Weekend Film Recommendation: Brighton Rock

I hope the recent remake of Brighton Rock stirs interest in the 1947 original, which is both a fine character study and a solid piece of British film noir. Made just after the war by the Boulton Brothers, this story of razor-wielding gangsters was considered shocking in its day. Though a bit dated, it remains worth watching for its strong acting, emotional impact and truly memorable visuals (particular during some shockingly violent scenes).

Scripted by two lions of British cinema, Graham Greene and Terence Rattigan, the plot centers on a small criminal gang led by the cold hearted Pinkie Brown (A genuinely chilling Richard Attenborough). The former boss of the gang has just been murdered and Pinkie is struggling to revenge the loss while fending off internal and external threats to his control. A saintly, pretty young girl named Rose (a pitch perfect Carol Marsh in her film debut) has evidence that can put Pinkie away for a killing, but also, strangely enough, seems to be falling in love with him. Meanwhile he grapples with Catholic guilt at the life he is leading.

As in many British dramas of the era, highly experienced actors take every advantage of the smaller roles in this movie. A pre-Dr. Who William Hartnell plays a complicated criminal who is heartless when committing violence yet develops a paternal protectiveness towards Rose. Veteran stage actor Harcourt Williams steals scene after scene as a Shakespeare quoting shyster.

Only quibble: In trying to contrast “carefree tourist Brighton” with the seedy underbelly, the film makers go overboard early in the film with annoyingly upbeat music that detracts from the mood of menace. But that trope fades out after the first 20 minutes or so, leaving the viewer plenty of time to be both fascinated and repulsed by Pinkie Brown and the criminal world which he inhabits.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

4 thoughts on “Weekend Film Recommendation: Brighton Rock”

  1. Recent remake? That movie was released and largely panned in the US well over a year ago, probably earlier in Britain. It’s not going to stir interest. (Also, how could you fail to note that it’s scripted by Graham Greene from HIS OWN HUGELY FAMOUS NOVEL?)

    1. (I made a hash of anaphoric relations with the second “it’s”. I intended there to refer to the 1947 film.)

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