British Cinema, Noir

Brighton Rock (1947)

In 1947 two films were made on opposite sides of the Atlantic. One starred Richard Widmark, and the other one starred Richard Attenborough. The performances of these two men in these films would set both of them onto the path to stardom.

Widmark and Attenborough’s performances in these films also showed us the full extent of their acting talents. They both played characters who were equally scary, evil and real nasty pieces of work. Widmark’s film was Kiss Of Death (this was also his film debut). Attenborough’s was an adaptation of a 1938 novel by Graham Greene. The film was called Brighton Rock. It has since become regarded as one of the best British films of the era. It is also a cracking British Noir.

The realism of the actors performances coupled with the fact that Brighton Rock was shot on location in Brighton, all helps to give this film an extremely authentic look I think. I also love the grimy and gritty look that the film has about it.

America was leading the way in Film Noir at the time this film was made, and some would say the US was leading the way in film making in general in the 1940’s. Over here in Britain we were also making some films that could easily rival, and in some cases surpass, those films coming out of Hollywood. This is one such film.

Unlike the American filmmakers who were hampered by the Breen Office and the Production Code, British filmmakers of the time tended to be able to get away with showing more violence, or alluding to things like sex and violence in more detail on screen. This film is one which is greatly aided by being able to show and insinuate more than American films featuring a similar story would probably have been able to.

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Pinkie. Screenshot by me.

Growing up in the 1990’s, I was so used to seeing Attenborough as the kindly grandfather figure on screen that I found it to be quite a surprise to catch him in this film and see him playing such a violent, heartless, wannabe gangster. I think his performance in this film is right up there with his terrifying performance in 10 Rillington Place. It really is one of his very best performances.

As the violent Pinkie, Attenborough is edgy and he conveys a barely repressed rage that is just waiting to be unleashed. He steals every scene he is with his expressions alone. His youthful appearance works to the films advantage I think, as it makes Pinkie’s acts of violence seem all the more shocking when they occur. 

The film was produced by the Boulting brothers. The film was co-written by Graham Green and Terence Rattigan. John Boulting directed the film. The Boulting brothers were identical twins who worked on a number of British films including Thunder Rock, The Magic Box, The Family Way and Seven Days To Noon.

The body of a man called William Kite is discovered in a gravel pit. Kite was the leader of a local gang. The Police believe he was killed by a rival gang after speaking to a newspaper reporter called Fred Hale (Alan Wheatley). Hale wrote a crime expose piece which led to Kite’s name being published.  

Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough), the baby faced and youngest member of the gang assumes Kite’s position as leader of their gang. Pinkie is aided by the ice cold and loyal Dallow (William Hartnell), the ageing but loyal Spicer (Wylie Watson), and the giggling  Cubitt(Nigel Stock).

Pinkie and his men go after Hale to kill him for what happened to Kite. They catch up to him aboard a horror train ride on Brighton Pier. This stunning sequence is a highpoint in the film and is truly unforgettable. The horror imagery in the ride is very scary and the lighting is superb and used to great effect.

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Ida. Screenshot by me.

Hale’s death is ruled a suicide. Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley) doesn’t believe that for one moment. Ida knew Fred and she was with him just before he got on that ride. She isn’t afraid to put herself at risk to find out the truth. Ida sets out on her own to do some investigating to get to the truth.

With Ida sniffing around, rival gangs causing trouble, and the Police keeping an eye on what’s going, Pinkie becomes more and more paranoid and violent. He also soon becomes as big a threat to his friends as he is to his sworn enemies. 

Naïve young waitress, Rose (Carol Marsh)is a potential witness to Pinkie’s crime. To shut her up and keep an eye on her, he woos her and then marries her. She is a very innocent and fragile woman, and as the film goes on she seems to be heading ever closer to a breakdown. Pinkie treats her like rubbish. He makes a mistake in not heeding the warning he gets from Dallow about not mistreating Rose. 

The performances in this are excellent. Attenborough goes full psycho and is utterly chilling as Pinkie. If you have never seen Richard Attenborough play evil before, then you really need to watch this film. He makes us see that his character wants to be number one, and he wants this at the expense of all else. He craves power and he enjoys violence. He also doesn’t seem to care who is on the receiving end of his violent outbursts. This man is a cold hearted thug.

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Dallow. Screenshot by me.

William Hartnell (the first Doctor Who)steals all the scenes he is in as Dallow. Hartnell often played heavies in British films, his performance here is one of his very best I think. He more than convinces as a hard man who has a moral code when it comes to treating women. He too is a nasty piece of work, but he takes no pleasure from what he does, he does it because it’s a job and it’s what he is good at. Deep down he is actually not all bad.

Hermione Baddeley was one of great character actresses of the classic era. In this film I think she may well have been given her best role. I think it’s a real shame she didn’t get more substantial roles. As Ida she is loud, outgoing, funny, strong and very determined. I like how she is really the hero of the film. I think it’s nice to see an older woman get such a strong role in a film too.  

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Hale. Screenshot by me.

Alan Wheatley is memorable as the terrified Hale fleeing for his life. He more than convinces as the terrified and desperate man on edge, running away from Pinkie’s gang with all the speed that his legs can muster. Wheatley had the sharp and thin features that I think would have made him the perfect choice to play Sherlock Holmes. He was a fine character actor and is terrific in this film.

