River Beat (UK 1954)

This short (70 minutes) crime film was broadcast yesterday by Talking Pictures TV in the UK, drawing on its own library of titles owned by Renown Pictures. It is interesting for two or three reasons. First it offers a good example of a British B picture during the peak production period in British cinemas – the broad crime genre was the most widely produced and this police-procedural is an example of one of the largest categories of crime film. It’s an independent production from Insignia Films with studio work at Nettlefold, one of the many smaller studios around London still active in 1954. However, much of the film was shot on location in the Pool of London and parts of Bermondsey and Poplar.

The plot is familiar. A ship with an American captain (Robert Ayres) and an American radio operator, Judy Roberts (Phyllis Kirk), is at the quayside for a week. Judy is persuaded by the steward to smuggle a few packets of cigarettes through customs for one of his friends ashore. She doesn’t realise that the packets also include diamonds. She then innocently visits an old pub in Poplar where she bumps into Inspector Barker (John Bentley) of the River Police. They are attracted to each other but any potential romance is interrupted when Judy is arrested after she repeats the cigarette smuggling favour. The plot in some ways resembles the earlier Ealing film, Pool of London (UK 1950). River Beat is a ‘lesser story’ in many ways but it does offer a similarly detailed depiction of the lost world of the Pool of London (the quaysides closest to Tower Bridge along with St Katharine’s Dock and Shad Thames). In these narratives the police usually catch the criminals and in this case the climactic chase sequence on the water is well handled.

Director Guy Green began his career as a cinematographer, often working with David Lean and also with visiting Hollywood directors. This was his début feature and with his DoP Geoffrey Faithfull he captures the street scenes very well. Phyllis Kirk had begun in films and TV in 1950 and in 1953 had a couple of roles as leading lady in two Hollywood films, the best known being House of Wax with Vincent Price. The British film industry regularly imported minor stars from Hollywood to head the cast, believing this gave the films more kudos in British cinemas and for possible export. She does a reasonable job in River Beat and certainly better than many US imports. The British leading man, John Bentley, had a career lasting from the late 1940s until the mid-1970s, latterly mostly in TV. He is probably best remembered playing Paul Temple in B movies based on the stories by Francis Durbridge. Though these were small independent B movies they had a following at the time and Bentley went on to play similar characters in several more B crime thrillers, including River Beat. Trivia fact: Bentley ended his career in the soap opera Crossroads set in his home region of the West Midlands. In some ways his career seems in tune with the history of British cinema and TV. The US poster for the film above is typical of the period. Ms Kirk is dressed attractively in the film but not in the sleazy way of the poster. John Bentley was not a name in the US and is relatively marginalised. Like Bentley, screenwriter Rex Rienits was mainly active in the 1950s and 1960s on smaller films and TV series. River Beat was his ‘original story and screenplay’.

I wouldn’t make any great claims for River Beat, but I did enjoying seeing an area where I worked some twenty-five years later when it was beginning to disappear. This was quite an entertaining way to spend some time on the sofa on a day of lousy weather. I’m not sure what I’d do without Talking Pictures TV as a diversion.

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