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Blue Lamp, The (1949)


Main image of Blue Lamp, The (1949)
35mm, black and white, 84 mins
DirectorBasil Dearden
Production CompanyEaling Studios
ScreenplayT.E.B. Clarke
ProducerMichael Balcon
Additional DialogueAlexander Mackendrick
Original TreatmentJan Read
 Ted Willis
PhotographyGordon Dines

Cast: Jack Warner (PC George Dixon); Jimmy Hanley (PC Andy Mitchell); Dirk Bogarde (Tom Riley); Peggy Evans (Diana Lewis); Bernard Lee (Divisional Detective Inspector Cherry); Gladys Henson (Mrs Dixon)

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A pair of London hoodlums, rejected by the established criminal set, execute a spate of robberies which finally results in the death of a policeman.

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Probably the most famous of all British police films, The Blue Lamp (d. Basil Dearden, 1950) is a classic example of the Ealing Studios ethos of inclusiveness. The film was scripted by ex-policeman T.E.B. Clarke (from a story by Ted Willis and Jan Read), the writer who arguably did most to define the studio's postwar identity.

In a pseudo-documentary opening, the film offers itself as an examination of a new breed of young criminal, hardened by the war years, whose recklessness and violence contrasts with the discipline of the older criminal fraternity.

Dirk Bogarde's edgy performance as loose cannon Tom Riley launched his career, but the centre of the film is Jack Warner's unimpeachable PC George Dixon - even though Dixon is shot by Riley around halfway through and dies shortly after.

Dixon is the kind of ordinary hero who had become a commonplace of Ealing films during the war period. He is an unassuming moral giant of a man, loved by all those around him and always ready with a reassuring song and a piece of simple wisdom. The scene in which Mrs Dixon (Gladys Henson) learns of her husband's death is a masterpiece of understated emotion, moving without falling into sentimentality.

As a British response to developments in the crime genre, however, the film is less successful. While there's a convincing fury to Bogarde's performance, the film lacks the moral complexity of the Hollywood film noir of the 1940s. In the place of film noir's ambiguities, its blurring of boundaries between hero and villain, The Blue Lamp offers a very English vision of honest, cheerful bobbies unwavering in their determination to root out crime.

More interesting is the way the film suggests a moral hierarchy within the criminal fraternity, with Riley and his partner Spud sneered at by the more established villains for their recklessness and immaturity. In the memorable climax, Riley is finally captured thanks to an impromptu alliance of police and criminals. It's a very Ealing conclusion - the community comes together, abandoning its internal divisions to defeat a common threat and restore the social order. It also recalls the expressionist classic M (Germany, d. Fritz Lang, 1931), in which police and underworld unite to defeat a child murderer.

Jack Warner's George Dixon made a remarkable recovery from his untimely death, becoming known to millions of TV viewers as Dixon of Dock Green (BBC, 1955-1976).

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Tom and Diana (2:06)
2. The robbery (1:43)
3. Bad news (1:12)
4. The chase (4:38)
Original Posters
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Banes, Lionel (1904-1996)
Bogarde, Dirk (1921-1999)
Bryan, Dora (1924-)
Clarke, T.E.B. (1907-1989)
Dearden, Basil (1911-1971)
Hanley, Jimmy (1918-1970)
Lee, Bernard (1908-1981)
Relph, Michael (1915-2004)
Tanner, Peter (1914-2002)
Warner, Jack (1896-1981)
Social Problem Films
Social Realism
Teen Terrors On Film