The Long Arm (1956)

Jack Hawkins is Scotland Yard in this enjoyably traditional British Crime film from Ealing Studios. Optimum UK R2 DVD.

The Film

Scotland Yard receives an automatic alarm call from a building being broken into, but when the police arrive on the scene they discover no-one there but the caretaker who shows them around. Detective Tom Halliday (Jack Hawkins) is brought onto the case when it is discovered that the safe is empty and that the caretaker has been off sick for several days. He comes to the conclusion that this incident is connected to a number of unsolved safe robberies, all of which seem to involve the same make of safe and no visibly forced entry. Along with the budding young Sergeant Ward they set out to track down this man...

The only film script from regular television and radio writer Robert Barr, The Long Arm is more remniscent of the traditional crime stories than the social-realism that would come to dominate British cinema, and most notably crime films during the 1960s. In particular, the lead character is distinctly middle class with a happy home life and enjoys his work. The script is strong and although rather slow to get started, is very effective providing a strong mystery and some clever twists and turns.

Action fans will not find much to enjoy here as the film is almost entirely dialogue based, but fortunately it is very well written and the film never drags and it does avoid the gratiuitous action scenes that marr many similar films. Barr is very thorough in keeping the plot realistic and avoiding any holes - all of the police deductions are plausible and logical, while the characters are all believable, with some nice details that help to provide atmosphere. The tone is often quite lighthearted although it never descends into comedy and there are a couple of quite poignant moments, made more effective by the very British understatement with which they are presented. Well timed at 90 minutes, it all builds to a suitably thrilling climax made particularly effective by the strong characterisation.

Expirienced Ealing director Charles Frend does a rather straight-forward job although an impressive sequence of a barely concious man's point-of-view of an interview gives the film some flair. Largely set-bound the film looks fine, although the hit-and-run does have some very noticable optical effects. Occasional film composer Gerard Schurmann (The Bedford Incident (1965)) provides a standard orchestral soundtrack.
Jack Hawkins is perfectly cast in the lead role and looks every bit the classic British detective, while being equally good in the domestic scenes. Although there are no big names, a number of familiar faces fill out the rest of the cast, including Ralph Truman, Geoffrey Keen and Sam Kydd and there are generally good performances all round.

Noticably different, and an interesting comparison piece to the better known social-realist British crime movies that followed in 1960s, The Long Arm remains by itself a well written and enjoyable production and comes recommended, particularly to fans of classic British cinema.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Jack Hawkins - the British actor who came to fame in The Cruel Sea (1953) and later went to star in Zulu (1964)
Directed by anyone interesting? Charles Frend - best known as an Ealing Studios regular, helming such films as Scott of the Antarctic (1948) and The Cruel Sea (1953), he started off as an editor, including work on Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage (1936).
Any gore or violence ? None
Any sex? None
Who is it for?
Fans of classic British cinema, and Jack Hawkins fans will certainly enjoy this.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Black and White.
The film is very strong visually, with only light grain and very good detail.
Audio Original English mono - sounds okay, but audio levels are very low and the sound is noticably distant in a few scenes.
Subtitles None.
Extras None.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Not otherwise available.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut. English language print.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 7th February 2008.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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