ROBERT SIEGEL, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: And I'm Melissa Block. We have been through a summer of movie sequels; now comes a fall of movie remakes including "Straw Dogs," "The Three Musketeers" and "Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy." Our critic Bob Mondello was intrigued enough by this week's remake of a British gangster film called "Brighton Rock" that he decided to look at the old and the new side by side.

BOB MONDELLO: The 1947 "Brighton Rock" was black and white, based on a novel by Graham Greene about a character named Pinkie Brown. Plenty colorful, in other words, a story set in a British resort town just before World War II.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) (Singing) (Unintelligible), you're in my...

MONDELLO: Playing Pinkie, a violent, creepy 17-year-old gangster, was a baby-faced Richard Attenborough, the same guy who would later direct "Gandhi" and "Cry Freedom," but who here was playing a real psychopath, chatting with his gangster buddies as he absentmindedly yanked out a doll's hair, strand by strand.


RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH: (as Pinkie Brown) Now, you can die.

MONDELLO: Pinkie killed someone and will spend most of the film trying to cover his tracks. When he learns a pretty waitress named Rose could incriminate him, he sweet-talks her.


ATTENBOROUGH: (as Pinkie Brown) I like a girl who's friendly. A girl sensitive like me. What's your name?

CAROL MARSH: (as Rose Brown) Rose.

ATTENBOROUGH: (as Pinkie Brown) You and me ought to get acquainted. You got a boy?

MARSH: (as Rose Brown) Not yet, I haven't.

MONDELLO: So that she can't be forced to testify against him, Pinkie will marry Rose, though sex repulses him - as does she, really. But with a woman's options being limited in the years before World War II, audiences knew she'd go along. The story turns darker and gets all tied up with sin and redemption as it progresses. Being Graham Greene characters, both Pinkie and Rose are obsessed with Catholicism.


ATTENBOROUGH: (as Pinkie Brown) This can't be a real marriage. Looks like (unintelligible).

MONDELLO: At 92 minutes, the first "Brighton Rock" is snappy, well-acted, unnerving, pretty much a model gangster flick. So even all these years later, you need a reason to remake it. Director Rowan Joffe's found several. He shot in color, not black and white, updated the story a few decades to the swinging '60s and got Helen Mirren and John Hurt to take supporting roles.


JOHN HURT: (as Phil Corkery) I came as soon as I could, Ida.

HELEN MIRREN: (as Ida) Never thought I'd live in fear of anything, except the atom bomb, of course. Certainly not a bunch of kids - one kid.

MONDELLO: Brighton Pier doesn't look all that different, though it's actually Eastbourne Pier this time, but the people sure do. The town is overrun by rioting teenage mobs and rockers.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Leave it to me, Pinkie.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as character) No, I love it.

MONDELLO: It's an era of social and sexual upheaval, providing new reasons for Pinkie to feel insecure and giving Rose more options. She could learn a trade, make her own way, not rely on Pinkie, which makes her going along with him problematic. The film tries to solve that by playing her with more determination, more spunk. At one point, Pinkie, played by Sam Riley, drags her furiously to the edge of a cliff, trying to frighten her.


SAM RILEY: (as Pinkie Brown) Scared?

MONDELLO: But she holds his gaze and melts him with her trust.


ANDREA RISEBOROUGH: (as Rose Brown) No, when I'm with you.

MONDELLO: There's a lot of fancy filmmaking this time around, substituting for fancy writing the last time. Where the first film had a lawyer spouting Shakespeare, this one mostly has visual panache: crosses and crucifixes rather than dialogue about religion. You can't accuse the new film of being untrue to the original book. It actually reinstates the novel's climax, which Graham Greene had altered in his own screenplay, probably because it would have been tough to film back then.

But what audiences will remember from both pictures isn't that scene, but the one that follows, an ending that Greene invented for the first movie to end it on an eerie note. It wouldn't be fair to reveal it, but if you're new to the story or have only read the novel, it'll likely strike you - as it struck movie audiences then - as cruel and kind all at once: a persuasive illustration of what a character in the novel calls the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God. I'm Bob Mondello.

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