Directed by John Boulting
In John Boulting’s adaptation of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock
, Richard Attenborough makes his big-screen debut as small-time mob kingpin Pinkie Brown, a cold-blooded teenage killer with a razor in one hand, the coastal town of Brighton in the other, and a noose woven of Catholic guilt around his neck. But all it takes to threaten his equilibrium is the botched murder of a popular journalist. The only witness that could drag him down is an impressionable young waitress (Carol Marsh), whom he coolly woos with whispered threats. And then a loud-mouthed singer-cum-spiritualist (Hermione Baddeley) starts sticking her head in the case, which makes Pinkie wonder if all the killing isn't over yet after all.
Wracked with religious guilt and anxieties of inadequacy (both sexual and political) on a Napoleonic level, Attenborough makes a perfect noir protagonist. He combines the boyish good looks of Farley Granger and the psychopathic placidity of Richard Widmark, but also brings a deeply rooted spirituality that offers no easy solutions and only complicates his psyche even more. Thank goodness Greene came on board to co-write the script with Terence Rattigan: like a good Catholic, Greene ensures that punishment outweighs the possibility of redemption. The carefully constructed climax on a rainy pier assures that no happy ending is even remotely possible. In true noir fashion, there are no heroes — only those who have been tainted by the darkness. Fans of Wicker Man
will pleased to see this early effort by Harry Waxman, whose expert black-and-white cinematography imbues even the sunniest outdoor locations with claustrophobic paranoia.
June 19-25 at Film Forum
Plus: Simon Abrams on The Inessential Graham Greene