It’s “Richard Attenborough, Thespian” month at Film Forum, between this week’s release of the post-WWII British noir Brighton Rock and next week’s revival of the ’70s true-crime classic 10 Rillington Place. Best known for directing one of the more bloated Oscar-winning biopics (1982’s Gandhi), Attenborough made his lasting contribution to the arts as an actor, something especially apparent in this Graham Greene–derived suspense film.
Attenborough strikingly conveys the rotten core of fresh-faced teenage gangster Pinkie Brown, whose intense stare goes on for miles. He always seems to be plotting a vicious endgame; indeed, Pinkie thinks so far ahead that he often neglects his immediate surroundings. That’s probably why what should be a simple act of murder—pushing a stool pigeon off a careening roller coaster into a watery grave—ends up spiraling out of control.
There’s something near farcical about the burdens Pinkie has to bear, which culminate in his marriage to a naive waitress (Marsh) so that she’ll keep quiet about a key piece of evidence. Brighton Rock is too often compromised by a muddled Catholic moralism—see the overemphatic botch of a final sequence. Yet the future Lord Dickie’s sinister stylings are what linger, especially the vitriolic audio recording he makes for his betrothed, done as if damnation were the most casual of enterprises.