Law and Disorder (1958)

Today’s film review was based on Smuggler’s Circuit by Denys Roberts and to be honest I think I actually prefer this original title, as the film one feels a little generic. Nevertheless, this is the plot:

‘Percy Brand’s son, Colin, thinks his father is a clergyman, when Percy’s real vocation is that of confidence trickster – his frequent spells ‘inside’ explained away as missionary trips abroad. When a grown-up Colin studies law and eventually becomes a judge’s marshal, his father feels bound to retire to a fishing village. He cannot keep away from his life of crime, however, and in no time at all he’s getting involved in the local squire’s brandy smuggling activities…’

There are quite a few ‘star’ names in this cast with Percy Brand being played by Michael Redgrave and Robert Morley takes on the character of Judge Criton. When it comes to smaller character parts we also have John Le Mesurier who plays a defence counsel and Joan Hickson takes on the role of Percy’s sister. As always it takes a little adjustment time to get past the whole ‘what is Miss Marple doing here,’ especially since Percy’s sister frequently earns money through marked cards. Not sure Miss Marple would approve! Regardless Hickson does a lot with her role and I enjoyed her part in the film.

The opening sequence of the film takes the reader from 1938 to 1946, with Brand’s various stays in prison camouflaged as missionary trips when he comes out, even sneaking onto a military ship to convince his teenage son that he has been away as a POW. This sequence flits between the outside of the prison and the familiar prison warden expecting Brand’s return, to Percy returning home, to him then inevitability ending up in court when he has once more got caught. Percy does not seem to be a very successful habitual criminal…

However, Percy is made more sympathetic as a character due to his consistent pleas of guilty in the courts, as well as the fact that he partially wants all this money to support his son and make sure he gets the education he wants. (You could do a satiric updating of this film in the UK by having a parent trying to raise money to get their child through university, with the fees as high as they are these days!)

It goes without saying that the judge Colin becomes a marshal to, is the one who has been imprisoning his father so many times over the years . The move to a seaside village for Percy’s attempt at retirement from crime is a good choice; innocent on the surface, but rife with crime underneath in terms of poaching, smuggling and drinking after hours. But of course Percy’s early successes make him take on more than he can handle and his arrest is inevitable. A large proportion of the film is concerned with how he can get his case tried, in front of the familiar judge, without his son finding out. The plans of Percy’s friends are varied and comical and of course never go according to… well plan. The plot of the film is a simple one and is a gentle comedy. I wouldn’t go to this film for nuanced characterisation, nor twists and surprises, but it is a funny enough story. As Moira said in a comment to my review of Hue and Cry, it is a film which can easily be watched whilst doing something else.

Rating: 4/5

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