Pool of London (1951) | BLACK STAR SEASON | BFI
Dir: Basil Dearden | Writers: Jack Whittingham, John Eldridge
Cast: Bonar Colleano, Susan Shaw, Renee Asherson, Earl Cameron, Moira Lister, James Robertson Justice, Leslie Philips
82min | UK | Crime Thriller
Showcasing London’s docklands in the 1950s, Basil Dearden’s gritty film noir was one of Ealing’s darker titles intrepidly dipping its toe into the avangarde theme of interracial romance in a diamond smuggling story performed by a sterling British cast.
On a sunny Friday afternoon, merchant Navy sailors Dan MacDonald (Bonar Colleano/Dance Hall) and Johnny Lambert (Earl Cameron) arrive on board the freighter Dunbar which docks near Tower Bridge on the Thames. As Customs board the ship, the sailors eagerly squirrel away nylons for their girls, and bottles of whisky, amongst other more valuable goods. MacDonald is a glib chain-smoking American. Lambert hails from Jamaica on his last tour of duty. The polite and open-faced Jamaican has no idea why he is met with contempt by an usher at the theatre were he ends up after meeting Pat (a luminous Susan Shaw who also starred in the Ealing production It Always Rains on Sunday). But this is just the first of many things that will go wrong when he is drawn in a heist with MacDonald.
Pool of London features sparkling black and white footage of the working docks, up and running again after the end of the Second World War and with St Pauls and the City in the distance; a milkman delivering milk in a barrow (a bottle of which becomes the Maguffin in the heist), and the jazz dancing clubs that became a popular way for men coming out of the forces to meet young women. Jamaican immigrants had started to arrive in the capital with the promise of a new life.
Whittingham and Eldridge’s tight scripting is underpinned by amusing turns from Robertson Justice and Philips. New Yorker Colleano adds a briskness to the English cast (he was killed a car accident a few years later, but not before marrying Shaw, who never got over his death, dying prematurely of liver failure in 1978). But the tone changes from cheerful optimism to dark and seedy despair as the narrative sails on.
Filmed in 35mm, Gordon Dines’ brilliant camerawork captures the familiar with a sinister noirish feel; here is an amazing stunt where Max Adrian’s crim Charlie Vernon jumps from one building to the next. In fact, Pool of London‘s tense storyline is nearly eclipsed by the stunning backdrop of these 1950s images, with London’s iconic landscapes and buildings adding texture and verve. MT
OUT ON 24 OCTOBER IN A 2K BLURAY RESOTRATION COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL AND ALSO IN CELEBRATION OF THE BFI’S BLACK STAR SEASON | Q&A WITH EARL CAMERON CBE ON 23 OCTOBER 2016