Brighton Rock — the film’s opening night

The world premiere of Brighton Rock, the original film of Graham Greene’s novel starring Richard Attenborough, took place in Brighton on 8 January 1948. The hotly anticipated screening was held at midnight at the Savoy Cinema in East Street.  At the end of the show, members of the cast, together with the film’s director and producer, appeared on the stage.

Local papers noted the enthusiastic response of audiences to the film, but their reports seem to focus more on its impact on the image of the town, and whether its violence and gritty realism might deter future visitors.

‘So far as Brighton is concerned,’ observed The Brighton and Hove Herald, ‘there is a school of thought which maintains that any publicity is good publicity. This film shows the fallacy of the argument. It is true that there are some favourable shots of Brighton’s amenities; but Brighton is also shown as a town of squalid slums, furtive, slouching degenerates, and a place where the police ignore evidence thrust under their noses.’

Similar criticism had been made when the novel was first published in 1938. A report in the Brighton & Hove Gazette, published on 3 September 1938, stated that, ‘its description of Brighton implies that the Queen of Watering Places is the home of squalid crime, that its hotels are haunted by gangsters, that the police are indulgent blockheads and that its coroner’s department is nitwitted enough to be taken in by a boy criminal of 18.’

Extract from a review of the novel Brighton Rock published by the Brighton and Hove Herald, 16 July 1938
Extract from a review of the novel Brighton Rock published by the Brighton and Hove Herald, 16 July 1938

The national press took a slightly more balanced view. A review of the film published in The Times begins by saying, ‘An apologetic foreword explains that, while Brighton is now a model town, there were, regrettably, in the 1930s times when razor gangs fought on the racecourse and in the back streets and life, for some, was a violent and precarious business.’ It goes on, however, to praise the film and its entire cast, adding that ‘Brighton itself has no insignificant part and carries it off superbly.’

When the film was released in the US, Brighton’s role was diminished by a change in title. Referring to Howard Hawks’ popular 1932 movie Scarface, the film was retitled Young Scarface for American audiences.

Kate Elms, Brighton History Centre

3 Responses

  1. Glenn Ward

    thanks so much for this information on the Newspaper’s reception of the film – really useful!

  2. Rachel

    Thanks for this article – how fascinating that the premiere was held in Brighton – would have loved to have been there with the stars ! Brighton Rock is my favourite film – I think it is so representative of the edgy glamour the city still has. A permanent exhibition around the book and film at the museum would be good with some 40s objects and seaside memorabilia / crime bits? Or a special showing at the Duke of York’s with everyone in period clothing with paper prize claims hidden round the cinema as in the film ! OK getting carried away just some ideas to celebrate this iconic film!

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