Brighton Rock (aka Young Scarface) (1948): John Boulting’s British Gangster Film Noire, Starring Richard Attenborough

John Boulting directed Brighton Rock, a British gangster film noir, starring Richard Attenborough as the violent gang leader Pinkie Brown.

The cast includes Carol Marsh as the innocent girl he marries, and Hermione Baddeley as the amateur sleuth investigating the murder.

The film was adapted from Graham Greene’s 1938 novel Brighton Rock, and was produced by Roy Boulting through the brothers’ company, Charter Film Productions.

It was later released in the U.S. under the title Young Scarface.

The title comes from a stick of rock. Ida says that like Brighton rock she doesn’t change—in the book it refers to Pinkie.

In Brighton in 1935, the gangster Kite is found dead, shortly after a newspaper published a story exposing local rackets and gang wars.

Kite’s old gang, led by the psychopathic teenaged hoodlum Pinkie Brown, learns that the reporter, Fred Hale, will be in town for one day for promotional stunt. Fred will play “Kolley Kibber,”As leaving cards around town that can be redeemed for monetary prize–the larger prize is for the first person who publicly identifies Fred as Kolley Kibber.

Pinkie and the gang hold Fred responsible for Kite’s death. They confront Fred in a local pub, and pursue him through the crowded resort town before Pinkie finally murders Fred on an amusement ride.

While Fred is attempting to elude the gang, he meets brassy, outgoing Ida Arnold, a middle-aged entertainer in a local show. The police think that Fred’s death is heart attack or suicide, but Ida suspects foul play and begins her own amateur investigation.

As an alibi for himself, Pinkie sends gang member Spicer to distribute Fred’s “Kolley Kibber” cards in town, making it look like Fred was going about his business normally.

Spicer errs by leaving one card under the tablecloth in a restaurant, creating a risk that the waitress would be able to identify Spicer. Pinkie visits the restaurant and discovers that the sweet, naive young waitress Rose found the card and noticed that Spicer, not Fred, had left it. Pinkie warns Rose not to speak, and as part of gaining her confidence, asks her out on a date.

Pinkie is also being pressured by Colleoni, the older and more powerful leader of a rival gang, and owner of the Cosmopolitan Hotel. He is also pursued by the police, who want him to leave town to avoid further gang warfare. Deciding that Spicer is a liability, Pinkie sends him to the racetrack in hopes that Colleoni’s men will kill him there.

However, Pinkie is also attacked by Colleoni’s men, and runs off thinking Spicer is dead. Pinkie ends up finishing Spicer off himself by pushing him down a stairwell in front of witnesses.

Like other Greene film adaptations, such as The Third Man, the film deals with the Roman Catholic doctrines of the nature of sin and morality; damnation, forgiveness and mercy. Rose and Pinkie are Catholics, as was Greene, and their beliefs are contrasted with Ida’s non-religious moral sensibility.

Years before he became a director (Gandhi), Attenborough renders a solid performance as Pinkie, reprising a character he had created on the West End three years earlier.

Cast
Richard Attenborough as Pinkie Brown
Hermione Baddeley as Ida Arnold
Carol Marsh as Rose Brown
William Hartnell as Dallow
Harcourt Williams as Prewitt
Wylie Watson as Spicer
Nigel Stock as Cubitt
Alan Wheatley as Fred Hale
Virginia Winter as Judy
Reginald Purdell as Frank
George Carney as Phil Corkery
Charles Goldner as Colleoni
Lina Barrie as Molly
Joan Sterndale-Bennett as Delia
Harry Ross as Bill Brewer
Campbell Copelin as Police Inspector
Marianne Stone as Lazy Waitress
Norman Watson as Racecourse Evangelist

Note:

TCM showed the movie on October 9, 2021.