Brighton Rock (1947) Graham Greene’s Seedy Side of England

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Brighton Rock, based on a Graham Green novel from 1938, opens with a disclaimer about the proceeding content. Great pains are made to differentiate the place depicted within the frames of the film — set before WWII — and Brighton circa 1947. The only reason such a note would be necessary is the fact this picture was preparing to show an unflattering side of the sea town (and also the picture used hidden cameras to film on-location). Before we have even begun, we already have a weird mixture of faux-reality with an authentic period piece. It’s certainly not a false assessment to make.

A handsome, fresh-faced lad with piercing eyes, Richard Attenborough, plays Pinkie Brown, a hoodlum to the nth degree. In fact, the actor’s performance is augmented by his obvious youth. It gives the sense of a young upstart who grew up to be tough due to his environment. He knows no other life, no other person except himself. One can only marvel at Attenborough originating the role three years prior on the stage.

The most obvious point of action begins with some blokes chasing a man named Fred (Alan Wheatley) around, running him ragged in relentless pursuit. Lady of Shanghai (1947) has the hall of mirrors. Woman on The Run (1950) has a roller coaster. Strangers on a Train (1951) has its Tunnel of Love and a haywire carousel. Brighton Rock can ably join the pantheon of morbid cinematic funhouse attractions with its own addition. The Palace Pier might be a fine place for jocularity, but it also serves as a fitting locale for murder.

The solitary person who gives a tuppence at Fred’s disappearance is the gregarious local entertainer (Hermione Baddeley), who takes a shining to him for any number of reasons. Namely, he lends her money and gives her tips on the ponies. But bless her soul, she does try her darndest to get to the bottom of his case, even as the police have already wrapped it up neatly.

The film itself conjures up a gritty world worth exploring, with the blend of British backstreet authenticity and gangster drama. We get accustomed to beer halls, grungy flats, and seaside boardwalks. Part of the joy is seeing the world of 1940s England partially untouched, as it was at the time.

Maybe it’s subliminal, because of the relationship between Graham Greene and Carol Reed by way of The Third Man, but I cannot help seeing shades of Brighton Rock in Odd Man Out and vice versa. Certainly, their characters and situations are starkly different to go with the respective terrain of Brighton and Ireland. Still, you get the same brooding sense of fatalism and the destructive nature of such lifestyles upheld by these lowbrow criminal types.

Like all the finest, most complex gangster films, what we have is the dichotomy of a criminal’s life. In “business” they can be so ruthless, and yet there is still space for family and in the case of Pinkie, love. He is prepared to murder someone for double-crossing him in one moment, and then ready to go courting with his girl the next.

The impressionable girl in question is Rose (Carol Marsh). She is a waitress who unwittingly has information to incriminate Pinkie. So he promptly goes to work on her. Being a soft touch and seeing as he has a certain amount of charm, it’s easy enough to pull off. In her naivete, she’s easily taken with him and falls head over heels in love. Ready to do anything and everything to shield him. It’s just what he wants, another person to use.

Because to the very end, we must suspect he is only keeping her close because she knows too much. As much as we want to believe he might actually love her — and be redeemed to some extent — it’s pretty clear it never happens. He remains an incorrigible reprobate, who nevertheless believes in hell and damnation.

Reckoning, for him, comes first in the form of local kingpin Colleoni who is prepared to lean on the younger hood — he’s getting too big for his britches — the police know it too. But he’s a feisty devil, continually exerting his authority over his band of cronies, even as Ida continues poking around. A racetrack becomes a perfect locale for violent tumult. Although my favorite particular image is a picketer hoisting a big sign “The Wages of Sin is Death” whilst he chows away on a sandwich, there are more imminently menacing theatrics on hand.

The rope is running out for Pinkie and his psychotic little mind sees his one last chance as a double suicide killing so he might get away. We have a sense of what he’s about to do. The rain is pouring down. He and his girl take a brisk walk out to the pier. The events are heightened by this moral imperative where death by suicide is seen as the ultimate sin on some man-made gradient.

Her we have a callow young woman who will so willingly ruin her life and blindly follow a man she thinks truly loves her. Then, there’s a criminal beholden only to himself to the very end, but Attenborough goes out and makes sure we don’t forget him even when he’s left the picture. You can’t forget someone like that nor a performance of this sleazy magnitude.

He leaves behind the gramophone recording of his voice with a malicious note, but whether Pinkie’s own tamperings or a bit of fateful happenstance the record gets caught on the phrase I love you — with everything else conveniently left out. As the camera closes in on a crucifix — the ultimate symbol of sacrificial love —  it seems a very disconcerting thing to hear Pinkie’s words echoing against it.

The music trills to suggest this is meant to be a happy ending, and yet when I see that imagery and hear those words, they don’t mesh. They remind me that the very nature of human beings is often deceptive and cruel.

If God is supposed to be good and perfect, there can hardly be any relation between our imperfect attempts at love and his, if he is indeed perfect. So if we want to retain something, it seems imperative to latch onto the word hope — what the sister entreats Rose to latch onto even as she notes “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”

Graham Greene was himself an ardently religious man and even in the cynical worlds he often draws up, this hint at something else is striking. You must look upward at something greater or else take a dive into the nihilistic depths of despair. The outcomes of this picture allow for no other logical progression.

