Saturday, 5 September 2009

I've never changed. It's like those sticks of rock. Bite one all the way down, you'll still read Brighton. That's human nature.

No 241 - Brighton Rock
Director - John Boulting

I sat down yesterday afternoon to do some admin. The plan was to tot up my admin, with some crap telly on in the background and then maybe have a kip. However, to my shock... DAVE plays films!
I did not know this. So I dragged myself out of my semi asleep daze and settled in to watch this 1947 classic. Which is, of course, being remade - like everything these days.

The film is set between the two world wars and follows a gang of thugs trying to cover up a murder, which took place on the ghost train on Brighton pier none the less. There appears to have always been a ghost train on Brighton pier (even if it seems to burn down all the time). The gang has to blackmail, bargain and threaten their way out of trouble and results with the primary plot point - Richard Attenborough's character Pinky having to marry an eye witness in order to stop her from being able to testify.
What got me from the start was the Brighton setting. I've always been a massive fan of Brighton and so the joy of spotting locations was lovely. Especially as only parts of Brighton were recognisable - the city has changed in the last 60 years. As have clothes. I like the idea that gang members were gangsters. It makes sense, and means that people just look really smart all the time.
Pinky is an inspiration, always smart, and so polite.

The majority of my notes for this film focus on the characters. The plot is rather simple, and allows the characters to develop as the net of police and suspicion draws round them. There are a few people I want to talk about initially before focusing most of this blog on the mighty character of Pinky.

Firstly Pinky's gang, which contains a young William Hartnell. I've never seen William Hartnell be anything but the doctor, so seeing him as a rough and violent cockernee gangster was a bit of a shock.
His character is one of the most interesting minor roles as he has a big change in character. Moving from Pinky's most loyal right hand man, to being the one who eventually fingers him out to the police in the film's conclusion. The gang also includes Nigel Stock as Cubitt, who deserves mention mainly for his excellent series of natty outfits, but who is apparently too obscure even for Google Images.

The real surprise for me was the appearence of the character Ida, played by Hermione Baddeley - most famous (in my eyes) for being Ethel in Mary Poppins. I don't know why I get surprised by Mary Poppins bit parts appearing in old films... it was the same when I saw Mrs Banks in The Card.
She is another important character in that she is the only person who doesn't believe the all important murder is a suicide (as the police suspect).
She hounds the police, she speaks to witnesses and she gradually gets more information on Pinky's gang and starts to follow them - applying more and more pressure on to the group. It is Ida's influence and persistence which builds up Pinky's paranoia and stress over what should have been a simple murder.

But, all of these characters fade in comparison with Attenborough's Pinky. A truly fantastic and utterly terrifying character and one that is very very interesting.
He is only 17, and yet he is the leader of a gang of thugs who are considerably older looking than him. Not only that but the gang look to him with genuine respect and fear. Whatever he did to become leader of the group, it was totally deserved.
He doesn't drink or smoke (despite being constantly offered booze or cigarettes by everyone he meets), he appears to have no vices. Except murder.

The cold and underlying violence in Pinky's character is very much at odds with his little baby face (and Attenborough is a very handsome baby faced man) - but this is rectified when Pinky tries to set up another murder and ends up with a facial scar himself. This at least helps to make him more visually threatening!
It is not his violence or his temper which mark his cruelty. More so the truly savage cold hearted way he treats the important witness, naive waitress Rose - played by Carol Marsh (who appears by kind permission of J Arthur Rank, as the film likes to make clear. Must have been a time when certain actors 'belonged' to certain producers.)

Rose is so innocent. She speaks in dreamy vacant tones. She believes strongly in love and her catholic faith and she falls completely for the silent and mysterious Pinky. Pinky decides to marry her, in order to complicate any chance of her being made to testify against him. However where Rose sees it as an act of love, and is completely in love with him. Pinky sees it as just another nuisance ruining his murder plan. He even decides (in a gloriously petty moment) to make Rose a gift, a disc for her gramophone explaining exactly how he feels:
You wanted a recording of my voice, well here it is. What you want me to say is, 'I love you'. Well I don't. I hate you, you little slut...
However, he finally sees that that is too harsh and attempts to destroy it before Rose can find it.

Rose's neglect by Pinky is what causes the rifts in his gang. Whilst he may not care, other members of the gang want to protect Rose's innocence. Especially Hartnell's Dallow. So when Pinky plans to murder Rose (or trick her into suicide) - he finally snaps and sends the police in.

The real moments in this film showcases the real tragic beauty in the story. Pinky dies, shot down by Dallow and the police after attempting to get Rose to shoot herself. Rose is still hopelessly in love with Pinky and joins a convent. Her only memento of her loving husband being the sadly scratched record he had made her.
As she plays the record on her gramophone it skips at the most convenient place.

You wanted a recording of my voice, well here it is. What you want me to say is, 'I love you'.... I love you... I love you... I love you... I love you...

Film fades to black.
The End.

Next up More Top Gear (again....)

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