1939.Director:Marcel Varnel. Producer:Edward Black.
Sreenplay:Val Guest ~Marriott Edgar & J.O.C.Orton
Editor:R.E.Dearing ~ Story:Sidney Gilliat.
Art Direction:Vetchinsky. Cutting:Alfred Roome
Musical Direction:Louis Levy.
A Gainsborough-Gaumont British Picture.83mins
Ask a Policeman, next to Oh,Mr Porter! as to be one of Will Hay's lasting contributions to the British comedy archive. Again we see the partnership of Hay with Moffatt and Marriot, who once again are in top form. This film as the dialogue provided by the magnificent writing team of Val Guest, Marriot Edgar and Joe Orton. The plot moves along at great pace and as wonderful set pieces that unfold at breathtaking regularity. One thing that strikes you about this film is it's total disrespect of the police force, which shows another Hay touch, of his ridiculing of authority figures or anything establishment.
The policestation at Turnbotham Round is a totally inefficient corrupt unit with Hay's character of Sergeant Dudfoot at the helm. Dudfoot has been in charge of the station for 10 years,5 weeks and 4 days and the village as had no crime for 10 years, 5 weeks and 4 days, so because of this failure to make any arrests they are deemed to be inefficient and are threatened with transfers to another district or a possibility of retirement. Harbottle quips 'I don't want to retire, least not till I'm a old man' 'Blimey! you're ten years older than the pyramids now, so shut up' remarks a indignant Hay.
The boys are driven to invent a crime or two in order to justify their positions. In one incident we find the trio trying to capture speeding motorists in a restricted area. They flag down a motorist and accuse him of doing 60mph when in reality he was only doing 20mph. Hay confronts the motorist. 'You did the measured mark in 25 seconds' 'so what of it, that's only 20mph ' insists the motorist 'Ah, but yes, 20mph each, there are three of us, thats 60mph!' Hay asks for the man's driving licence. 'I haven't got one' 'Well let me see your insurance certificate' asks Hay. 'I'm not insured' 'You mean you have'nt got a license or insurance?' 'no' is the motorist's reply. 'Well it's a lucky thing for you young man, you've just saved your bacon' 'you mean I can go?' asks the relieved motorist 'Well I can't endorse your licence if you haven't got one can I? Next time make sure you bring one with you!!'
In desperation they are ready to throw the book at the very next motorist. They arrest him after a mammoth struggle and knock him unconscious with the 30mph road sign. With the motorist safely locked in the police cells Hay asks Albert if he searched him. Albert replies 'One pocket book, One watch, One pen-knife and no money' 'One penknife and no what?' quizzes Hay. 'no money' ....'Come on, turn out your pockets' demands Hay 'Oh, alright, One pen-knife and 15 bob!' 'Blimey! will you never learn to be honest' chastises Hay. 'he is as much our prisoner as he is yours ...here are 5 bob each'
The prisoner turns out to be the Chief Constable. They fix it so it looks like the Chief has had a accident by way of Albert crashing his car into a shop window, hoping that when the Chief comes round from his unconscious state that he won't remember a thing about his fracas with the trio. Unfortunately he remembers everything and does not believe our trio's story until the local squire appears on the scene and sides with Hay & co and points out that he saw the Chief have his accident, so the Chief as no alternative but to reluctantly believe the story.
They try to come up with some ideas so they can make arrests to please the Chief Constable. 'What we've go to do is arrest some famous criminal. What criminals are there?' asks Hay to Harbottle, who quick as a flash replies 'Guy Fawkes.' Hay pauses for a while before replying 'He's dead! anyway he wasn't a criminal. He invented fireworks!' They eventually come up with the idea to invent a smuggling ring but unbeknown to them it is happening already and the police cellar is being used to stash contraband liquor. Unwittingly they let one of the smugglers put a light on the police station tower which acts as a steering light for the smugglers. It eventualy dawns on our hapless duo that the tower is being used by the smugglers but Hay refuses to arrest the culprit as it would mean that the authorities would find out that his station has been sending out the lighted signal. His only thought is to plant the light on to somebody else in the vicinity!
We see the appearance of the phantom hearse with it's headless driver which provides Harbottle with the immortal lines 'It's the phantom hearse I tell you, those are the phantom flames, look at the drivers head!' 'What's the matter with his head?' 'He 'aint got one!' The film comes to its climax with the trio chasing the smugglers who just happen to be led by the local squire. They drive head on into the smugglers lorry with a double decker bus that they commandeered, and stop them making their getaway. The Chief Constable remembering his ordeal at Turnbotham Round calls for our trio's arrest as well as the smugglers. Hay is having none of it and discharges a loaded right hand into the direction of the Chief's face landing a scoring punch which floors him and leaves him out for the count and along with Albert and Harbottle Hay makes good his escape.