It's all quiet in the city at this hour of the morning, all except for a selection of shady characters who are lurking outside this jeweller's. Three of the gang wait for the signal, and the other two drive up in their car which has been customised with a battering ram. The passenger, Sid (Sid James), advises his boss, Fingers (George Cole), not to speed up too much, just tap the window and it should break, but true to bungling form he is too enthusiastic and the shopfront collapses after the vehicle smashes through it. They barely manage to get away and regroup back at their cottage hideout, where Fingers has some explaining to do...
You wouldn't know it from that introduction, but the plot of Too Many Crooks was a hugely successful one - only not for the makers of this. It certainly did respectably in the cinemas at the time, but was largely forgotten about over the subsequent years aside from the odd showing on television where it pleasantly surprised viewers with its wit and energy, but it must have impressed someone in Hollywood, because the whole concept behind the film was lifted and reused for the far more lucrative Ruthless People about three decades later, with Danny DeVito in the plum Terry-Thomas role.
He plays the target of the inept gang of crooks, wealthy businessman Billy Gordon who has his wife, Lucy (Brenda De Banzie), to thank for his money. However, he is an inveterate womaniser and participant in dodgy deals such as the illegal arms trade, not to mention he doesn't believe in keeping his cash in banks, so has the Inland Revenue breathing down his neck. Where does he keep all those thousands of pounds? How about under the floorboards in his own country house where Fingers has decided that he can liberate it, only he's such a failure that every time he orchestrates his men (and woman) to carry out a theft, it goes wrong, to the extent that a running joke sees Gordon recognise him under his disguises almost every time.
Needless to say, while we're dealing with a bunch of characters who are resolutely non-professional, the same cannot be said of the cast, who set about this story with excellent flair of the sort that tended to be relegated to television in British comedy in the decades to come. Not that there was anything wrong in viewing classic humour on the small screen, but the art of the British comedy film would begin to wane after its glory days of this era, and certainly there is not now the regular turnaround of such things in the cinema of the United Kingdom. It's as if the whole team creating these sorts of entertainments were so skilled that they made it look effortless, in contrast to the more frenetic attempts to tickle the funny bone that many of their successors produced.
But to the meat of that plot, and that occurs when Fingers has the bright idea of kidnapping Gordon's daughter Angela (Rosalie Ashley) - who is engaged to a tax inspector played by Nicholas Parsons, incidentally. Of course their best laid plans are foiled when they kidnap the wrong woman, and get Lucy instead; to add insult to injury, Gordon is delighted and refuses to pay any ransom, offering Terry-Thomas every opportunity he needs to play the cad to the hilt. There then follows a tug of war between Gordon and the gang over who gets his money as the criminals find an unlikely ally: Lucy tells them that she'll assist them to get her own back, in fact she'll co-ordinate the whole scam to get those funds, which are half hers by rights, much to Fingers' dismay. Not to mention Gordon's dismay. All right, the laughs do dry up in the latter stages, but this is breezy and cleverly plotted enough to make a good option for whiling away an idle afternoon. Music by Stanley Black.