|"You want me to say, 'I love you.'"|
But, a couple of nights ago TCM showed the original 1947 Brighton Rock film, starring Richard Attenborough, and I was absolutely blown away.
The original Brighton Rock, produced by The Boulting Brothers, is a thoroughly gripping little British noir picture that is about as perfect as a film can be.
From the opening title card -- which proclaims (with just the teensiest bit of irony?) that the lovely English seaside resort town of Brighton is once again safe and perfect for tourism -- to one of the greatest endings in cinema history, Brighton Rock delivers on all levels.
Of course, one has to start any discussion of this film with Attenborough's performance as Pinky, the teen hoodlum. It is legitimately one of the finest performances I have seen on any screen, dripping with malice, a bizarre religious fervor and guilt, and the kind of bitter cynicism you would only expect from a much older actor. Attenborough was twenty-four when he made the picture.
I imagine that British audiences were horrified in 1947, probably creating a mild media panic re juvenile delinquents and youth gangs. Pinky is genuinely frightening to watch, a teenager who understands that his fate is sealed, the end is near, and that murder is the only way out for the slimmest chance of freedom. Pinky thinks love is for fools, all types of love, but he most certainly believes in Hell. Hell is where he will end up, burning in eternity for all his grievous sins and hatred. Pinky is fatalistic. You believe that his actions are played or performed, as if he were God's remote actor. You believe him when he suggests that God's alternate plan for him most likely would have been in the Church. The only time you see Pinky's faith fail him, naturally, is when he is confronted with his own mortality, at last. This thrilling religious theme -- both Pinky and his eventual wife, Rose are Catholics in CoE England -- was obviously baked in to Graham Greene and Terrence Rattigan's sterling script, but it is rare indeed to see a performance illuminate so masterfully the authors' intentions. (Greene, himself, was a Catholic with serious doubts. I suspect he was reflecting these doubts on to this work, based upon his novel of the same name.)
But, that is just Attenborough. Who the heck is Carol Marsh? What the heck happened to her? Ms Marsh plays Rose, the equally fatalistic devout Catholic waitress, who tragically gets caught up in Pinky's web. Rose falls hopelessly in love with Pinky. It is all part of God's master plan that she should commit herself so unconditionally to such a nasty human being. Ms Marsh is expertly cast here. She is pretty enough to be a late 40s British cinema love interest, but not too pretty for Rose. Ms Marsh also delivers a stellar performance, unquestioningly besotted with Pinky, willing to do just about anything and everything for him, in complete submission to his soul. Ms Marsh's face radiantly glows whenever she is in Attenborough's orbit, revealing a deep spirituality. Her performance is naturalistic only in the sense that it seems artless. Normally that would be the type of magical performance that sometimes amateurs can give, but, despite only being seventeen years old, Ms Marsh was not an amateur. Checking on her career at IMDb, Ms Marsh really did not do much, or anything of note, after Brighton Rock. I wonder why.
Brighton Rock is also directed and shot expertly by John Boulting and Harry Waxman respectively. Unlike most noir films of this time, Boulting and Waxman move the camera with an elegant fluidity that really envelope the audience in to this seamy underworld of a seaside tourist town. They also use close-ups judiciously and supremely effectively to get in to the souls of these gangsters. Hermione Baddeley and William Hartnell give wonderful performances, as well. Heck, even Hans May's score is excellent.
An absolute must-see, folks. I will be buying this on dvd very soon. Brighton Rock is a top-notch noir thriller that is not just an entertainment, but a tragic morality tale, as well.