4/5 Stars

Jurassic Park (1993)

690f7-jurassicpark1Jurassic Park was yet another smash hit for Steven Spielberg back in 1993 and it, as well as the animatronics, stand up pretty well over 20 years later. It might feel slightly underwhelming at times, but it definitely still carries the ability to entertain.

Without giving away too much plot, although most should have already seen it, Jurassic Park plays out like a modern-day King Kong story. John Hammond (played by actor/director Richard Attenborough) is a white-haired billionaire with an eye for spectacle. He has put his money to good use (so it seems) pouring resources into a new sort of attraction. This is no Disneyland and as such the stakes are much higher.

He calls upon the services of a paleontologist Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) and a paleobotanist Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern)  to give the seal of approval on his grand endeavor. There’s also a nosy lawyer who is curious for the sake of his investors. Round out the group with an authority on Chaos Theory (Jeff Goldblum) along with Hammond’s grandkids and you have all you need.

These lucky few are the ones who get shipped out to a remote island off Costa Rica to see first hand the majesty of Jurassic Park. But rather like Frankenstein, Hammond does not know what he has created. What was meant to be good, turned sour all too quickly, except in this rendition of the story he gets a little help from a pudgy programmer who is looking out for himself.

There’s not much character development to speak of, but if you have real life dinosaurs terrorizing an island you do not need much else. Accompany it with a truly epic and iconic score from John Williams and you have something quite special and quintessentially ’90s. If kids did not want to be paleontologists before they undoubtedly did after Jurassic Park.

As Dr. Grant so aptly puts it, “Dinosaurs and man, two species separated by 65 million years of evolution have just been suddenly thrown back into the mix together. How can we possibly have the slightest idea what to expect?”

That is the general intrigue behind Jurassic Park aside from the awesome fact that we get to see a T-Rex, Raptors, and many other dinosaurs recreated. This is not necessarily a kids movie due to the intensity at times, but it definitely is meant for the young at heart. Those are the people who unashamedly love dinosaurs.  But then again who doesn’t love dinosaurs?

4/5 Stars

Shadowlands (1993)

2bfce-shadowlands_ver2Starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger with direction by Richard Attenborough, this film chronicles the romance of famed Christian professor and author, C.S. “Jack” Lewis with the American poet Joy Gresham. Jack is by now a respected professor at Oxford and a widely acclaimed lecturer who often speaks on the issue of human suffering. In his personal life, he is rather reserved. He lives with his older brother Warnie and spends times with his colleagues discussing topics of all sorts at the local pub in the evenings. 

It is not until he receives a letter from an American admirer named Joy Gresham that his life seemingly begins to change. He first accepts to meet her only to be gracious, but soon their relationship develops into a close bond. Jack meets Joy’s son Douglas who is enthralled by Narnia. He even offers them a place to stay during the Christmas season, since they have nowhere else to go. Lewis and Gresham are very different people, to say the least. He is a quiet intellectual with the sensibilities of an Englishman, while she is a plain -speaking American who does not mince words. However, these differences bring them closer together because they help each other to view the world in a radically new light.  Jack learns how Gresham’s marriage is going badly and he settles to marry her in a practical union so she and Douglas can stay in England. They do not speak of it much and it hardly seems real. Joy calls him on it realizing for herself that he allows no one to challenge him. There is no vulnerability to him whatsoever.

However, then Joy is diagnosed with bone cancer and slowly but surely she begins to deteriorate. For the second time in his lif,e Lewis understands the anguish that comes when a loved one is suffering. Because, the fact is, he most definitely loves Joy, and it simply took a tragedy to make him realize it. As with any inexplicable suffering, Lewis is tested in his faith, and the reality human suffering has new meaning to him. It is no longer just lecture material, becoming a far more personal process.

Although this film is not so much focused on C.S. Lewis as a Christian theologian or apologist, I think Anthony Hopkins does a wonderful job of portraying him as a kindly and gentle man of faith. He struggles with doubts and fears like every human, but he found something wonderful in his love for Joy which ultimately changed him.

Debra Winger must also be commended because she played well off of Hopkins and even though I have no picture of the real Gresham, Winger seemed to embody her. In some ways, I found her most beautiful when she was bedridden, absent of all makeup and seemingly so pure. It positively tears your heart out watching her son say a tearful goodnight or to look on as Jack stays up with her. This is a better picture of real, unadulterated love than most films can hope to manage because it very rarely becomes a sappy melodrama instead resorting to more deliberate means. As Jack says we live in the “Shadowlands,” but amidst the pain and suffering, love seems to shine through even brighter.

This was such an enlightening film for me because I always envision C.S. Lewis as a scholar and rational thinker, which he was. But he also had a vulnerable human side and this film, as well as A Grief Observed (written after Joy’s death), prove that point. It’s hard not to feel for him and that’s part of the beauty of this story.

4.5/5 Stars