Classic Cars on Film: The Wrong Arm of the Law

Yes folks, this is the film with that incredible Aston Martin DB4 jump! Peter Sellers proved himself as a petrolhead with 1963s' The Wrong Arm of the Law – here's why it deserves your viewing

In the annals of screen car chases so unbalanced as to be positively surreal, one black and white film shot in 1962 and released for 1963 truly stands out – a Wolseley 6/90 Series 3 versus an Aston Martin DB4 GT, chassis No. 0157/R.

The latter is, of course, Lightweight Works experimental car that will be auctioned by RM Sotheby’s in London on September 5. The Aston was driven by the star of The Wrong Arm of the Law while the former was being driven by the law. However, not even frantically ringing the bell could disguise the fact that the chase is slightly unbalanced.

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The Wrong Arm of the Law is essential viewing for all Aston Martin devotees (more than one DB4 is used on screen), classic enthusiasts and fans of British comedy acting at its most highly tuned. As will be known to most readers, Peter Sellers was an automotive fanatic, so it will come as no surprise that he favoured 41 DPX, not to mention the Ferrari 250 GTE.

The film was made towards the end of his run of domestic comedies and dramas and is further celluloid proof that low-key black and white wit will always triumph over inflated 'international' comedies such as Casino Royale.

That said, the plot is not overly plausible – three Australian crooks use a fake London Met. 6/90 Series I to rob London’s underworld despite no-one apparently noting its registration number – but the film presents some of Equity’s finest actors with some equally splendid cars.

Bill Kerr, Ed 'Skippy' Devereaux and Reg Lye are the antipodean 'IPO' mob, while Nannette Newman drives an Austin-Healey Sprite Mk2 and at the wheel of an Austin A152 Haberdasher’s van is Mario Fabrizi, a then ubiquitous character actor.

Bernard Cribbins favours a Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn with James Young coachwork, Michael Caine was an extra – his last such role prior to his being cast in Zulu – and there is a very funny cameo from Dick Emery, but the star turns are from Sellers and Lionel Jeffries.

The former was 'Monsieur Jules', French courtier to the gentry aka 'Pearly' Gates, King of the London Underworld and the latter was his Scotland Yard contact Inspector 'Nosey' Parker – we can guess that he achieved his rank through grovelling rather than efficiency.

The actor once remarked of his film characters that 'In their hearts they knew that they were failures – but they would never admit it, even to themselves' and with Sellers as his very sardonic straight-man, Gates and Parker make for a priceless double act. The crooks must temporarily join forces with the Met to catch Kerr and Co. who even dare to steal Parker’s Wolseley 6/99.

Add to this the black and white cinematography that captures a landscape dominated by corner shops advertising Tizer, police telephone boxes and the Battersea Fun Fair with Karrier 1-Ton ice cream vans dispensing 3d cornets and you start to realise that The Wrong Arm now looks almost impossibly remote.

Even if your overdraft cannot quite run to the probable cost of this ultra-exclusive Aston Martin, at least you can vicariously enjoy it via the medium of cinema. You can purchase The Wrong Arm of the Law on Amazon.

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