Pitkin of the Yard
There was a time when I didn't so much not get what was funny about Norman Wisdom but didn't find him that funny but times change and now I just love the comedy of Norman Wisdom. It's easy to not realise what an amazing talent he was because whilst what he did may have looked like simple slapstick he was an artist and every gag, every comical look or prat fall was perfectly timed. In fact when it came to visual humour he was as creative and masterful as Charlie Chaplin and in fact it would be fair to say that Wisdom's style was influenced by the master of the silent screen.
That brings me to "On the Beat" with Norman Wisdom giving us the second outing of the likeable Norman Pitkin. Now "On the Beat" is slim on story there is no denying that but it is chock full of humour with some truly hilarious set pieces which are nicely squeezed in to become part of the movie. Just thinking about a scene where Norman has donned stilts to look bigger for a Police medical and ends up losing one is hilarious with the exaggerated limp of walking on one stilt. It is in truth the gags which make "On the Beat" such a joy to watch and with Wisdom playing two characters you have double the fun.
Norman Pitkin (Norman Wisdom) works at Scotland Yard but not as a policeman just a humble car cleaner a job which leads him in to plenty of trouble. Desperate to follow in his late fathers large footsteps as a policeman Norman ends up putting on his large uniform and after being mistaken for a policeman ends up in even more trouble. But whilst a pain in the neck of senior officers Norman comes in useful as he is a dead ringer for salon owner Giulio Napolitani (Norman Wisdom) who is the suspected mastermind behind a string of robberies and they need Norman to masquerade as the flamboyant Italian to nail him.
It would be fair to say that whilst "On the Beat" gives us two storylines, that of Norman wanting to be a policeman like his late father and then the impersonation of Giulio it is a movie which is all about the comedy. What that means is for the first hour we have the various gags surrounding Norman's desire to be a policeman, such as the Keystone Cop style chase scene where he is imitating one to the already mentioned Police medical on stilts. What makes this so much fun is that all the humour ties in to the storyline and so whilst there are a lot of set piece gags they all expand on Norman's desire to be a cop and the often mistakes he makes which see him getting in trouble like mistakenly having a water fight with the Police Commissioner.
There is of course the other side which unsurprisingly gives us some slapstick confusion comedy when we have Norman imitating Giulio to get information and the real Giulio returning but it is a lot of fun. In fact most of the fun comes from Norman Wisdom playing the flamboyant Giulio and watching him skip and twirl through a room full of clients is not only hilarious but really highlights how talented and artful Norman Wisdom was. It is almost beautiful to watch as he dances almost balletically around the salon chairs and you sort of realise that whilst Norman Wisdom makes it look so easy there was a lot of skill to what he did.
The thing about "On the Beat" is that whilst there are entertaining supporting performances from the likes of Esma Cannon, Eleanor Summerfield, Jennifer Jayne and even a small part for Dilys Laye it is all about Norman Wisdom. But then whilst Wisdom is that star he isn't selfish and anyone who shares a scene with him has there moment to make us laugh.
What this all boils down to is that "On the Beat" is not a great movie, but it is a great example of how talented Norman Wisdom was. He made everything look so effortless and you don't always realise the great skill it took to make it look so easy and natural.