The unending battle of the city streets…
Another welcome restoration of an Ealing classic, The Blue Lamp is a crime drama that complements the recent reissue of Pool of London (1951). Indeed this film has many aspects that reflect director Basil Dearden’s work on Pool Of London with its social themes (notably London society) and depiction of the criminal fraternity. In Pool of London friendship, loyalty and love were the primary drivers for the narrative, but here the conflicts between the perpetrators and investigators takes place the wider community. In some ways this is popularism before the era of the kitchen sink drama, not only with gangsters and cops, but society as a whole, with its post war class issues intrinsic to the plot. In fact there are many connections between contemporary (1950) society and modern times which are both poignant and relevant. A police drama with gangsters and car chases to provide the dramatic thrust, The Blue Lamp was filmed ‘on the streets’ and this makes for viewing that is both dramatic and engaging.
Twenty-five year old PC Andy Mitchell (Jimmy Hanley) has started his new role on the job in the constabulary. A policeman’s lot is not necessarily a happy one although there are plenty of opportunities to engage in drinking, darts and singing in the mess room, which help relieve the pressure from policing the streets, work that ranges from giving directions to passers-by, dealing with motoring offences and searching for absent dogs. But then there are more serious cases involving the criminal fraternity. Andy resides in the house of PC George Dixon (Jack Warner) and his wife Marge (Gladys Henson), who is keen for her husband to retire from the force. The new policing pair have a case bought to them. Diana Lewis (Peggy Evans) has not returned home and her parents fear for her safety. In fact she is in the company of her boyfriend Tom Riley (Dirk Bogarde) and his partner in crime Spud (Patric Doonan) who have a nefarious plan to execute, even though they are not welcomed into the established guild of mobsters and criminals. Their scheme, coupled with orchestrated alibis, is to steal money from the till of the Colosseum Cinema. The robbery commences, and, during their escape, a policeman spots them. They shoot and the constable dies. So now the hunt is on to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
The Blue Lamp is a tight and compelling hard-boiled police drama that considers carefully its community issues within the darker story of robbery and murder, which makes events feel more believable. To this end, apparently minor plot devices are resolved within the narrative and placed within a wider context. Dealing with ‘arrested and maladjusted delinquents, all the more dangerous because of their immaturity,’ is an intrinsic part of a copper’s work and in aspects of solving crime. Like Pool Of London this is a film about its time and its environment, of the people and their relationships in post-war London, (something that is explored in one of the many fascinating extras on the DVDs which describes the locations shown). So music halls, pubs, racing dogs and communities on all sides of the law are carefully considered. The big baddy is Dirk Bogarde, a brutal criminal who will hit his girl after revealing his gun – ‘they ain’t pea shooters you know’ – when she shows her concern about their methods. Her worries are justified as he couldn’t care less about his crimes, only the possibility of being caught: ‘alright the copper’s dead. So what?’ These aspects of characterisation extend to a large variety of supporting roles which help provide this rounded appreciation of the community. This is one of Ealing’s darker contemporary realism films.
There are a number of welcome extras included on the disc of this powerful British film. It was so popular that five years later it spawned one of the BBC’s most renowned TV series Dixon of Dock Green, which lasted for over twenty years. Jack Warner returned as PC George Dixon, the local bobby; surprising in some ways given PC George Dixon’s screen debut and denouement.