Film Reviews

The Wrong Arm Of The Law (1963) – Blu-ray Review

Honour amongst thieves may end up being sorely tested in this newly-restored release by StudioCanal of classic 1963 comedy The Wrong Arm Of The Law, starring Peter Sellers, Bernard Cribbins and Lionel Jeffries.

A longstanding peaceful accord between rival criminal gangs in London threatens to break down, when a group of rogues dressing themselves up as police start to muscle in and take the ill-gotten gains from various robberies and misdeeds for themselves. Tensions start to fray in the criminal fraternity, with rival gang leaders ‘Pearly’ Gates (Sellers) and ‘Nervous’ O’Toole (Cribbins) each becoming increasingly suspicious of the other, threatening to cause real strife.

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The culprits behind the sting are the Australian ‘I.P.O. Mob’ (Impersonating a Police Officer), who somehow seem to be getting inside information on all of the jobs which are being pulled. With little alternative, O’Toole and Gates team up to join an uneasy alliance with Police Inspector ‘Nosey’ Parker (Jeffries), as setting a thief to catch a thief may not be quite enough. But will the truce hold out, or do double crosses lie ahead?

While not actually an Ealing comedy, The Wrong Arm Of The Law does feel very much of that particular type, and has a wealth of comic talent on show. In addition to the leading artists, we also have Bill Kerr (usually heard alongside Tony Hancock in the original radio Hancock’s Half Hour), John Le Mesurier, Arthur Mullard, Graham Stark, and Dick Emery. It also helps that the script was written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, responsible for Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe & Son, along with John Antrobus, who devised and co-wrote the surreal post-apocalyptic comedy The Bed Sitting Room with Spike Milligan.

Photo by ITV/REX/Shutterstock, Copyright (c) 1963 Rex Features.

As such, The Wrong Arm Of The Law is a fun romp, with a great deal of sparkling dialogue further enhanced by some cracking turns from the cast. Jeffries is outstanding as the nervy, officious ‘Nosey’ Parker, always trying to get one up on the crims, but his reach constantly exceeding his grasp. Le Mesurier is as Le Mesurier does, delivering the same slightly bemused, yet loveable, performance which only he could do, making such a strong impression, even in a relatively slight role.

Cribbins, living national treasure as he now is, gives his all as a twitchy Irish gang boss, trying to get to the bottom of the ‘I.P.O. Mob’ racket, while keeping one eye on his rival, ‘Pearly’ Gates. Having already played wrong ‘uns on the big screen in The Ladykillers and Two-Way Stretch, Sellers was by now becoming quite an old hand at these kinds of parts; however, seeing him here with a French accent and moustache is quite an eerie precursor to his most famous role, with his debut in The Pink Panther coming out later the same year.

Photo by ITV/REX/Shutterstock, Copyright (c) 1963 Rex Features.

The phrase ‘old-fashioned’ is sometimes deployed in rather a pejorative sense, suggesting something is quite passé and out-of-style. Here, however, it would feel most apposite as The Wrong Arm Of The Law is a feature which, while visibly dated by the visual aspects, including being shot in black and white, still feels somehow timeless thanks to the sharpness of its script, and easily attracts as many laughs now as it did on its original release almost 60 years ago, really being such innocent, charming fun.

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The restoration work here is immaculate, and the film stands up very well on Blu-ray. In fact, you get a chance to note the difference for yourselves, as one of the extras is the original trailer, which has been left untouched, and you can see how clear the restored feature film is, compared to that scratchy, crackly print. Another nice bonus feature is an interview with John Antrobus, as the sole surviving writer, and he gives us a look at the film’s production, as well as an insight into his life and career, including his personal struggles, about which he talks with admirable candour.

The Wrong Arm Of The Law promises much as a comic caper movie, with big stars, and a script by British comedy writing royalty, but does it deliver? The verdict: Guilty as charged. A long stretch of watching and re-watching definitely appears to be on the cards.

The Wrong Arm of the Law is out on Blu-ray on 2nd May from Studiocanal.

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