The Long Arm (film)

The Long Arm

British film poster
Directed by Charles Frend
Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by Robert Barr
Janet Green
Starring Jack Hawkins
Music by Gebrend Schurmann
Cinematography Gordon Dines
Edited by Gordon Stone
Distributed by Rank Film Distributors (UK)
Release dates
  • 22 June 1956 (1956-06-22) (UK[1])
Running time
96 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Long Arm (USA: The Third Key) is a 1956 British police procedural crime film starring Jack Hawkins. The film, which is based on a screenplay by Robert Barr, was directed by Charles Frend and produced by Michael Balcon. It was shot on location in London and Snowdonia in North Wales.

Two years later Hawkins would reprise a similar role in John Ford's Gideon's Day, a film based on the books of John Creasey.


When police respond to a burglar alarm they find nothing amiss after meeting the nightwatchman who allowed them to search the premises. However the next day the safe, having been opened with a key, is found empty. Supt Tom Halliday (Jack Hawkins) and his new Detective Sergeant, Ward (John Stratton), begin searching for the fraudulent nightwatchman.

Halliday deduces that the false nightwatchman has committed 14 safe-breaking jobs across the country, all against the same type of safe, all with keys. Visiting the safe maker, Halliday gets the names of all the staff, but they are all cleared. Shortly after another safe is cracked and a bystander is run over as the burglar gets into a getaway car. The victim manages to pass limited information to the police before dying. The hit-and-run vehicle is found in a scrap yard. The car had been stolen from a Mrs Elliot and inside they find a newspaper that leads them to a garage in north Wales and a certain Mr Gilson, a deceased former employee of the safe maker.

Halliday finds there are 28 further safes in London. He also finds out that Gilson is being tipped off which safes have a lot of cash in them by an insurance agent. The police arrange with the owner of a safe in the Festival Hall to let the insurance agent know about gala nights that generate a lot of cash. After tailing the insurance agent, the police find that he is meeting Mrs Elliot, and then get her positively identified as Mrs Gilson, the wife of the apparently dead safe key maker.

Halliday and Ward deduce that the man faked his own death after spending years making duplicate keys (the third key) for all the safes his company produced. Both detectives then lie in wait for the safe burglar at the Festival Hall, and catch him in the act. As they wait for a police car outside, Mrs Gilson arrives in a sports car. Halliday jumps on the bonnet and breaks the windscreen as Ward chases down Gilson on foot. Both are caught and arrested.



The film premiered at Gaumont Haymarket in London on 22 June 1956.[1] However the reviewer for The Times was not impressed because they found the story implausible and "not quite clever enough" even though it used a documentary filming style.[2] It won the Silver Bear for an Outstanding Single Achievement award at the 6th Berlin International Film Festival.[3]


  1. 1 2 The Times, 22 June 1956, page 2: First advert for The Long Arm, running at Gaumont Haymarket; found in The Times Digital Archive 2014-06-24
  2. The Times, 25 June 1956, page 12: The Arts; found in The Times Digital Archive 2014-06-24
  3. "6th Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners". Retrieved 2009-12-27.
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