Top critical review
8 people found this helpful
Period piece with a few merits
on 6 January 2010
Looking at Ealing Studios' "The Blue Lamp" (1949) now, it's very hard to see why it caused so much fuss at the time - so much, that kindly PC George Dixon (Jack Warner), killed halfway into
the film, regenerated to head his own TV series for 21 years and 432 episodes, until Warner was the only 80-year-old copper on the beat in the UK.
The film has good pedigree. Script by the great TEB Clarke, who penned so many Ealing classics, and additional dialogue by Alexander MacKendrick (director of "The Ladykillers" and "Sweet Smell of Success"). But in the hands of director Basil Deardon, it is a lumbering, awkward hybrid of a movie. On the one hand it tries to present itself almost as a documentary, showing police procedures and internal operation.
On the other, it suffers from the dreadfully staginess which afflicts so many movies of the period, which was also a golden age of British commercial theatre. Dreadfully arch scenes of "camaraderie", with regional stereotyping and Warner even getting to refer back to his music hall past with a very unfunny "Policeman's Lot" song. There is so much talk, talk, talk. Our contemporary sense of pacing makes us impatient with this, and it is made worse by moves and gestures which might work in the theatre but which look phoney on film. The other problem is that everyone connected with the police force is an angel and a saint, who mainly gives directions and helps old ladies across the road, and this makes for sorry drama for large swathes of the movie.
However, it perks up considerably whenever Dirk Bogarde is onscreen. He is only 3rd billing, but gets good screentime, and of all the performers he really is the only one who knows how to act for film, although he has yet to perfect his talent for stillness, and for underplaying. He is helped by being filmed, noir-like, in high-contrast night-shadow, as the villain; on the other hand, Jimmy Hanley, PC Crawford and the juve lead, gets flat daylight and looks like Noddy. Bogarde also has little to say which is not strictly functional, and is able to show by doing rather than stating. All false swagger and darting untrusting eyes, it is a memorable embodiment.
His character, Tom Riley, a small-time rootless post-war youngster epitomises the malaise of the austerity years. Where the film is unconvincing as a documentary where it intends to be documentary, it still provides a vivid picture of British life in incidental ways - the kids playing on bomnbsites, the rationing, the second-hand-clothes and street barrows; the trams, the dog races, the Metropolitan Theatre of Varieties in the Edgware Road.
Riley is discarded by society and by the criminal fraternity as well, which regards him as a petty layabout rather than a real criminal. This, and the final scene of the police closing in at White City Stadium with the help of the underworld, remind me of Fritz Lang's "M", and in more competent directorial hands this would have worked as a British remake. But instead we have this mainly unconvincing recruitment poster for the Met. Still 3 stars, for Bogarde and sociology.