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Watched: 17 September

I first watched this film adaptation of Brighton Rock while reading Graham Greene’s novel around 25-30 years ago, and it still seems like a wonderful portrait of a seaside town’s seedy, threatening underbelly to me today. The threat is most obviously manifest through Richard Attenborough’s horrible gang leader Pinkie, a vicious, violent criminal whose inherent cowardice memorably comes to the fore during two key events in the story; next to him, Hermione Baddeley’s dogged Ida Arnold (the title is surely a reference to her solid indomitability) seems incredibly strong and – for want of a less-tainted phrase – stable. Folliowing Pinkie are perma-wary fellow gang members Dallow, Spicer and Cubitt (William Hartnell, Wylie Watson, Nigel Stock), and later Rose (Carol Brown), whose naievety is as frightening as anything else in the film.

Director John Boulting makes great use of Brighton itself, particularly the seafront, which becomes the setting for many important scenes: the ride on the ghost train; the sudden realisation and panic when two pairs of eyes meet another pair at the bandstand; the part when Pinkie records his own voice (which leads in turn to the story’s superb coda; and the finale on the pier. The locations work well because they are generally associated with happiness and enjoyment, and are therefore full of normal people smiling and laughing in the background, oblivious to the danger in the midst or the deaths that are occurring. And the interiors are memorable, too; the backstreet pubs, the grand cafe where Rose works and – increasingly as the film progresses – the house where the gangsters are living, temporarily, which becomes a kind of claustrophobic prison. It’s all sharply shot by Harry Waxman, and I suppose the only negative thing to say is that our idea of a villain has changed so much during the ensuing years that the character of Pinkie sometimes seems a little ridiculous, as do the reactions of others when he’s around. Anyway, that’s splitting hairs; this is a wonderful adaptation and it oozes backstreet menace. Don’t go near the 2010 remake, which tried to marry Greene’s story to that other Brighton touchstone, Quadrophenia. (****½)


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