Even though I’m from Brighton, I’d never seen John Boulting’s classic gangster thriller until yesterday. The locations are thrillingly familiar, though wildly different now to how they were in 1947. Different to how they were when I was a kid, truth be told: I still remember the End of the Pier Show and curio museum where coins were swapped for shillings and old pennies to pop in the ancient slot machines. There was a What the Butler Saw mutoscope but I was too young to think one way or the other about the naughty pictures. There was a helter-skelter slide, ghost train and rickety rollercoaster that might still be there – it’s been too many years since I last went back.
The machines and amusement rides were much newer in Pinkie’s day, here played by Richard Attenborough in his breakthrough stage role. He’s a 17 year-old who prides himself on his viciousness as leader of a gang. After murdering a man on the pier, he marries a girl to prevent her testifying against him. Pinkie’s increasingly frantic attempts to cover his tracks, and Rose’s deluded love for him, form the basis for this bleak tale. The plot and performances remain compelling in spite of the age of the film. It does seem ripe for a remake, though I haven’t seen the 2010 adaptation, but this old-fashioned film still holds the attention. It’s still genuinely tense and quite moving, with future Santa Claus Attenborough making a prototype of Christopher Walken. Carol Marsh, as Rose, is all sweet innocence and charm – which makes her situation all the more appalling. The film’s twist on the novel’s ending is cleverly and satisfyingly done.
They seem to be showing this regularly on Film 4 lately, so do see it if it’s on – especially if you’ve ever been to Brighton.