Today sees the release of a fully-restored 2k version of Ealing Studios’ The Blue Lamp. Originally released in 1950, it was the most successful British film of the year with British audiences, and endures today as a fascinating insight into the history of popular cinema.
The story essentially follows the format of a police procedural. Officer George Dixon (Jack Warner) is a seasoned constable showing the ropes to Jimmy Hanley’s new recruit. We are shown some of the mundanities of the everyday beat, before a violent, reckless robbery-gone-wrong drags the rookie into the deep end of police investigation.
“The thrills may be somewhat mild by today’s standards, but that very obsolescence is what makes it worth exploring”
Ealing is best remembered for its run of classic comedies, a tradition which included Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers. While The Blue Lamp’s sensibility is distinctly dramatic, there are welcome splashes of levity throughout, particularly in the early scenes with Warner’s Dixon (a character whom he would later famously reprise for the television series Dixon of Dock Green).
There is, perhaps, more interest to be found in The Blue Lamp’s function as a period relic than a straightforward piece of entertainment. The crime thriller is ubiquitously alive in the present day, and the film’s basic plot can be found on any number of formulaic police dramas, from NYPD Blue to CSI: Miami. The real contemporary currency can be found not in its familiarities, but its idiosyncratic antiquities. The presentation of the British police force is charmingly soft – wise enough to eschew outright naivety but with a distinct flavour of the bygone ‘jolly copper’.
The script was written by a former policeman, and, despite a level of whitewashing that is to be expected from the era, there are small moments that ring surprisingly true. When a prisoner keeps banging on the door of his cell, one officer quips ‘we have ourselves a woodpecker’. There is a lot of fun to be had in the dialogue: fast-talking, good-humoured, ever-so-slightly unreal.
The Blue Lamp is an influential, worthwhile piece of cinema history, and the 2k restoration has it looking as sharp and clean as ever. The thrills may be somewhat mild by today’s standards, but that very obsolescence is what makes it worth exploring. This is popular cinema in its adolescence, now available side-by-side with its distant, echoic descendants.