|Sometimes with a film everything just falls into place, which was what happened with The Wrong Arm of the Law, a comedy everyone involved agreed was a joy to make and as a big bonus, was a sizeable hit at the box office as well. That's not bad going when you consider the lead actor of its ensemble was Peter Sellers, just as his career went international with The Pink Panther and his Inspector Clouseau character that became both his ticket to the big time, and eventually an albatross around his neck as that was more or less all audiences wanted to see him as. But here we saw him at something of a cusp.
Sellers had exploded onto the British comedy scene with radio's The Goon Show, launching he, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe (and Michael Bentine to an extent) to stardom and changing the shape of the nation’s laughter forever. It was there he became known as a master of voices, adept at different accents and cadences, which never left his renown as the films he made tended to capitalise on this skill. Here he used two accents, a French one and a Cockney one, depending on which persona he was adopting, the fashion house owner or the criminal who uses that as a front for his illegal activities, and you had to say he was excellent at both.
Indeed, as far as that first part of Sellers' career went, when he was obsessed with establishing himself as a movie star, there were a number of performances that were top notch, arguably because as he went on he grew more self-conscious, exacting and frankly, paranoid, culminating in his hijacking of his disastrous final work, The Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu. So it is far preferable to turn the clock back to his happier times when he was a lot more content with his work, as far as he possibly could be at any rate, and watch him sail through a terrific script by legendary team Alan Galton and Ray Simpson, with John Antrobus, who had assisted on The Goon Show among other things.
The Wrong Arm of the Law has been released in a fully restored version on Blu-ray, and that disc includes an interview with the 89-year-old Antrobus, who is still writing and still loving his work. His memories of Sellers are surprisingly warm, though even he has a story of how the comic actor walked out on a project he was instigating apparently on a whim, as was his wont (it went ahead with a recast version). Nevertheless, he may be the only person who has anything positive to say about the Fu Manchu fiasco, as Sellers drafted him in to write some material to get the production shooting again, and Antrobus claims he had been promised work by his old friend on the next Pink Panther comedy, a project that never happened thanks to Sellers' demise in 1980.
But there is someone else Antrobus is full of praise for, and that is Lionel Jeffries - he was genuinely delighted with what he did with his lines and situations, and Jeffries as a famed scene stealer was assuredly on top form here as Inspector "Nosey" Parker. Although he takes his time in entering the plot, once he does you can feel the whole thing click and one of the most remarkable casts in nineteen-sixties British comedy comes together to make a little magic happen. Jeffries was playing the not as clever as he thinks he is copper who winds up being integral to the scheme that police and criminals alike dream up to stop an Australian gang (led by Galton and Simpson's comedy associate Bill Kerr). This gang have been dressing up as policemen, and even have a police car, to set about relieving thieves of their ill-gotten gains.
Sellers, as Pearly Gates, quickly names them the IPO gang, standing for Impersonating a Police Officer, and it was one of the pleasures of the film that the narrative could easily have been played straight without any jokes and it would have been almost as effective. Director Cliff Owen, though a humourist usually, did have a couple of very respectable heist movies in his canon, which is likely why The Wrong Arm of the Law is as enjoyable as it is. You can tell the cast know this is material they can get their teeth into and will show them off to their best advantage, but it was the way of this that it was a good show all round, quite apart from the glimpses of London that were for nostalgia purposes, that rendered it so satisfying. A quick rundown of some of the performers would include Bernard Cribbins as Irish gangster Nervous O'Toole (he is justifiably proud of this film), John Le Mesurier as the Assistant Commissioner with a taste for ice cream, and in bit parts Dick Emery and Dennis Price, just ideal. With these actors, this was a treasure trove for movie buffs.
[FULLY RESTORED AND RELEASED FOR THE FIRST TIME
ON BLU-RAY and DIGITAL from 2nd MAY 2022
NEW Feature - The Long Arm of the Screenwriter - John Antrobus Remembers The Wrong Arm of The Law
Behind the Scenes stills gallery