The Boulting Brothers’ adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel was the most popular British film of 1947. It was one of their earlier successes, prior to their ‘50s heyday, and its hard-edged tone and (still shocking) violence couldn’t be more different from the Ian Carmichael vehicles for which they’re best remembered. I don’t think the film is wholly successful, but I’d based that verdict on the source material rather than the screen translation of it.
First things first; William Hartnell (best known as the first Doctor Who) is superb as psychopath Pinky Brown’s right-hand man. A coolheaded tough man, this is more the type that Hartnell had been typecast as prior to playing the Doctor. There’s a moment towards the end ("I told you to leave the girl alone!") that’s not so far from Michael Caine in Get Carter. He looked old beyond his years even then; only 39 when it was released.
Sir Dickie Attenborough is unrelentingly heartless as the baby-faced Pinky; the only concern he shows is for himself, and the only emotions he is capable of are fear and anger. Carol Marsh’s Rose, in contrast, is pure as the driven snow with a love for Pinky that knows no bounds.
I have to admit, I find the Graham Greene Catholic guilt thing a bit tiresome after a while. Diametrically opposite saints and sinners and rosaries and crucifixes. However, my main beef is with the amateur sleuthing leading to the climax; the police have closed the case of a murder commited by Pinky early on, but Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley) remains suspicious and starts her own investigation. After the superb scene where Pinky gets his face slashed, then flees terrified from the hit that he set up, the story felt as if it needed the threat against him to escalate and/or the police to close in on him. Instead, what we get is a robust bint with a loud voice who keeps putting the willies up him. It's something akin to Margaret Rutherford's Miss Marple taking down Scarface (actuallly... ). When it was released in the States, the film was retitled Young Scarface.
I hoped Marlon Brando would cameo until I realised the rival gang leader was called Colieoni. We do see Nigel Stock in an early, astonishingly svelte, role as one of Pinky’s hoodlums. Harcourt Williams flat-out steals every scene he’s in as dodgy lawyer Prewitt.
Brighton Rock is blessed with excellent performances and striking monochrome direction, but the story could have done with being less faithful to its source material.