The world's smallest train robbery has just been staged by "Little" Walter (Ronald Fraser) and his gang, not that they meant it to turn out that way but Inspector Mungo (Alister Williamson) had advance word of what they were planning and stepped in to prevent them from pulling off a large haul. Still, they are doing fairly well on the takings of what they have stolen so far, but Walter is all too aware that the heat is on and the law are breathing down their necks, so drastic action must be taken. He assembles his cohorts and announces to them they will be taking a break, to a small island off Cornwall...
British comedy in the nineteen-sixties wasn't all Carry On, though sometimes it feels that way, and much of that was down to the coterie of comedy talent regulars available in the country which would often show up in a variety of movies designed to tickle the funny bone. For example, the leading lady in this case was Barbara Windsor, the actress most associated with the most famous comedy franchise to emerge from the United Kingdom, but she wasn't getting up to a bunch of saucy shenanigans here though she was playing a variation on the brassy blonde familiar to fans, as in spite of revolving around a gang of crooks the humour here was oddly wholesome.
As if the story was intent on reforming its characters through their location in a monastery, Crooks in Cloisters showed the titular ne'erdowells the error of their ways by putting them to work in an improving environment with a light dash of that old time religion. What Walter has in mind is that they all dress up in monk's habits and set about posing as a holy order, the perfect disguise since they will be staying on that remote island unbothered by any outside interference, or so he hopes. At first he meets with resistance for his wild notions, but with the police bearing down on the gang they have little choice in the matter, and reluctantly agree that it's not such a bad idea, if only for a few months.
To call this predictable was beside the point, as you could tell everything that was going to happen other than whether the criminals would get away with their crimes having been so rehabilitated by their experiences: this was made in 1964, was that late enough in the day for the censors not to insist the filmmakers had everyone behind bars by the finale, even if they were reformed? Watch and find out, but much of the humour stemmed from the pretend piety of these "monks" and how they continued to behave like the old lags they actually were, with a real tourist's guide of London slang of the sixties spilling from the mouths of the cast throughout, adding to the larky atmosphere.
But there was a more serious aspect, well-hidden yet sincere, that applying yourself to good, honest labour is better for your health in mind and body than taking the lawless path. In a manner reminiscent of a sitcom of the following decade, The Good Life, our monks - who wear the habits even when there's no chance of anyone else being around - divine the benefits of living off the land. Windsor's moll Bikini finds a new calling as an expert cook, Melvyn Hayes takes on animal husbandry, Bernard Cribbins gets emotionally attached to a goat when tending the orchard, Grégoire Aslan works wonders in the vegetable patch, Davy Kaye sees about the potatoes and Walter himself becomes a dairy farmer with a sideline in butter production. It's all quite sweet, really, not absolutely hilarious but in its mild fashion perfectly diverting: there's even romance when Francesca Annis shows up to assist Hayes, though her father Wilfrid Brambell is none too keen. One of those films where you wish the best for everyone, though it may not resolve itself like that. Music by Don Banks.