The Blue Lamp
Whether or not the name is familiar, Dixon of Dock Green is one of the most influential British television shows. Without it, the police procedural on both small and big screens would be a very different proposition. But before any of that, it too had its own genesis and that came in the shape of Basil Deardon’s [the] Blue Lamp – the second film of his to be released via studio canal’s vintage classic range in as many months. Deardon’s previous release was the overlooked Pool of London which talked about issues of race in a London community that had otherwise been celebrated without any hint of criticism by its fellow Ealing films. The Blue Lamp again concerns itself with the London community, specifically the police force that Jack Warner’s Dixon belongs to.
Dixon (Jack Warner) takes a younger office under his wing (Andy Mitchell (Hanley), mixes with a community of officers who can often be found singing as part of an all-male troupe and passes on advice to his junior officer about how to keep engaged when on the beat at night. The latter looks at the whole idea of policing with a human touch that has gone walkabout in the preceding 60 plus year. Dixon surely has to count among British cinema’s most likable officers of the law, the very idea of which has become as antiquated as the Ealing film itself. In a true 180, the law is no longer a bumbling collective as it would be in other British films of this era; on the contrary, they are the heart and soul of this post-war London. This ideology and relaxed mood make up much of the first half an hour, embracing you into its pace and way of doing things. And through that, The Blue Lamp is as unrelentingly amiable as anything else Studio Canal have released as part of this brand.
There is an opening monologue that tells of an era of young boys and girls who grew up with fathers, it tells of a generation of trouble makers, and while some just used the confusion and unease of War-torn London to get their teenage rebelliousness out of their system after years with far fewer authority figures in both the homestead and streets – this is 1940s Britain after all, not exactly a progressive era. And then there are people like Tom Riley (Dirk Bogarde), he is someone who used this opportunity to find their way into the world of crime. At first concerning themselves only with petty crimes before building up his confidence to get a gun for Riley and Spud (Patric Doonan) to attempt a robbery on the local cinema. It’s there where Spud and Riley cross paths with the affable PC Dixon, a situation that takes a turn from bad to terrible with the latter shooting the passing policemen dead in a fey attempt to show how dangerous he is.
This simple gunshot is a shocking move that saw the film court understandable controversy back in 1950, a tactic that Dearden echoed in Pool of London’s later revelations. While the impact remains, a discourse is opened up that openly addresses an end of an era, where the collective opted for a family-like attitude that gripped the country after World War II as a means of necessity to get back on its collective feet is no more. The Ealing film is the very embodiment of the post-war optimism, so infectious it makes people nostalgic for times they didn’t live through.
Such impossible nostalgia is thanks to the atmosphere and characters like Jack Warner’s Dixon. He’s a likable presence, whereby The Blue Lamp loses a step whenever he is off screen – even with the film also playing host to a performance from a young Dirk Bogarde that opened the door for his career as a genuine movie star. The impact this film had gave birth to that aforementioned Dixon of Dock Green with a small screen production that ran from 1955 to 1976 in a role that the continued till Warner was in his early eighties. The only real parallel is Peter Falk with Colombo, even then, if there was no Dixon there would never have been that ever iconic disheveled detective.
The treatment afforded by Studio Canal is as high caliber as we have come to expect from the titan, with a small but perfectly formed selection of extra’s backing the film up. However, influence and importance don’t automatically translate into something relatable to modern eyes. While these releases are for demographics with their eye more keyed into the historical classics, and those people will need no convincing of the Blue Lamp’s brilliance, people discovering these films for the first time (me included) may find something less glorious. As welcoming and entertaining as Dearden’s film is, it, unfortunately, sticks the landing with a far too drawn out chase, faltering into something a little more forgettable than the incomparable legacy suggests.