s a performance of incredible power, his scarred face dripping evil from every pore, even acknowledging a homosexual subtext to his character. Indeed, we must ask whether he actually ever has sex with his young bride. Photographed with great menace by Harry Waxman, and with great use of Mendelssohn’s music, the Boultings conjure up a truly delirious nightmare. The ending, which allows the heroine to keep her illusions (“you want me to say I love you…”) and was imposed by stern moralist J.Arthur Rank, was much criticised as a cop out at the time, but now it seems a deliciously cynical twist in a film dripping such gloom. This pleasure palace, like Pleasure Island in Pinocchio and the eponymous Atlantic City, is but a façade. We peer beneath the surface to the crustaceans underneath the pier, and see that the whole thing is rotten to the core. Yet despite this, we wouldn’t have it any other way. (The film and the location must have made an impact on Attenborough, as he set Oh What a Lovely War! entirely on the same old West Pier, which was eventually destroyed by fire in March 2003.)