UK / Ealing / 84 minutes / 1949 black and white
Writer: T E B Clarke, from Ted Willis and Jan Read’s novel / Cinematography: Gordon Dines / Producer: Michael Relph / Director: Basil Dearden
Cast: Jack Warner, Jimmy Hanley, Dirk Bogarde, Robert Flemyng, Gladys Henson, Patric Doonan, Peggy Evans, Meredith Edwards, Bernard Lee, Dora Bryan
A seminal film from the Ealing Studios that set out to show “fairly and realistically the work of the London police,” as Ealing alumni Michael Balcon wrote in his autobiography, an aim echoed by The Times, who said it “tells a story excitingly and gives admirable documentary illustrations of the way the police goes into action against the criminals.”
Jack Warner was cast as the archetypal British beat bobby, an old-timer nearing retirement. He’s joined by new recruit Jimmy Hanley who he takes under his wing. The two are called to a ‘domestic’ and find the row is over the couple’s daughter Peggy Evans, who has fallen in with petty criminals Dirk Bogarde and Patric Doonan, who are planning to rob a cinema. Warner arrives at the scene and the terrified Bogarde shoots him and flees. The full might of Scotland Yard swings into action and the film moves towards a climactic chase of the two killers at the White City stadium.
The close examination of the police procedure carried a then-rare documentary realism and the book the film was based on itself drew on two real-life murders; civilian Alec de Quentis, shot trying to foil a robbery in Tottenham Court Road in 1947, and the murder of PC Edgar at Southgate a year later. The film was favourably compared to America’s The Naked City and, as The Daily Express said, “This mixing up of trivia with murder, street-corner comedy with death, gives the film its particular richness and makes it the best journalistic job that British films have ever done.” The film confirmed Bogarde as a British star in the making while Jack Warner’s character, PC Dixon, was, of course, resurrected in the long-running TV series, Dixon of Dock Green.