The Treacherous Uniform

Sometimes people get so caught up in their jobs they forget what their jobs are for. The word for it is “careerism” and it’s rampant in the 1963 British farce The Wrong Arm of the Law in which London’s criminal underworld and Scotland Yard team up to catch a gang of police impersonators. Starring Peter Sellers, Lionel Jeffries, and Bernard Cribbins, this film is both razor sharp and completely ridiculous. It also has some surprisingly effective car chase scenes.

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“Do you have to put in for a gallon of petrol every time you chase someone, do you?” asks the exasperated criminal called Pearly Gates (Sellers) when his reluctant comrade, Inspector Parker (Jeffries), objects to a point in their cooperative plan to catch the imposters that would require paper work and currency exchange. But the crooks aren’t much better. They gather together earlier in the film like it’s a union meeting deciding how to handle negotiations with an employer.

Both sides are so comfortable with the status quo that a gang of Australians can foul things up just by putting on police uniforms and driving a stolen police car. They make their profits by catching crooks and taking the loot just like the real cops, and the crooks let them do it because the relationship between cop and crook is so cosy and rote. When a gang of burglars mistake three real cops for the fakes, they start easily beating up the cops. When they realise the mistake, they stop and apologise even though they were winning. Because that sort of thing just isn’t done, I suppose.

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Despite his high handed talk about rules and principles, Parker is quick to follow any suggestion Gates puts forward if it might get him a promotion. It’s pretty broad but I think we’ve all met a few people who are at least a little like this.

The cast is great right down the line and the tone of the film never breaks from the deadpan, however ridiculous things get. Bernard Cribbins is good playing an Irish gangster named O’Toole with a nervous tick and Nanette Newman as Gates’ lover Valerie is sharp and sexy. The Wrong Arm of the Law is available on Amazon Prime.

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In future floods the pods and phones command.
A washing crew in vicious squads array.
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A copper’s van was held in amber paste.

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