Based on the novel by Graham Greene, John Boulting’s classic noir, Brighton Rock (1948), is one of the most visceral films of its period. Replete with brutality and sheer maliciousness, Boulting’s film paints the famous Victorian resort of its setting as a grimy, relentless realm where salt air mingles with the blood of razorblade attacks.

Brighton Rock follows the fortunes of a razor gang at large in the seaside town. The gang is led by Pinkie (Richard Attenborough) – his predecessor having been found dead following publication of a newspaper exposé. The journalist responsible for the story, Fred (Alan Wheatley), is sent down to Brighton for a competition run by his newspaper, and dies there under mysterious circumstances.

Unfortunately for Pinkie, a neurotic and jittery young man, one clue that the gang was behind the killing is a young café worker called Rose (Carol Marsh). She’s fallen for him, and he’s compelled to marry her to keep her quiet.

Following a trail of evidence, local performer Ida (Hermione Baddeley) is determined to find out what really happened to Fred. But with the gang increasingly desperate to hide the truth, how far will they go to keep their business secret?

Although Boulting chose to shoot a fair amount of Greene’s story in the studio, a number of real Brighton locations were used. More than 70 years later, here are the main locations from the film as they stand today.

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Postcards

Boulting opens his film with a series of shots that feel equivalent to postcards of Brighton’s famous attractions. This is perhaps in order to combat the darker portrayal of the town’s past and its criminal underworld. Of the shots that don’t feature locations used in the rest of the film, there are two that are particularly interesting. The first is of the Royal Pavilion. The shot is taken from Old Steine looking south and little has changed except the amounts of greenery near the road.

The other interesting postcard is of the famed Grand Hotel, the Victorian establishment with a noted history including everything from a bombing by the IRA in 1984, in an attempt to kill Margaret Thatcher, to Abba’s celebratory after-party for their 1974 Eurovision win. The location is little changed since this glimpse in Boulting’s film, though the surrounding buildings are far taller.

On the streets

Many of the film’s location are seen in quick succession during a dramatic early chase sequence. Having found Fred, the gang, led by Pinkie and Dallow (William Hartnell), give chase. One shot shows the alleyway connecting Russell Square to Queensbury Mews. The alleyway is as it was.

In another shot, we see Fred exit a second alleyway. This time, the alleyway is Meeting House Lane. The narrow street has been heavily developed, but its imprint still remains.

Fred comes out of Meeting House Lane and turns left into the street. This is North Street looking west. It’s dramatically altered but just as busy as it always was.

The station

Boulting stays relatively true to the real layout of Brighton. The reason why Fred ends up on North Street is that he’s heading for Brighton Station in the hope of escaping. We follow his approach looking south on Queen’s Road, just outside the station. The road layout is dramatically busier, but the location is still the same.

A far from friendly welcome is awaiting him at the station, with Cubitt (Nigel Stock) and a heavy waiting for him. They’re by the station’s gates when they spot him. The gates themselves still survive today.

Realising he can’t escape that way, Fred runs again and manages to catch a bus heading back down Queen’s Road. This time we see a full view of the station and the road as the bus whisks him away to safety, albeit briefly. The buildings around are dramatically altered, but the station remains unchanged.

By the pier

The Palace Pier plays a crucial role in Brighton Rock, perhaps more than any of its other locations. Before looking at the use of the pier itself, a few location shots establish the structure. Later in the film, a view from both sides of the pier is presented, first when Pinkie and Rose spot Ida performing by the deckchairs. The shot is from Marine Parade looking out towards the pier. The deckchairs have since been replaced by a restaurant, which was undergoing maintenance on my visit.

Later, on their day out, we see Pinkie and Rose by the pier. This scene was shot on Grand Junction Road just outside of the pier’s entrance. It became just as busy on my visit as it was in the film, though the photograph was taken earlier before the crowds arrived.

On the pier

Shooting on and around the pier required a mixture of studio and location filming. The vast majority of the location work again revolves around the pursuit of Fred. We see an ornate ironwork design as he worryingly looks around before bumping into Ida. This was taken further along the pier by the Palm Court Restaurant. Although some of the ironwork has gone, the location is still recognisable.

Another shot shows the pier just beyond the restaurant, when Ida finally catches up with Fred. This is taken from the right-hand side of the pier looking out. The attractions have dramatically changed in the intervening years.

Finally, we’re shown a shot of the Palace of Fun, the huge novelty establishment at the heart of the pier. Today, the building itself has changed but with a few hints remaining of the original design. Certainly the perfect backdrop for a few hard bites into some sickly sweet rock.

References

Further reading

10 great films set in Brighton

By Neil Mitchell

10 great films set in Brighton

The Boulting brothers: vintage film posters

The Boulting brothers: vintage film posters

5 reasons to watch The Guinea Pig – Brighton Rock follow-up with a timely class-clash theme

By David Parkinson

5 reasons to watch The Guinea Pig – Brighton Rock follow-up with a timely class-clash theme

10 great Graham Greene adaptations

By Brad Stevens

10 great Graham Greene adaptations

Remembering Richard Attenborough

By David Robinson

Remembering Richard Attenborough