The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - POOL OF LONDON (1951) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - POOL OF LONDON (1951)

While on shore leave in London, two seamen become embroiled in a diamond heist.

Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Basil Dearden

Starring: Bonar Colleano, Susan Shaw, Renée Asherson, Earl Cameron, Moira Lister, James Robertson Justice

Pool of London is quite revolutionary, not just in featuring a black leading man in 1951, but for its brutal acknowledgement of white prejudice and privilege. It's as fresh and vital today as on its release.

Currently underway at the British Film Institute, 'Black Star' is a three month long retrospective of great screen performances by black actors. Arguably the highlight of the season is the October 23rd premiere of an impressive new 2K restoration of Basil Dearden's 1951 Brit Noir Pool of London, with the movie's own black star, Bermuda born actor Earl Cameron in attendance. The following day, Dearden's movie receives an overdue blu-ray release courtesy of Studiocanal.

"It shouldn't matter, but it does. Maybe some day it won't." Those words are spoken by Cameron's Johnny Lambert, a Jamaican seaman on shore leave in London. He's speaking of the colour of his skin to Susan Shaw's well-meaning but naive white girl, whom he's fallen for (in British cinema's first inter-racial relationship, limited though it is). That Lambert's words still sadly ring true is but one of the aspects of Pool of London that make it feel as fresh and vital today as on its release.

Also enjoying time in the city is Lambert's friend and fellow seaman Dan MacDonald (Bonar Colleano), a brash, womanising American. Known for his skills in smuggling goods onto his ship (usually women's stockings, a valuable commodity in post-war London), MacDonald is approached  by a gang of mobsters who wish him to take a certain package aboard. What MacDonald doesn't realise is the package will contain diamonds stolen from a London museum, and that both he and Lambert will find themselves framed as the main culprits.

Pool of London is an early example of the heist genre that would explode a few years later following the breakout success of Jules Dassin's Gallic caper Rififi, and its influence still echoes in the likes of the Mission Impossible franchise and Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's series. Pulling off the heist revolves around the unique skills of Charlie Vernon (Max Adrian), a music hall acrobat tasked with jumping from the roof of an adjacent building onto that of the targeted museum, thus circumventing the alarm system (think Tom Cruise dangling from a wire in the first MI installment). Dearden constructs this sequence with such tense precision that we ignore the obvious use of matte paintings and rear projection. Even more nail-biting is a later stand-off in which Vernon finds himself cornered by police and gambles on his acrobatic skills to evade them, resulting in a truly shocking denouement.

This heist sub-plot only really kicks off in the film's final act. Up to that point, the film follows a traditional 'shore leave' narrative, focussing mainly on the growing affection between Lambert and Shaw's city slicker Pat. It's easy to root for this pair, even though we sense early on their budding relationship is doomed. Cameron is instantly endearing, with a warm crooked smile that reminded me of The Fugitive star David Janssen.

Pool of London is quite revolutionary, not just in featuring a black leading man in 1951, but for its brutal acknowledgement of white prejudice and privilege. When MacDonald sacrifices himself, taking the wrap to spare the oblivious Lambert, it's a white saviour moment to be sure, but also one that acknowledges white privilege. MacDonald sends his friend off with a wave and a plucky grin, knowing whatever punishment he'll face won't be half as bad as that which Lambert would have endured.


A new interview with 99(!!!) year old Earl Cameron, as sharp as a 22-year-old; a locations featurette with British cinema expert Richard Dacre; and a gallery of production stills.

Pool of London is released on blu-ray October 24th by Studiocanal.