A poor transfer mars an otherwise solid release from KL Studio Classics
The “Pool of London” — a stretch of the Thames River where docks and wharves connect the great English capital by river to the North Sea, and from there the world.
Director Basil Deardon’s 1951 film of the same name follows the story of members of the merchant ship as they are given shore leave in London — for some it’s a return home, for others, a new adventure to explore.
Most of the crew members engage in petty smuggling to make a fast buck— er, pound. For Dan MacDonald (Bonar Colleano), the allure of an illegal profit take a more dramatic turn when he gets hooked up with a group of organized criminals planning a heist, and in need of a smuggler to transport an undisclosed booty for them. Accepting the opportunity, he in turn enlists his own closest mate Johnny Lambert in a small role — to temporarily take possession of the package to further obscure the trail.
Meanwhile Johnny, a black man from the Caribbean, faces his own challenges, like almost immediately being accosted by a racist theater usher. Things look up though — a lovely ticket agent (Susan Shaw) observes the incident, comes to his defense, and the pair become fast friends, spending the next couple days together — and eventually harboring unspoken aspirations of something more than friendship.
Dan’s easy job turns out to be a connected to a much bigger (and deadlier) heist than he anticipated, putting the innocent and oblivious Johnny into danger as he unwittingly carries a stash of diamonds at the center of a massive citywide hunt. While Johnny navigates the perils of a forbidden love, Dan races against time, criminals and the police to find his friend before someone else does.
Pool of London is both an exceptional thriller and a thoughtful rumination of a specific time and place. The film is exceptionally tactile in its exploration of the city, shot in real and recognizable London locations (many of which are identified and explored in the special features), including what appear to be still-razed bombed-out ruins from World War II. The film notably marks the first appearance of an interracial relationship in a British film, and the racial tensions, combined with the postwar setting, paint a gloomy but hopeful picture of a city striving for a better future.
This isn’t a particularly well known film, at least not in the US, but it’s a great one. There’s some other really interesting stuff, like that the key crook who performs the heist is an acrobat, and the film’s climax is marked by a surprisingly gnarly and realistic death scene hat probably wouldn’t have made the cut had this been a Hollywood production of that time.
Fascinatingly, I think if you were to ask viewers who the main protagonist is, you’d get a pretty even mix of responses advocating for Dan or Johnny. Perhaps it’s indicative of the time of release that Dan, the white character, is featured most prominently in the film’s billing and marketing, while Johnny (fifth billed) actually has the more compelling story arc and feels like the true heart and soul of the film and its message.
Kino Lorber has released Pool of London on a new Blu-ray edition with cover artwork featuring the film’s classic poster design and several bonus features on the disc.
How does the transfer look? Well… not good. Unfortunately this is one of the least impressive looking discs I can recall reviewing, and certainly the worst one I’ve seen from Kino Lorber, whose output is characteristically great and reliable.
The Blu-ray’s specs list it as a 1080p transfer, but the entire presentation of the film appears to have constant interlacing throughout. Jaggies are prevalent; anywhere there’s a prominent diagonal edge or line, you’ll see the characteristic stair-step pixelization.
In the image below, you can see several instances of both jaggies and murky ghosting artifacts — in the pair of cables near the center of the shot, along the edge of captain’s white hat, in the seam of his shoulder, and along the contours of Colleano’s collar.
Here’s another example with pretty prominent jaggies.
Besides having these fidelity issues, the picture also looks very soft — to me it gives the impression of being a DVD upscale. I reached out to Kino seeking information about the transfer’s source or image process, but my contact wasn’t able to provide any additional details.
By contrast, Studio Canal previously released a pristine UK edition of the film with a beautiful restoration — you can see screen captures of the drastic version differences compared over at DVD Beaver — sharper, with grain intact, and no weird combing or ghosty edge artifacts.
In a bit of good news, Pool of London is currently available to watch on Kanopy, provided by Kino. I’ve visually confirmed it appears to use the same transfer as this Blu-ray. So if you’re on the fence about picking up this disc (despite the PQ issues, the strength of the film itself is compelling and, I think, worth owning), you can preview it yourself to make an informed decision.
Special Features and Extras
Oddly, the film clips in the extras look better than the actual film’s presentation on this disc (these extras also appeared on the UK edition Blu-ray, and presumably use that transfer).
- Audio Commentary by Journalist & Author Bryan Reesman
- Interview with Actor Earl Cameron (8:54)
Star Earl Cameron (Lambert) describes memories of the film’s production
- Locations featurette with Film Historian Richard Dacre (18:05)
Locations explorations are among my favorite kind of special features, and this one does a very nice job of showing modern views of the film’s locations along with clips of their appearances as seen in the film.
- Trailers for The Criminal (3:04), The Man Who Haunted Himself (3:09), and The Mind Bender (2:03)
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Pool of London — Kino Blu-ray: https://amzn.to/2Z07uJl
Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.