Carol Marsh makes you want to yell at her character, to shake her out of her wide eyed adoration of the vile Pinkie. She is so naïve and very easily led. Marsh does a superb job of playing this girl who refuses to accept that Pinkie is all bad. She is something of a doormat, but you can’t help but feel sorry for her anyway. There is a childlike innocence about her. 

The book (which I’ve yet to read)apparently had more religious overtones than the film and was full of Catholic guilt. The film doesn’t focus so much on that, but there are a couple of moments where this can be picked up on if you’re looking for it. Religion also rather heavily features in the unforgettable ending scene. 

This is a thrilling, engrossing and a gritty flick that is a real character piece. Everyone in the cast gets their chance to shine.  

My favourite scenes are the following. Ida questioning Rose at the café. Dallow warning Pinkie not to touch Rose. The finale on the pier. Hale meeting a terrifying end on the ghost train ride. Ida and Hale meeting in the bar. Pinkie making a recording of his voice to Rose and in it telling her just what he thinks of her. Dallow telling Rose that she should ask Pinkie for some new clothes. The final scene with the message on the record.

The film was remade in 2010. The remake sadly pales in comparison to this one. Why oh why do people keep insisting on remaking classic films? Most of the time the original is way better than the remake, so why bother doing it? I recommend you stick with this version and enjoy a cracking example of British cinema at its very best. 

What are your thoughts on this film?

 

 

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Blogathons, Romance, True Story

The “No, You’re Crying Blogathon”: Shadowlands (1993)

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Debbie, over at Moon in Gemini, is hosting this blogathon all about films that make us cry. Be sure to check out her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

I want to write about Richard Attenborough’s 1993 film, Shadowlands. This is a film that I find to be extremely moving. It is shot in a way that makes me feel as though I have stumbled across a deeply private moment and am watching it unfold before me. This film shows us how precious and painful love can be, and how cruel and unpredictable life can sometimes end up being.

The loss of a loved one is something we will all unfortunately have to face at some time in our lives. When we lose someone we love, we often rage, asking why this had to happen; we demand to know why did it have to happen a particular way or at a certain time. Loss can make you question the point of life itself, and question why we even allow ourselves to love, if the pain of losing a loved one is so great. Richard Attenborough’s film tackles this pain head on. Shadowlands makes me cry every time I watch it. Hopkins in particular is so moving as the man opening himself up emotionally; the trouble is by doing that he is leaving himself vulnerable to the upcoming pain of grief and loss.

The scene where Lewis is talking to a friend who is a vicar, and breaks down in the church and confesses his love for Joy moves me so much; it moves me because Hopkins makes you feel the agony and helplessness that Lewis is experiencing at that moment. This scene always seems to me like I’ve intruded on a real and very private moment.

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Shadowlands tells the true story of British author C.S Lewis(Anthony Hopkins), best known for creating that magical land of Narnia(please access through your nearest wardrobe.)Lewis was an Oxford lecturer and theologian, he suffered great grief in his early years when his mother died when he was just ten years old. Lewis became an atheist for many years, but later ended up returning to his Christian faith.

Oxford, in the mid 1950’s, the somewhat repressed author and Oxford lecturer, C.S.Lewis(Hopkins) lives with his brother Warnie (Edward Hardwicke).  Lewis is content with his well ordered life, that is until he meets a woman who will change his life forever.

Lewis meets the outgoing American poet Joy Gresham(Debra Winger). The pair became good friends, soon that friendship turned into something more and they are married. Tragedy lies just around the corner though when Joy is diagnosed with cancer. The film shows Lewis allowing himself to fall in love far too late; by the time he admits and acts upon his feelings, Joy is doomed to be taken away from him.
Hopkins is heartbreaking in the role of Lewis. He really lets you feel how much Lewis is being ripped apart inside and I think this is one of the best performances he has ever given on screen. Lewis can’t bear to lose Joy, wishes he had fallen in love with her sooner, and is helpless in the face of her pain. The crying scene between him and Joy’s young son Douglas(Joe Mazzello)is one that I will never forget and it makes me cry every time I watch this film.
Debra Winger is excellent as the funny, bubbly, outgoing woman who allows Lewis to open himself up to the joy of love. Winger makes you feel that you would like to have known Joy, that she would have been fun to be around. When we learn of Joy’s illness it’s even more cruel because she is someone who is so full of life and knows that she is slipping away. Debra is so convincing in the scenes where Joy is really in pain, that it is difficult to watch her as it’s like you are witnessing real suffering.
There is a great line in this spoken by Joy: ”the pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.” Knowing we will one day lose the person/people we love certainly makes us value the time we spend together. Personally the fear of the pain from that inevitable loss makes the rest somewhat difficult for me; I guess it all comes down to are you willing to accept such pain in your life? It’s worth it for the happy times but can you take what happens next?

This film raises and tackles these questions so well. It’s moving, romantic and most important of all, you remember that this couple really went through all of this.
Superb performances, a beautiful score by George Fenton, and some beautiful location work(Oxford, the countryside)all make this a must see. Keep the tissues handy though, you will need them. For me this is one of Richard Attenborough’s greatest film achievements.

I find the following scenes to be very moving. The famous “the pain now is part of the happiness then” scene. Lewis admitting his love for Joy, the look on Hopkins face during that scene really moves me, he shows so much love and tenderness for her. The attic scene between Lewis and Douglas. Joy saying goodbye to Douglas. The final scene between Lewis and Joy. The “you look at me properly now” hospital scene.

If this film moved you, then I highly recommend you also check out the 1985 version starring Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom.

Please share your thoughts on the film below.