There was poison in his veins, though he grinned and bore it. He had been insulted. He was going to show the world. They thought because he was only seventeen … he jerked his narrow shoulders back at the memory that he’d killed his man, and these bogies who thought they were clever weren’t clever enough to discover that. He trailed the clouds of his own glory after him: hell lay about him in his infancy. He was ready for more deaths.
— Graham Greene’s novel, Brighton Rock
Brighton Rock by John Boulting, (UK, 1947, 92 min.). Beneath the sparkling seaside town of Brighton lurks a criminal underworld of “dark alleyways and festering slums” where we find our antihero, Pinkie (played by a very young Richard Attenborough). Pinkie is a teenage hoodlum who has recently taken control of a racetrack racketeering gang. When an old enemy named Hale shows up in Brighton, Pinkie hunts him down and kills him – but a naïve waitress named Rose discovers a clue that could expose the murder. To keep her quiet, Pinkie strikes up a romance with the girl.
Greene’s 1938 novel Brighton Rock was intended to be a work of pulp fiction studded with carnival lights, painted tarts and gang violence. While this seedy aesthetic is still preserved in the final product, the book grew into something bigger and more spiritual as Greene developed it. His choice to write the gangster Pinkie as a devout Catholic, obsessed with salvation and damnation, added an element of moral complexity that pulled the story in the direction of “high” literature, and in the end what was meant to be a cheap paperback became one of Greene’s great catholic novels. Literary merit aside, the book was dark and seamy enough to be easily adapted into a towering example of film noir that shocked audiences by presenting a sociopathic teenager who was capable of unspeakable crimes.