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Wrong Arm of The Law, The (1962)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Wrong Arm of The Law, The (1962)
35mm, 94 min, black & white
DirectorCliff Owen
Production CompanyRobert Velaise Productions
 Romulus Films
ProducerAubrey Baring
ScreenplayJohn Warren
 Len Heath

Cast: Peter Sellers (Pearly Gates); Lionel Jeffries (Inspector Fred 'Nosey' Parker); Bernard Cribbins (Nervous O'Toole); Davy Kaye (Trainer King); Nanette Newman (Valerie)

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When a London crime syndicate loses its spoils to three Australian crooks impersonating police officers, its members decide to co-operate with the police in an attempt to catch the frauds.

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The set-up for The Wrong Arm of the Law is a familiar one, with comic thieves conflicting with an equally comic police force. Nevertheless, this is a genuinely imaginative film, upholding a brisk comic pace with the aid of astute direction and a sharp script, which plays to the talents of the cast.

Distinctively British in its humour, with a dash of Ealing (particularly The Lavender Hill Mob, d. Charles Crichton, 1951) and the energetic absurdity of the Goons, The Wrong Arm of the Law combined the writing talents of Hancock's Half-Hour (BBC, 1956-60) creators Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, Goon Show scriptwriter John Antrobus and John Warren and Len Heath, who had scripted another Peter Sellers vehicle, Two-Way Stretch (d. Robert Day, 1960). As the underworld and law are brought together in a mutually suspicious alliance against the unwelcome incursion of an Australian gang, there is ample scope to create memorable characters in the madness. Lionel Jeffries excels as a bumbling Inspector eager to please his superiors. Jeffries and Peter Sellers - as the quick-witted gangleader Pearly Gates - strive to upstage one another, resulting in some outstanding moments, while Bernard Cribbins is a riddle of anxieties and tics as Pearly's anxious rival, Nervous O'Toole.

With international celebrity waiting just around the corner in the form of The Pink Panther (US, 1963), this would be Sellers' final role aimed specifically at his British fan base. Pearly Gates treats his criminal gang as employees, doling out generous benefits including luncheon vouchers and paid holidays on the Costa Brava. He even shows them 'educational films' such as Rififi (France/Germany, 1955) and The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (d. John Guillerman, 1959). His alliance with rival Nervous O'Toole leads to one of the film's highlights, as the two bosses hold a general meeting of the crime syndicate as if it were a democratic trade union.

Although Sellers felt Jeffries had the stronger part, he still turns in an exhilarating performance, effortlessly switching between the sophistication of his alter-ego, costumier 'Monsieur Jules' (a dry run for Sellers' French accent a year before The Pink Panther's Inspector Clouseau made his debut), and Pearly Gates' steely intelligence. Although Jeffries' Inspector 'Nosey' Parker undoubtedly has some of the best material, Sellers, with lines like (pointing to his head) "I've got things going round in 'ere that'd make Maigret drop his pipe," had little to complain about.

David Morrison

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Video Clips
1. Extraordinary meeting (3:06)
2. Nosey Parker (3:34)
3. Our man on the tightrope (2:42)
Carry On Constable (1960)
Cribbins, Bernard (1928-)
Jeffries, Lionel (1926-2010)
Robinson, Cardew (1917-1992)
Sellers, Peter (1925-1980)
Ealing Comedy