By 1963 Peter Sellers was already a star or least he was in the UK. Having had his first proper role in 1951 he had worked regularly throughout the decade having established himself as a man of many comic voices in radios ground breaking The Goon Show he would enhance his reputation further in films such as the classic 1955 film Ealing comedy The Ladykillers (read our disc review HERE) and was equally able at playing multiple characters in one film hence his many roles in 1959’s ‘The Mouse that Roared’ so convincingly that he attracted the attention of Stanley Kubrick who cast Sellers in three pivotal roles in Dr Strangelove. As brilliant as Sellers is it was an odd pairing for an actor renowned for a short attention span to appear for as notorious a perfectionist as director Kubrick and his penchant for endless takes. But shortly before all that he would appear in a great little British comedy The Wrong Arm of the Law (1963).
Set in London, the film followed a group of Australian gangsters disguised as “Bobbies”, led by Jack Coombes (Bill Kerr), who are diverting the ill-gotten gains of the local criminal gangs. Gang leader “Pearly” Gates (Sellers), who operates from the cover of a French couturier, finds his takings severely cut. Initially he blames rival crook “Nervous” O’Toole (Bernard Cribbins) but when it emerges that they are both being scammed by the same gang, they form an unlikely alliance with Scotland Yard Police Inspector – Lionel Jeffries’ “Nosey” Parker – to eliminate the so-called “I.P.O. mob” (I.P.O. – Impersonating a Police Officer) and return things to “normal”.
It was a great premise for a little British comedy and was co-written by Galton & Simpson who were giants of British comedy having written for Hancock and also the classic TV sitcom Steptoe and son. Joining them to write the film would be John Antrobus, something of an unsung hero of the British comedy scene who made significant though uncredited contributions to TV comedy series as well as the very first carry On film as well as the very last one in 1992.
Apart from Sellers ‘The Wrong of the Law had’ a great supporting cast of well known British comedy actors that included Lionel Jeffries, Bernard Cribbins, Nanette Newman, John le Mesurier, Graham Stark, Arthur Mullard and even an uncredited cameo from some actor called Michael Caine who were shepherded through the production by director Cliff Owen another stalwart of British TV dramas but would go on to direct comedy giants such as Morecambe and Wise’s two forays into feature films as well as the first Steptoe & Son film and Dick Emery’s only film.
The Wrong arm of the Law goes back to simpler times although things were changing as the sixties got underway. No one carries guns, police are still respected though they are comic foils to Sellers criminal mastermind and it’s all played for laughs with an admirable cast and decent writing. Sellers defining role as Inspector Closueau had already been unleashed on the world a month previously and with the second Panther film, ‘A Shot in the Dark’ opening the following year it would overshadow every other role in his career especially by the mid 1970’s when three Pink Panther films were released within four years and so these smaller less well known films of his were often overlooked if not forgotten altogether. But Sellers smaller films were often some of the most enjoyable work in his back catalogue and The Wrong Arm of the Law was one such film that should you catch it one Sunday afternoon whilst flicking through the TV channels you’re immediately hooked.
There’s few bonus features on the disc beside the original trailer, a behind the scenes photo gallery and a feature called ‘The Long Arm of the Screenwriter – John Antrobus remembers The Wrong Arm of The Law’. Now almost 89 years old Antrobus gently reminisces about the film and his involvement as well as his work with Galton & Simpson but also perhaps most notably Spike Milligan with whom he wrote The Bed Sitting Room and is amongst some of the best of the comedians surreal work.
Here’s the trailer for The Wrong Arm of the Law…….
The Wrong Arm of the Law is now available fully restored and released for the first time on blu-ray and digital from May 2nd 2022.