Photo by Nobby Clark

Mike Hodges

The screenwriter and director known for Get Carter, Flash Gordon and Black Rainbow picks Brighton Rock and The Third Man.

I’m a fan of Graham Greene’s work, his novels, essays, film criticisms, screenplays. The Third Man was made in 1949, four years after WWII had ended. Filmed among the rubble of a devastated Vienna it reflects the weariness felt across Europe. A continent still stunned by the hideous ideology germinated and nurtured in Germany, the most cultured and civilised of countries. Into this setting steps an innocent, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), an American writer looking for his childhood friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Typical of Greene’s sense of irony Holly writes Westerns, a genre influencing to this day his country’s love of guns and deep-rooted racism. Green’s story of greed and human exploitation in the aftermath of a catastrophic war resonates with us now. The financial crash of 2008 and the pandemic of 2020 were the perfect breeding ground for profiteering. But what makes The Third Man so special is the coming together of three talents at the top of their game – Carol Reed the director, Robert Krasker the cinematographer, and Greene the screenwriter.

Greene converted to Roman Catholicism in 1926 and much of his literary work is centred on philosophical and religious conflict. This was what initially drew me to his novels as I was going through the same turmoil in my early teens but in the opposite direction. I was born a Catholic and struggling to free myself from the mindset imposed on me. Recognising the struggle engaging Greene’s characters who, like me, were flawed. Nowhere more so than in Brighton Rock. Much as the rubble of Vienna played a vital role in The Third Man so does the sleaze of Brighton. Greene explores its reputation for harbouring a criminal fraternity. Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough) is a psychotic teenage hoodlum involved in the city’s gang wars. In an attempt to cover up a murder Pinkie gets involved with Rose, a naive young waitress who could be an important witness in convicting him. Rose falls in love with Pinkie and discovers that he, like her, is a Catholic. In a cruel twist Pinkie marries Rose making her ineligible to give evidence in court. Worse, when he confesses to his crime he suggests they commit a double suicide in lover’s tryst, hoping Rose will shoot herself first. Will she comply? Suicide for Roman Catholics is a mortal sin denying them entry into Heaven. Greene explores yet again the basis of morality, damnation, forgiveness and mercy. These two works are examples of film noir at its very best.

Recommended Titles

John Boulting1947
Carol Reed1949