Brighton Rock: Quite a Find



Directed by John Boulting

Pathé Pictures, 92 minutes, Not-rated.





Unless you’re a film noir junkie you’ve probably never heard of Brighton Rock. This British-made movie never got much of a U.S. release, but it’s now available in DVD and on streaming platforms. Brighton Rock is a taut and unusual slice of film noir. It’s based on a 1938 Graham Greene novel, but I doubt even he could paint in words what director John Boulting brought to the screen.


The setting is the seaside town of Brighton, England, and “rock” refers to a stick of hard candy some believe first appeared there. That’s probably apocryphal, but it’s the sweetness aspect that comes into play. Think of Brighton as a cross between Coney Island and Atlantic City during its early 20th century glory days–a mix of class and crass. The story involves two crime gangs, one established and another of neophytes headed by Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough) looking to up its profile. Pinkie is a young punk who is about 90% as smart as he thinks he is. It’s that missing 10% that leads to the kind of trouble he doesn’t want.


The year is 1935, one of Pinkie’s gang members has been killed, and he blames Fred Hale (Alan Wheatley) for the hit. It’s never established if Hale was guilty, but he finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. Brighton is running a promotion involving “Kolley Kibber,” a reference to an obscure 18th century poet/playwright. Hale’s face is plastered on advertisements and anyone in Brighton who approaches him gets cash prizes. Alas, Hale’s legitimate job overlaps with a time in which Pinkie is hatching plans in Brighton. Hale meet his ends in a funhouse ride, where Pinkie strangles him. If only Fred hadn’t encountered busybody Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley), everything might have worked out l for Pinkie. The police think he died of a heart attack or suicide, but Ida insists he was offed.


Pinkie and gang members need alibis to “prove” they were nowhere near the amusement park when Hale died. Pinkie sends Spicer (Wylie Watson) to distribute Kibber cards incognito so it will look like Hale had been active until his death, but Spicer accidentally left one in a cafĂ© where he was probably seen. Pinkie marches off to collect the card, but it’s gone. He does, however, meet an innocent waitress who worked that table. To cover his rear, Pinkie woos 16-year-old Rose Brown (Carol Marsh) and gets forged documents allowing the two underaged “lovers” to marry; under British law a spouse cannot testify against a partner. Rose is the rock candy. After briefly treating her like a queen with no money–including making a recording of his voice–Pinkie returns to his rough hoodlum ways. Rose, though, is both a good Catholic girl and so green that she assumes Pinkie’s surliness is her fault.


Pinkie’s dilemma is essentially that of Icarus. He and is diminishing gang–a few are put out of commission–have been involved in smalltime rackets, but Pinkie’s aspirations put him on a collision course with Colleoni (Charles Gardner), the Big Fish. Getting him to bite isn’t easy as Colleoni recognizes Pinkie as a lowlife loser. As Pinkie grows more desperate, things rocket out of control. The record’s content factors into the plot, as does the fact that Rose doesn’t own a gramophone. So too will a gun, Ida’s meddling, and Rose’s Catholicism. Brighton Rock hurtles toward a surprising ending that both chills and touches.


Among the things that make this film stand out are sequences, especially at the fun house and on a dark pier, that are as surrealistic as a Man Ray photograph. Cinematographer Harry Waxman manipulated light and dark so brilliantly that they illumine one of the film’s themes: sin versus redemption. Overall, Waxman’s use of light is so good that were this not a black and white film I’d be tempted to apply adjectives such as vivid and lurid. The movie is carried, though, by Marsh and Attenborough. They both play teens–Marsh was actually 21 and Attenborough 25­–and their baby faces enhance the dance between inherent innocence and its corrupted variety. If you can get past the dated aspects of this 74-year-old project, you will be treated to a superb underappreciated film noir gem. Dare I call it “eye candy?”


Rob Weir






D'Amour Show a Walk Through Late 20th Century Music




D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA

Through May 1, 2022


All of a sudden there has been renewed interest in photographic depictions of pop, rock, blues, and soul icons of the 1960s and 1970s. First came the online exhibit of works from the late Don Hunstein and now the D’Amour in Springfield is featuring images from Larry Hulst. It’s as if the Baby Boomer Magical Mystery Tour is mutating into the Baby Boomer Senior Citizen Bus Tour.


Hulst (b. 1946) might not pop instantly to mind, but you have probably seen his images on album covers or in Rolling Stone Magazine. He began shooting rock shows when he returned to the States in 1969, after serving a tour of duty in Vietnam. In his words, “I want to be where the action is. After all, the ‘show’ is projected out into the audience. I want to be in the audience.”


That last sentence is slightly disingenuous, as he usually worked on special commissions. This gave him access to performers that ticket-buying audience members did not have, but Hurst certainly knows a good shot when he sees it. There are more than 70 photos on display at the D’Amour that cover the period 1970-99. Many of the photos are accompanied by sound spots on which you can stand to hear music from the spotlighted musicians.


The l999 date is pretty much confined to shots of Lauryn Hill. In the sampling below I have concentrated on the 1970s into the 1980s. That’s the bulk of what is on display, plus I confess that my musical tastes shifted in the 1980s–from rock to Celtic and folk–because I couldn’t stomach hair bands, glam rock, or disco. I make no judgments about those styles; they simply weren’t my thing. If they are yours, you’ll feel represented by the D’Amour show, but here is my curated Magical Nostalgia Tour.


I’ll lead with my favorite shot. It’s of Bob Dylan. Or is it? Nope! It’s Joan Baez spoofing her old lover.




