Dearden worked for Basil Dean at Ealing in the early 1930s and was involved on several George Formby films. From being the executive producer on Will Hay films, he moved without demur from the postwar refugee in Frieda to the tosh of Saraband for Dead Lovers. And in later years, the string of problem films was unalloyed by the coziness of The Smallest Show on Earth and The League of Gentlemen. The posting to Khartoum was outside his normal range, and if the film was better than one feared—especially in Heston’s Gordon—still it was blind to the agonizing dilemma that, say, Nicholas Ray might have discerned in it.
When Dearden died, in a road accident, The Guardian called him “a proficient technician who could tell a good story well and get a film completed on schedule and without over-budgeting. Such a breathless epitaph was capped by this brief absurdity from The Times: “a versatile British film director.”
Kindness and tact in obituaries are civilized things, but Dearden’s versatility was with essentially inert subjects and his proficiency was at the expense of inventiveness or artistic personality. Filmmaking is not a matter of telling a good story well when the end product is the spurious social alertness of The Blue Lamp, Sapphire, and Victim. Nor is there any virtue—for the audience—in that a film was completed at 5:30 on the proper day with the due number of tea breaks. Dearden’s coming in on time is replete with the obedient, leaden dullness of British studios. His films are decent, empty, and plodding and his association with Michael Relph is a fair representative of the British preference for bureaucratic cinema. It stands for the underlining of obvious meanings, for the showy resort to “realism,” for the middle-brow ticking off of “serious” subjects, for the lack of cinematic sensibility, for the acceptance of all the technical shortcomings of British productions, for the complacent description of problems and the resolute refusal to adopt critical intelligence for dealing with them.