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Pool of London (1950)


Main image of Pool of London (1950)
35mm, black and white, 85 mins
Directed byBasil Dearden
Production CompanyEaling Studios
Produced byMichael Balcon
ScreenplayJack Whittingham
 John Eldridge
PhotographyGordon Dines
MusicJohn Addison

Michael Golden (customs official Andrews); Bonar Colleano (Dan MacDonald); Susan Shaw (Pat); Renee Asherson (Sally); Earl Cameron (Johnny)

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Two sailors, on shore leave, are caught up in a diamond smuggling racket. More complications ensue for black sailor Johnny who finds love and heartache in London docklands.

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Basil Dearden's paean to London docklands in the 1950s is as enchanting and as murky as the river: a noir-ish heist tale, liberally suffused with a fable of forbidden love and unrestrained passion. The heist element of Pool of London (1951) is well crafted and suspenseful, but the most striking aspect is Dearden's tentative venture into racial politics, with the first interracial relationship in a British film.

Merchant seaman Johnny (Earl Cameron) is racially abused almost as soon as he sets foot on dry land by a doorman, who with unflinching disdain tells him to "hop it". Visibly shaken but without protest Johnny is about to leave when the ticket seller Pat (Susan Shaw), comes to his aid. She offers words of comfort, but only brash American Dan (Bonar Colleano) actually challenges the racist. The wonder here is why Johnny cannot defend himself. Later, Pat and Johnny go dancing, where Maisie (Moira Lister), Dan's girlfriend, refers to Johnny as 'dirty'. Again Johnny flees. Johnny's willingness to allow Dan to defend him is perhaps of his time, but a key aspect of racial politics is a rejection of the notion that a black man's justice can only be exacted through the patronage of conscientious white men. In reality, Johnny would not be able to avoid the issue forever.

Eventually Johnny arrives at the only standpoint where wholesale avoidance of confrontation through racism is tenable: he adopts the refuge of the outcast and the solace of the misunderstood. He speaks of not belonging and the question here perhaps is why this should be so.

Dearden works within the taboos. Johnny and Pat show all the signs of a couple falling in love, but physical contact is minimal and a romantic clinch would have been out of the question. Social mores of the day dictated that their passion should never be fulfilled.

Earl Cameron, in his first film role, demonstrates a remarkable range. From misunderstood outsider, to would be lover and drunken brawler. It is an extraordinarily affecting performance, arguably his finest. Nine years later Dearden revisited the issue of interracial relationships with the controversial and deeply disturbing Sapphire (1959), in which Cameron also starred.

Carl Daniels

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Video Clips
1. Johnny and Dan (1:46)
2. In the club (6:24)
3. The burglary (4:29)
Original Posters
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Heart Within, The (1957)
Addison, John (1920-1998)
Banes, Lionel (1904-1996)
Bass, Alfie (1920-1987)
Cameron, Earl (1917- )
Colleano, Bonar (1923-1958)
Dearden, Basil (1911-1971)
Justice, James Robertson (1905-1975)
Phillips, Leslie (1924-)
Relph, Michael (1915-2004)
Tanner, Peter (1914-2002)
Black British Film