Here’s a shot of the actual guy alongside Tom Petty. It’s a good time to add a small note of criticism to the show. This one and others has reflections–I took out what I could–because many museums struggle with the lighting for photographs. That is sometimes the case for the D’Amour. Several of my favorite Hulst shots, including one of Grace Slick at a “Black and White” party dressed as a nun, had too much reflection to see them well. (Any shots in this article that are not crisp or as Hulst shot them are a combination of cropping, uneven lighting, and/or the algorithms in my iPhone.)




One of my great heroes was and is Neil Young, so here is one of himself alone and another when he was part of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Stills is absent from the second photo. By the way, though it might seem un-PC today, a lot of counterculture folks used Native American imagery in an "America needs Indians" campaign supporting indigenous rights.




And here are my top two guitar heroes: Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. A lot of people think Hendrix is the greatest ever. I mean no disrespect to Hendrix, but I much prefer Clapton’s fluidity to Hendrix’s noodling and improvisations. But if you flipped a coin, who could argue with the result?




I was never a Deadhead, but I did teach courses with the band at the center of an exploration of American culture. Here’s Jerry Garcia. Note the missing digit–the result of a wood-splitting accident when he was four.




And why not give it up for a guy who made weirdness into art? Frank Zappa was not the freak people thought he was, nor did he use drugs or tolerate drunkenness. But he sure could get sounds out of his instruments that stretched boundaries. 




Has there ever been a better Texas electric blues player than Stevie Ray Vaughan? Don't think. The answer is no. 




I was really into the British Invasion bands, but if I had to pick a favorite not named Cream or The Beatles, I’d be tempted to go with Jethro Tull. Here’s a pensive Ian Anderson, the band’s flautist and lead vocalist.



The final shot is of Kiss. I didn’t like them very much, but this is a wonderful shot that captures the spectacle that made them into a favored metal-meets-Big Hair band. There must have been a sale on aluminum foil. Kiss, though, is about where I jumped musical ship.



There’s probably no need for me to say this, as the work shows it, but Hulst succeeded in his quest to show the action, be it a moment of electricity or one of contemplation and concentration.


Rob Weir







Mank a Lousy Film


MANK (2020)

Directed by David Fincher

Netflix, 131 minutes, R (language, alcoholism)




Herman J. Mankiewicz (1897-1953) was brilliant, erudite, and a talented writer who could crank out and/or fix scripts faster than Billy the Kid could draw a six-gun. He was also egotistical, stubborn, and a sloppy alcoholic who drank himself to an early grave. The Marx Brothers once delivered Paramount an ultimatum: If Mankiewicz was part of any of their future productions, they were done with movies.


Mank looks at the controversial Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) in three moments of his professional life: 1930, 1934, and 1940. The last of these the year that he co-wrote with Orson Welles–or completely wrote as he often claimed–the script for Citizen Kane, a film often cited as the greatest American film ever made. Alas, neither Director David Fincher nor his screenwriter father, the late Jack Fincher, chose to order their material in any sort of sequential order. That’s fashionable these days, but Mank is a bit like Wordle in that you have to take the small pieces you are given as the movie flits back and forth in time, then try to arrange them into a coherent whole. Most viewers didn’t bother, which is why Mank was one of the biggest box office duds of recent history; it earned back just over $122,000 of its $25 million production costs.


In other words, Mank is a rotten movie devoid even of being good camp. It would have gotten zero stars had it not been for its strong performances and its production design. The latter won numerous awards, including an Oscar for stylish black-and-white backdrops that subtly evoke Depression Era Hollywood. Inexplicably, cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt also won an Oscar, though much of his camera work looks fake.


Oldman is outstanding, but his performance was wasted as there’s not enough background information to make sense of the major players or their crisis points. The Finchers forgot that audiences can be a film fans without being film historians. If you don’t know already know about people such as S. J. Perlman, John Houseman (Sam Troughton), Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), or Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley), add those blanks to your script Wordle. Throw in a few invented characters and you’ve got a thin and unappetizing hobo stew.


It's too bad, as we are left with a good-looking movie set in a dangerous and fascinating times–the Depression, the rise of fascism, California’s 1934 gubernatorial election–and imperious characters, but we spend too much time trying to work out who’s who and what’s what. The film dips into Mankiewicz’s life as he reconnects with an old friend, actress Marion Davies; befriends her sugar daddy, publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance); matches wits with Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard), the tyrannical head of MGM; wins the respect of his personal secretary Rita Alexander (Lilly Collins); plays dueling egos with Orson Welles (Tom Burke); and manages to hold on to his long-suffering wife Sara (Tuppence Middleton). Each actor is quite good, though you’ll probably wonder to what, when, and where their performances are supposed to be connected.


If you are tempted to watch Mank, the film’s many jumps are between three junctures of Mankiewicz’s life. The first was getting his foot in the MGM door in 1930–he was hired and fired from studios on a regular basis–via Davies and Hearst. In the second, Mank strains his relationships with Mayer and Hearst over the 1934 election in California that pitted conservative Republican Frank Merriam against socialist upstart and novelist Upton Sinclair (“Science Guy” Bill Nye in a cameo). Mankiewicz was a Sinclair supporter who knew the difference between socialism and communism, whereas Hearst and Mayer were right-wingers who plotted to undermine Sinclair. Finally, the 1940 sequences are of Mank recuperating from a broken leg, getting plastered, burning his MGM bridges, and completing the Citizen Kane script for RKO Studios. There’s also a subplot of Mank’s relationship with his younger brother Joe (Tom Pelphery). Trust me, though, when I tell you I have just made more sense of the film than the script managed to do.


Ultimately Mank is a what-were-they-thinking? movie. In more ways than one Mank reminded me of a line from the classic film On the Waterfront: “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of bum, which is what I am.” That’s nicer than saying Mank stank.


Rob Weir