The Wrong Arm Of The Law Review

The comedy crime caper was almost a sub-genre of classic British films of the late-50’s/early 60’s and The Wrong Arm of the Law is one of the best films of its kind. With a script co-written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson and a breezy jazz score from Richard Rodney Bennett, the film effortlessly beguiles you into a fictional and idealistic world of gentlemen crooks and bungling coppers.

Petty crooks shin up ladders in their best suits and ties and when caught red-handed by the rozzers, shrug their shoulders and meet the utterance - "I'm afraid you'll have to accompany me down to the station, sir", with the response. "It's a fair cop guv'". This amiable state affairs comes under jeopardy from a rival mob from Australia who with the aid of some inside information, impersonate police-officers and apprehend the local criminals on the job, making off with their loot themselves. But it is not only the criminals who are suffering at the hands of the IPO mob – the local bobbies are starting to find themselves at the receiving end of a ‘duffing-up’, when the local crooks start to fight back at anyone in a police uniform. Inspector 'Nosey' Parker (Lionel Jeffries) isn’t impressed:"A bit of breaking and entering is one thing," he indignantly informs them, "but sloshing a bogey in the execution of his duty… Oh, dear, dear, dear… Take 'em down t' the nick!".

The leaders of the two main crime syndicates, 'Pearly' Gates (Peter Sellers) and 'Nervous' O'Toole (Bernard Cribbins) team-up and agree to approach the local police to come up with a scheme to catch the new mob and maybe get a little bit more out of the bargain as well.

Peter Sellers plays his role well, switching from the phoney French accent he maintains as the owner of 'Maison Jules', a fashion house he uses as a cover and opportunity for infiltrating the homes of the rich, to the cockney twang of 'Pearly' Gates, the London mobster. Playful and low-key, but ever in character and at the service of the script rather than making this a star-turn, this kind of role was never much of a stretch for his comic brilliance. The rest of the cast is made up of sturdy British comedy regulars like Bernard Cribbins, John LeMesurier and Arthur Mullard who can effortlessly deliver good material like this.

A lot of writers are credited with the script on the film including Ray Galton and Alan Simpson (Steptoe and Son, Hancock’s Half Hour). With a long background in radio comedy, Galton and Simpson would be the first to admit that they never really thought visually and their work for the cinema as a result has never been great. Here however they work where their talents are best employed, brushing up the dialogue and giving the film that extra sparkle.

PictureThe picture in the main is reasonably good, but nothing exceptional, even considering the age of the film. The print mostly has a strong contrast that has been brightened giving too much luminosity with whites tending to glare, while at other times the picture can seem a little washed out and flat in places. There appears to be some minor edge-enhancement and slightly jagged edges, but how noticeable this is will depend on your player. Generally however, the picture is more than acceptable with no major damage or glitches and handles finely-checked jackets well without any moiré effects.

SoundThere is little wrong either with the soundtrack – the Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound performs well with no noise and good noise reduction.

ExtrasThere are no extras on the disc at all, which is quite disappointing. The disc itself only contains 8 chapters.

ConclusionThis is a great film, delightfully daft with no pretensions other than to entertain and there it most certainly delivers. Unfortunately there is little incentive in terms of picture quality or extras to entice you to upgrade from the VHS copy you will have undoubtedly taped from one of its numerous television showings over the years. It is available at a bargain price though, so if that tape is wearing a bit thin, this will do nicely as a replacement.

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