When veteran London policeman PC George Dixon (Jack Warner) is shot trying to arrest a couple of crooks, new recruit PC Andy Mitchell (Jimmy Hanley) takes up the case with a vengeance.
But first and foremost, The Blue Lamp is a study of the ordinary British policeman, on patrol, in the station and at home in relation to his job, his wife, his hobbies, his plainclothes colleagues as well as the uniformed Force, the urchins in the streets, and crooks and law-breakers, big and small.
The particular blue lamp of the title belongs to Paddington Police Station, but it might as well belong to any police station in any big British city.
A couple of young hooligans and a girl are organising a series of small smash-and-grab raids. They grow more ambitious and hold up a cinema cashier. Interrupted by Constable George Dixon on his beat, one of them shoots the policemen and he dies in hospital.
The rest of the film is devoted to a police chase for the killer, and it is a shrewd touch that his eventual capture is made possible by the cooperation of indignant citizens – even of the shadier and seedier ones – who can endorse and indulge in a certain amount of law-breaking, but feel that to shoot an unarmed copper in cold blood is something just not done.
The film culminates in an exciting and fast-paced final chase through the streets of Northwest London, and an arrest at the Greyhound Stadium at White City.
Produced by Michael Balcon and scripted by TEB Clarke – a former policeman who penned Ealing comedies such as Passport to Pimlico (1949) and The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) – this classic film yet again revealed the influence of the documentary on postwar British cinema, with its realistic depiction of the austere times that pushed some people into crime.
Jimmy Hanley is a touch lightweight as the police colleague of genial Jack Warner whose local bobby character went on to star in BBC TV’s long-running series Dixon of Dock Green.
But the rest of director Basil Dearden’s cast are outstanding, particularly a pre-stardom Dirk Bogarde as Tom Riley, the petty crook whose confrontation with Warner produced one of the most memorable – and shocking – scenes in British film history.
The acting by Jack Warner, Robert Flemyng as the Scotland Yard man, Gladys Henson as PC Dixon’s wife, and many others, is first-rate, and Clarke’s script is a model of this sort of film-writing.
PC George Dixon
PC Andy Mitchell
Betty Ann Lewis