Movie Review: Ask a Policeman (1939)

3 Stars
Ask a Policeman (1939)

Ask a Policeman (1939)


Director: Marcel Varnel

Cast: Will Hay, Graham Moffatt, Moore Marriott

Synopsis: Three bumbling village bobbies find their jobs at risk after it comes to light that they’ve failed to make one arrest in more than 10 years.

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Watching Marcel Varnel’s 1939 comedy Ask a Policeman, you have to wonder just how the blundering incompetent Samuel Dudfoot (Will Hay – Old Bones of the River, Hey!Hey! USA!) ever made it to the rank of Sergeant in the first place.   Dudfoot is a man who sees the law as an inconvenience to be ignored, or at least bent to one’s advantage.   He’s assisted by two equally inept constables, the decrepit old Jeremiah Harbottle (Moore Marriott, who, at the time that he made this movie, was one year older than Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt are at the time of writing), and the indolent Albert Brown (Graham Moffatt – Where There’s a Will, Convict 99), who’d rather use the village police car for dates with the girl on whom he is sweet (Glennis Lorimer ) than on official business.   Together, these three have failed to make one arrest in the village of Turn Bottom Round in ten years, five weeks and four days, a record of which Dudfoot seems imprudently proud, until, that is, it comes to the attention of his superiors following a BBC broadcast from the station.   Correctly assuming this lack of arrests to be a result of incompetence on the part of Dudfoot and his men rather than evidence of an uncommonly law-abiding population, a Chief Constable is immediately despatched to the village, only to find himself the victim of a fraudulent speed trap hurriedly devised by Dudfoot and his men when they realise they need to get a few arrests under their belts before the investigating officer arrives.

While most people would agree that  Oh, Mr. Porter features the best of Hay’s work, there’s little doubt that Ask a Policeman, made two years later by many of the same production team, runs it a close second.   The gags flow at a breathless rate, and the hit rate is high, with only a few falling flat, even seventy years later.   There’s a comforting familiarity about the quarrelsome exchanges between Hay and his sidekicks, and an endearing innocence about them, despite their corrupt nature.   Dudfoot and his men are not bad people, they are simply lazy ones who choose the path of least resistance – and, let’s face it, there’s a little bit of that in all of us.

Hay disbanded his screen partnership with Marriott and Moffatt after just six movies, and while it would be nice to have seen them working together more often, we should probably be grateful to Hay for doing so before the quality of their work began to decline.   As it is, they have left us with a body of work of a consistently high quality that few other comedy teams before or since have managed to equal.   If one needed proof that creating a genuinely funny work that will endure for generations is not an easy task, one only has to look at comedy duo Cannon & Ball’s The Boys in Blue, a woeful remake of Ask a Policeman from 1982, which was directed by Val Guest, a co-writer on this movie.   Like so many things in life, it looks easy only because of the hours of hard work and effort of a hugely talented team working at the top of their game.

(Reviewed 7th October 2016)


Ask a Policeman – FULL MOVIE – Will Hay 1939



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