“ Actors: Richard Attenborough, Carol Marsh, Hermione Baddeley / Director: John Boulting / Writers: Graham Greene, Terrence Rattigan / Classification: PG / Studio: Optimum Home Entertainment / DVD Release Date: 28 2011 / Run Time: 88 minutes „
* Prices may differ from that shown
This blu-ray from Optimum Home Entertainment costs about £7 on amazon at time of writing.
This is an adaptation of a very famous Graham Greene novel, made in 1947. It's widely regarded as a classic, although that might just be because people have still heard of it - for films that old, being remembered is half the battle won. It was made by the Boulting Brothers, who are best known for directing light comedies in the 50s and 60s (I'm Alright Jack was one of their films).
The film concerns a gang of racetrack extortionists led by the teenaged Pinkie. A journalist has done harm to the gang (and inadvertently caused one of them to be murdered), so Pinkie kills him. Unfortunately, one of his henchmen screws up the alibi, and Pinkie is driven to increasingly desperate measures to try and evade justice. But Ida, an end-of-pier performer who befriended the dead man, is determined to get to the bottom of things, and Pinkie's more powerful rivals want him out of the way...
The book is a classic, and the film sticks to it reasonably faithfully as far as I can remember. The ending's toned down in various ways, perhaps because of censorship. It's set between the wars, and a pedantic scrolling text before the start of the film assures us that things like this don't happen in Brighton anymore, nosirree. (Just wait till the mods and rockers arrive!) It's still surprisingly nasty for a film of its vintage, with razor attacks and a pretty good fight scene at a racetrack. I haven't seen the modern remake, but I think this version gets the balance right between making the violent scenes real and making them so visceral that they overwhelm the story.
The thing is, though, that it's not really made that brilliantly. It uses Brighton as a location well, and the seedy boarding house where Pinkie and his mob live is nicely realised. All the sets feel real. And it has a great ghost train scene. But on the whole it doesn't feel like it's been made with any real flair. 1948 was around the time film noir got going, and this film could badly use a bit of the sinister, ambiguous style of the noirs. Odd Man Out was made in the same year, and is a weaker story but a better film.
The initial sequence where the journalist is stalked round Brighton by Pinkie and co, and his desperate attempts to save himself, should be a classic of suspense (just think what Hitchcock could have done with it). Instead it just feels a bit humdrum, and in spite of sterling work from the actors, it doesn't sell the urgency of the situation at all. The same is true throughout - what should be big moments are disappointingly matter-of-fact.
The film is still worth seeing, though, and that's largely down to the cast. Richard Attenborough was superb at playing scumbags, and his ever-paranoid Pinkie is pretty much perfect. Even Graham Greene thought so. I've never quite understood why a gang of older toughs take orders from a 17-year-old, but Attenborough carries the part off brilliantly. Hermione Baddely is just as good as the brassy, determined Ida, the only person willing to stand up to the gang.
Fans of Dr Who will be happy to see William Hartnell in one of his best film roles as Pinkie's henchman Dallow. He rattles his dialogue off a bit too quickly sometimes, and there's one or two moments where his future Who mannerisms come to the surface, but it's a good performance. The gang also includes a very young looking Nigel Stock, and Harcourt Williams is great as their seedy lawyer. The trickiest part is Rose, the waitress Pinkie has to romance so she doesn't blow his alibi. Carol Marsh is affecting in the role, but it's incredibly difficult to a) understand what the hell she sees in the little runt; and b) regard her as anything other than dangerously stupid.
That's perhaps the biggest problem with the film - things that you might accept in a novel (such as a teenage boy leading a gang of middle-aged men, or a girl who happily agrees to cover for a rude thug she's met only once) are more difficult when we see them acted out in front of us. The stuff about Catholicism seems a bit clumsily shoehorned in, as well, although you kind of expect that with Graham Greene.
All in all, it's a good film that's worth seeing, especially if you like older British movies. But it doesn't compare to films from the era made by people like Carol Reed, let alone Hitchcock or Orson Welles. It lacks the timeless qualities of the true classics, and never quite persuades you of the desperation the characters supposedly feel.
It looks pretty good on Blu-ray. Not as great as some, but I guess they were limited by the quality of the existing prints. The image is quite nicely textured and looks like it has some depth to it. But while some Blu-rays can make you feel like you're seeing a film again for the first time, some just offer a slightly improved version to the one we had already. This is one of the latter, and if you already have this on DVD, I wouldn't say that upgrading was essential.
There are two extras. One is an interview with the director of the modern remake - I can't for the life of me see what value that is meant to add. The other is an audio recording of a BFI interview with John Boulting and Richard Attenborough from the 1950s. It's over an hour long. Boulting is jollier and a bit more interesting than Attenborough, but it's a struggle to try and sit through it all.
The disk loses a star for inserting trailers before you reach the menu. One is the pretentious 'Studio Canal Collection' trailer that features in most of their Blu-ray releases (the films are great, but the trailer infuriates me). The other is a good 1960s trailer for Peeping Tom, which is released by the same company on Blu-ray. But even good trailers are still trailers. They can be fast-forwarded through, but not skipped entirely.
Brighton Rock is a good film adaptation of a classic novel, but there are better British films of the era available on Blu-ray.