Director: Basil Deardon
Script: T.E.B Clarke
Cast: Jack Warner, Jimmy Hanley, Dirk Bogarde, Robert Flemyng, Bernard Lee, Peggy Evans, Patric Doonan, Bruce Seton
Running time: 81 minutes
Based on an original treatment by Jan Reed and Ted Willis, The Blue Lamp was the forerunner of the long running and very successful British TV series ‘Dixon of Dock Green’, probably the first UK television series to look at the day-to-day lives of bobbies on the beat.
Jack Warner plays PC George Dixon, a stout stalwart of the police front lines who has walked his beat for decades and is well loved by his fellow officers and well respected by the community who live on his beat; at least for the most part – the criminal fraternity wish that he wouldn’t cramp their styles when they’re trying to ‘work’!
After about 25 minutes, where the film follows the local bobbies doing their stuff, both on and off the beat in a small area of London, the story proper kicks in and a couple of ‘young-blood’ criminals, Spud (Trainspotting anyone?) and Tom (Dirk Bogarde) are making a nuisance of themselves by ripping off a jeweller, first at his home and then at his shop. The crime itself is small scale, but one of the felons coshes a copper during their escape so that immediately puts the two miscreants on the CID’s radar, headed up by the ever-reliable Bernard Lee (most famous as M from the Bond films).
However, it’s their next crime that really puts them ‘on the map’ and which, ultimately, leads to a city-wide manhunt for Tom as one violent action leads to another one, with horrific and saddening consequences, especially for one particular cop’s family.
The Blue Lamp works best today as a time capsule for a time now long gone when the studios (in this case Ealing) would create semi- propaganda films, such as this one, to help ease the concerns of a depressed post-war population still struggling to come to terms with so much death and destruction from a few short years earlier.
Shot in a semi-documentary style, with heavy usage of locations in and around London, The Blue Lamp certainly looks more expensive than it probably was. In fact, the film is generally nicely lensed with some inventive shots and crisp photography, which the BFI have done a great job restoring. It looks as if it could almost have been shot six years ago, instead of nearly 70 years ago! The only technical aspect that grates on this reviewer is where the editor has speeded up the footage during the chase scenes, which is wholly unnecessary.
The acting is decent with some enjoyable turns by the likes of Jack Warner, Dirk Bogarde, Jimmy Hanley and Bernard Lee, assisted by some nicely naturalistic dialogue that keeps the overall level of realism quite high. In fact, it’s this none-showy aspect of the film that works in its favour and kind of makes it feel less dated in its depiction of normal citizens just trying to make ends meet at both ends of the, cough, legal spectrum.
Dirk Bogarde (great name!) is surprisingly adept at playing the yob, which was a bit of a surprise for me having mainly seen him playing heroic roles in his later films.
Personally, the only thing that lets this, mostly, ahead of its time movie down is its blatant propogandist nature with the police being represented as some sort of friendly uncle types, almost in a child-like, idealistic way, which has never, sadly, rung true in real life; mosst are too stressed, I suspect, to be permanently avuncular!
The BFI (in conjunction with Studio Canal) are distributing The Blue Lamp on DVD and Blu-ray. Special features on the disc include:
- An audio commentary with Jan Reed (writer) and academic Charles Barr;
- A locations featurette with film historian, Richard Decre (13 mins) who runs through the locations used in the film and compares them between now and then. This was pleasantly interesting and Richard exudes enthusiasm for his subject, enthusiasm which is infectious. He also reveals that some of the footage from The Blue Lamp later tuned up in another Ealing great, The Lavender Hill Mob.
- A BBC 3 Radio essay presented by Simon Heffer (14.5 mins), where he talks about the realism in the film, clearly shows how Britain was breaking down, and how the movie can be compared with Passport to Pimlico. Apparently, the story reflects the very real upsurge in violent crime during the late 1940s.
- Location stills gallery – 11 shots.
- Production stills gallery – 14 shots.