Release Date(s)1950 (June 1, 2021)
Studio(s)Ealing Studios/General Film Distributors (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A-
The Blue Lamp is a British police procedural told in a semi-documentary style. A warm look at the camaraderie among officers, the film shows them on the job, often on routine foot patrols giving directions to the citizenry, and in their home life, offering humorous insights into family relationships. The title refers to the identifying light outside of British police stations.
The film interweaves the stories of two London police officers. Veteran bobby George Dixon (Jack Warner) is breaking in his new partner, 25-year-old rookie Andy Mitchell (Jimmy Hanley), showing him how to handle himself on his beat. Off-screen narration at the beginning of the film addresses the growing problem of juvenile delinquency, noting how tough kids move on to crime as a way of life. Two young punks, Spud (Patric Dornan) and Tom Riley (Dirk Bogarde), rob a jewelry store, but their escalating crime spree leads to murder. The two stories converge as a citywide manhunt is set in motion, which mobilizes the police to such a degree that it threatens the activities of the more reserved, low-profile, older criminals, who also want the young punks captured.
Director Basil Dearden (Dead of Night) elicits natural performances from most of the cast. Warner is especially good, conveying the air of a man confident in his responsibility, aware of the community he serves, and possessed of a calming personality. Even facing life-and-death danger, Warner’s Dixon believes he can de-escalate a tense situation. He is on the cusp of retirement, yet is pondering whether to sign on for another five years. This creates some interesting repartee between him and his wife (Gladys Henson).
Combining elements of film noir with a look at the day-to-day life of a London cop, we see them singing together before heading out for their shifts. Dixon even invites his young partner to stay for a time in his own home so the young man won’t have to live in a cheap room in a seedy part of town. Several post-World War II London sites are featured (rarely filmed at that time). Made just five years after the end of the war, wreckage from the London blitz bombings is shown as well as undamaged areas, and the hustle-bustle of the city is nicely conveyed, giving the picture authentic local color.
The police are portrayed as compassionate, courteous, and upstanding. They don’t use the harsh language or edgy behavior of cops and private detectives depicted in many American films. The film was also made when British bobbies typically didn’t carry guns. Editing keeps the pace brisk. Actual locations in the Paddington section of London open up the story nicely, with scenes constantly shifting between interiors and exteriors.
Featuring 1080p resolution, The Blue Lamp comes to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Restored by Studio Canal, the picture is sharp throughout, with interior scenes a bit better detailed than exteriors, which tend to look washed out. Gordon Dines’ black-and-white cinematography has a documentary feel, especially in the scenes showing the police officers at work. Camera work is not especially creative. Occasionally, a pedestrian or bystander can be seen looking right at the camera, proving that proper crowd control was lacking. Scenes with Riley and Spud are deeply shadowed, with a noir look. Tension escalates at a greyhound racetrack where Riley attempts to get lost in the crowd to avoid being caught.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 Mono DTS-High Definition Master Audio. Optional English subtitles are available. Dialogue is realistic and natural throughout, and more plentiful than in modern cop films where visuals then to dominate. The police are humanized by their ordinariness and universally identifiable characteristics. Sound effects include a critical gun shot, cars screeching through streets, and grunting and punching.
Bonus materials include two audio commentaries, a featurette about locations used in the film, a BBC radio show about British cinema of the 1940s, and several trailers.
Audio Commentary – Entertainment journalist and author Bryan Reesman notes that The Blue Lamp was the most popular British film in the United Kingdom in 1950. The pace is pretty swift. Director Basil Dearden moved between “popcorn” movies and serious-minded films. The Blue Lamp, with its positive image of the police, was one of the first British films to do extensive location shooting. The marketing department sold the film as more of a crime thriller than it is, and advertising taglines used dramatic language to sell it to audiences. The film company had access to police station interiors, where many real cops appear. Career overviews are presented for major cast members. The film inspired the long running British TV series Dixon of Dock Green (1955-1976), with Jack Warner reprising his role. Veteran music hall performer Tessie O’Shea appears in a brief scene. She had entertained British troops during the war and later appeared in Broadway shows and movies. Killing off the protagonist early was highly unusual in 1950. A decade later, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho would murder Janet Leigh’s character about a third of the way through.
Audio Commentary (Partial) – Writer Jan Read and academic Charles Barr discuss the film. Read is the credited writer of the original treatment, along with Ted Willis. Read reminisces about the research he did, which involved meeting with the commissioner of police and collecting background information about the London police. This enabled him to humanize and individualize them. He made sure to include scenes of the men off duty and tried to add humor to balance the serious nature of the story.
Locations Featurette – Film historian Richard Dacre takes the viewer on a tour of the places used for the film. We see modern-day locations, some of which have changed, as well as scenes from the film featuring the very same spots. Occasionally, a bit of the history of buildings and other sites is related.
BBC Radio 3 The Essay: British Cinema of the 40s – Actual newspapers announce real crimes of the period by delinquents turned petty criminals. The young perpetrators do not adhere to the “code of the professional criminal” and are rebuffed by older crime figures. The young criminals are from broken homes lacking discipline and respect for law and authority. Short audio excerpts from the film are heard. The film depicted such a troubling aspect of society that it sent shockwaves through Britain. It also showcased a “method of policing that seemed to be from another planet.” The shooting of a policeman in the film occurred two years before an actual killing of a police officer when society was breaking down and delinquency was on the rise. Peace in 1945 did not solve all of society’s woes. The hand of the state was visible throughout British society in the late 1940s. The Blue Lamp comments on over-regulation and the officiousness of government. The comedies Whisky Galore and Passport to Pimlico share themes with the film.
Trailers – Three theatrical trailers of films available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber are included: It Always Rains on Sunday, The Criminal, and The Mind Benders.
The Blue Lamp highlights the emergence of a new kind of trigger-happy criminal who had become used to violence during the war and whose lack of discipline posed a serious challenge to traditional morality. The film is double-edged in its focus on the daily work of the bobby on the beat as well as Scotland Yard’s concerted efforts to find and arrest a killer. Dragnet would premiere a year later and become the first TV show to feature actual police cases, incorporating factual details into its dramatizations, much like the film itself.
- Dennis Seuling