The Wrong Arm of the Law
Director: Cliff Owen
Screenwriter: John Antrobus, Alan Simpson, Ray Galton
Starring: Peter Sellers, Nanette Newman, Lionel Jeffries, Bernard Cribbins, John LeMesurier
Release details: British Lion Films, UK 1962, 94mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: Comedy caper
Rating: 8 out of 10
Re-uniting the three main cast members (Sellers, Jeffries and Cribbins) from the successful Two Way Stretch (1960), The Wrong Arm of the Law is a crime caper from what was the golden age of British film comedy, similar in tone to the St Trinian's films, which were also distributed by British Lion.
Sellers stars as "Pearly" Gates, the head of an organised crime syndicate, who maintains a double identity as Monsieur Charles Jules, owner of a high-class ladies' clothing boutique. Pearly uses his position to get information from his rich, matronly clients on their travel plans and then sends his gang in to rob their house when he knows they'll be empty Pearly's nemesis at Scotland Yard is Inspector Fred "Nosey" Parker (Jeffries).
An Australian gang appears on the London criminal scene who, posing as police officers, intersect Pearly's men after their crimes and make off with the loot. At first, Pearly suspects that they may be working for a rival Irish gang, but a meeting with their allergy and phobia-ridden leader, Nervous (Bernard Cribbins), confirms that the new gang are ripping off both teams. With both the police and the criminals being made to look stupid by the interlopers, the two camps decide to team up to capture them and thereby "re-establish the status quo, apropos the criminal and society".
A good proportion of the humour of the piece is based around that great staple of 1960s Britain comedy: trades unions. The criminal gangs are run on a purely closed shop basis, with delegates representing particular trades (pickpockets, thieves, confidence tricksters, etc). Pearly pays his men sick leave and holiday pay and also arranges continuing education for them, by having film nights in which they watch the classics (Rififi, The Great Train Robbery, etc) and then have a group discussion about the learning points raised. Despite the improbability of the set-up, it all hangs together well and comes across entirely credibly.
Alongside the social humour, there's a decent amount of old-fashioned slapstick and broad set-pieces. Sellers, who was so often cast as the little man who is undermined either by himself or by those around him, is particularly strong as the suave Pearly, offering strong counterpoint to the bumbling, pompous Jeffries, who can always be relied upon to excel in that kind of role. John LeMesurier as the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police also contributes his usual high standard of support and British TV legend Dick Emery can be seen in an uncredited cameo as an amorous suitor interrupted during a romantic tryst.
Several sources describe Michael Caine's role in Wrong Arm of the Law as an uncredited bit-part. It's fairer to say he's an uncredited extra. Although two biographies (possible quoting each other) define his role as "constable in background at police station", I can't see him at all in any of the station scenes.
The stills below, however, are taken from the scene at the Battersea Park carnival - UK running time 48 mins and 22 seconds - and look more likely. Judge for yourself.