Thursday, 15 August 2013

Brighton Rock 1947

In order to celebrate the lovely weather we’ve been having we decided to give our last show a summer theme and talked about the Boulting Brothers 1947 movie ‘Brighton Rock’. This is based on Graham Greene’s 1938 novel of the same name.  We’ve covered Greene before when we did Carol Reed back in 2010.

On the surface this is a crime story – it’s often referred to as British Noir and was re-titled ‘The British Scarface’ for the U.S. market.  Like much of Greene’s work, though, there is a strong anti-Catholic vein running through it.  Polite reviewers of Greene tend to refer to this as a “challenge to Catholic Doctrine”.  I feel something much nastier and poisoness going on, maybe a manifestation of (Catholic) Greene’s own self hatred.

The plot centers on an underworld criminal gang based in Brighton. Their leader has recently been executed and 17 year old Pinkie Brown has stepped into his shoes. Pinkie is played by Richard Attenborough who had also played the role on stage. Most reviews of this film refer to Pinkie as either a ‘psychopath’ or a ‘sociopath’. Greene refers to the character as “Peter Pan”. Greene claimed ,horrifying, ‘the child who doesn’t grow up remains the great champion of justice’. Pinkie is certainly presented as petulant, expecting high standards of behavior from others but “his crimes have an excuse”. This is evident on the two occasions in the film when Pinkie finds himself cornered and faced with the consequences of his actions. The look of utter incredulity on his face sums his character up more than any of his dialogue.  In order to be allowed to film in Brighton the film makers had to open the film with an on screen blurb about how Brighton’s problems with crime were in the past, as the council did not want to discourage tourists from visiting the resort.  Pinkie is an unpredictable and irrational character, unable to effectively lead the gang. He has secured his position, it seems, because the other gang members fear his violent mood swings and the gang begins to fall apart as the film progresses. 

Pinkie (a Roman Catholic) murders a journalist named Fred Hale. Realising local waitress Rose (also a Roman Catholic) has discovered a clue which could negate Pinkie’s alibi; Pinkie romances Rose and then marries her.  The spanner in the works is pier performer Ida Arnold (the standout performance of the film by Hermione Baddley) who, having met Fred on the day of his death, decides to track down his killers.  This dynamic is where I start to feel a little uncomfortable; Greene (who co-wrote the screenplay with Terence Rattigan) raises some very interesting and valid questions about ‘morality’ but undermines himself by singling out Catholics.

Ida is the wrong sort of woman. She’s overweight, overdressed, coarse and likes a drink and the company of men. She is the sort of woman the British would describe as ‘common’, a woman who is not respectable.  Yet, she has a strong sense of right and wrong and the willingness to actually do the right thing.  Pinkie and Rose, do not talk about right and wrong but ‘good’ and ‘evil’.   As Catholics they do not answer to men but to God and have little respect for earthly justice.  The idea of deferring judgment and responsibility to ‘God’ and the afterlife rather than acting in a morally responsible way on earth is an interesting one.  If this idea was explored without making it a specifically Catholic issue it would be superb. Greene believed that Catholics looked down on people who are not Catholics.   This seems to be a very interesting and stunningly unself aware piece of projection on Greene’s part; Oxford contempory Evelyn Waugh (who later converted to Catholicism himself) noted “Graham Greene looked down on us…”

 Much of the guilt Pinkie feels in the novel is missing from the script although there are references to the fact Pinkie believes he is living in Hell.  There are some nice touches highlighting the subjective point of view we have on life.  We see Brighton ‘front’ a fresh faced family resort contrasted with the crime ridden backstreets. Pinkie and Rose, despite living in a grotty boarding house always give a respectable ‘front’, wearing their Sunday best, whilst Ida, good hearted on the inside, dresses in a cheap and showy fashion.  There is also the recording of Pinkie’s voice which, because the record is scratched, seems to be a loving message to Rose but is in fact a vitriolic statement of hatred for her. Greene’s original story ended with Rose hearing the message in full but the film makers wanted an upbeat ending.  Greene was initially unhappy with this but then realized that viewers would know it was only a matter of time before Rose moved the needle over the scratch and that her agony was merely delayed.

We played summer themed hits on the show including ‘Here Comes Summer’ The Dave Clark Five, ‘Long Hot Summer’ The Style Council and Laura Veirs’ ‘Summer is the Champion’.  

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