There are lots of great British comedies from the 50s and 60s but "Two Way Stretch" is amongst my favourite because it is uncomplicated, sharply written and features countless well known faces. There is also the amusement of a group of prisoners who are gaming the system inside and pull the wool over the Governor and chief's eyes. I suppose my love of this comes from growing up watching Ronnie Barker in "Porridge" because this is very much a predecessor of the popular TV comedy.
After almost 3 years inside Dodger, Jelly and Lennie (Peter Sellers, David Lodge and Bernard Cribbins) have it cushy, the milkman sneaks food and drink into them whilst Dodger's attractive girlfriend Ethel (Liz Fraser) distracts the guards on visiting day so that the visitors can pass stuff over the wire to their loved ones. But with just a few days left till their sentences are over they get a visit from Soapy Stevens (Wilfrid Hyde-White), dressed as a vicar who has the perfect crime; the three friends are to break out and pull of a robbery and then return to their cells before anyone notices they are gone. The only trouble is that easy going Chief P.O. Jenkins (George Woodbridge) is retiring and the strict Chief P.O. Crout (Lionel Jeffries) is his replacement.
As I said part of the charm of "Two Way Stretch" is that it is an uncomplicated comedy with no hidden agenda or depth just lots of sharp writing. As such you could say the comedy is three-fold starting with the fun of these prisoners pulling the wool over everyone's eyes, from alcohol hidden in their room, tobacco plants growing in the garden as well as a pet cat called Strangeways. And there is a whole lot more but this then evolves into the next layer of comedy with the wonderful Lionel Jeffries arriving as Chief Crout who barks at everyone like a drill sergeant and takes special interest in making Dodger's life a misery only to end up the butt of the jokes. But then on top of that we have the guys still planning on pulling of the robbery with a perfect alibi. It is so simple but so much fun because all of the gags from Crout falling foul to an explosive prank to the men being as thick as thieves works.
Now much of why it works is down to the writing with there never being a minute which doesn't have the laughs running thick and fast. But it is also the performances with an absolutely brilliant ensemble cast with hilarious performances from the likes of Bernard Cribbins, Liz Fraser, Wilfrid Hyde-White and David Lodge. But "Two Way Stretch" belongs to Peter Sellers who is simply great as the dodgy Dodger but also Lionel Jeffries whose turns as the tough Crout steals many a scene.
What this all boils down to is that "Two Way Stretch" is one of the great British comedies from a bygone era full of sharp writing and a great cast. It has to be said that it is a product of its time with some of the language unacceptable in today's age but otherwise is still a lot of fun for fans of British comedies.