The Long Arm (film)

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

The Long Arm
British film poster
Directed byCharles Frend
Produced byMichael Balcon
Written byRobert Barr
Janet Green
StarringJack Hawkins
Music byGebrend Schurmann
CinematographyGordon Dines
Edited byGordon Stone
Distributed byRank Film Distributors (UK)
Release date
  • 22 June 1956 (1956-06-22) (UK[1])
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

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 allows 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, and all with keys. Visiting the safe maker, Halliday gets the names of all current and former staff, but they are all cleared. When another safe is opened, a bystander is run over by the 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 has been stolen from a Mrs Elliot. Inside they find a newspaper that leads them to a garage in north Wales and to a Mr Gilson, a deceased former employee of the safe maker.

Halliday finds there are 28 further safes in London. He also finds out that the thief is being tipped off as to 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. They tail the insurance agent to a meeting with Mrs Elliot, the woman whose car was stolen. However, she is identified as Mrs Gilson, the wife of the apparently dead safe key maker.

Halliday and Ward deduce that Gilson faked his own death after spending years making duplicate keys (the third key) for all the safes his company produced. Gilson hits Festival Hall but the detectives are waiting. After a short scuffle, 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 arrested and the case is solved.



The film premiered at Gaumont Haymarket in London on 22 June 1956.[1] However the reviewer for The Times was not impressed, and 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. 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 27 December 2009.
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