Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Square Peg

I've mentioned British actor Norman Wisdom once, briefly, at least according to a search of the blog. But apparently I haven't done a full-length post on any of his movies. I had The Square Peg on my DVR for a while since TCM showed it last December as part of the looking back at people who died in 2020 -- in this case, actress Honor Blackman. Apparently there's a DVD avaiable of two of Wisdom's movies that includes The Square Peg, so I recently watched it.

Wisdom plays Norman Pitkin, who is the assistant to a surveyor in the British town of St. Godric. There's a military base nearby, as the movie is set during World War II. The town is measuring roads near the base for some reason they claim is of utmost national importance but is never really made clear, and Norman and his boss Grimsdale (Edward Chapman) are pretty meticulous about it. This irritates the base commanders no end. Also getting irritated is Sgt. Loder (Campbell Singer), who has to deal with Norman digging a hole while Loder is trying to drill new recruits, with funny results.

After some thought, the local base comes up with a brilliant idea for getting Norman and Grimsdale out of their hair: have the War Office draft them! Even if they wind up at the local base (which you just know is going to happen), at least they'll be forced to be subservient, and not civilians who can make the army officers' lives miserable. Except that of course this being a Norman Wisdom movie, it's not quite going to work that way. Among other things, Norman meets one of the secretaries in uniform, Lesley Cartland (that's Honor Blackman), and falls in love with her.

Eventually, due to a mix-up, Grimsdale and Norman get sent over to France (before the D-Day invasion) as some others from the base, including Lesley, are part of a mission with the French Resistance. Norman being himself threatens to screw up the mission, until it's discovered that he looks amazingly like the German general Schreiber who is the military commander of the town (of course, this is Wisdom doing a double role).

There's not a whole lot of plot, at least certainly not a deep plot, to The Square Peg, but then, Norman Wisdom movies were less about the plot and more about the humor. The one time I mentioned him here, I mentioned that he's sort of like a British Jerry Lewis, with some of Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean mixed in. Wisdom's character here is not quite as bumbling and manic as something like Lewis' The Errand Boy, but I think the similarity should be noticeable. In any case, the humor mostly works to result in a movie that's more than pleasant enough if not an all-time great by any stretch of the imagination. Hattie Jacques is also fun as a German opera singer.

An interesting bit of trivia that I mentioned the other time I wrote about Norman Wisdom -- indeed, it's why I mentioned him in the first place -- is that he was about the only western actor whose movies were shown in Communist Albania, which was one of the most repressive and isolated of the Eastern European regimes. The story goes that Wisdom's bumbling characters who always seem to get the better of his bosses were viewed by the Communist authorities as a stinging indictment of the capitalist system. Audiences knew better, and Wisdom was a huge success in Albania, even being made honorary Albanian captain for an England-Albania soccer match.

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