It's the wee small hours of the morning, and dawn is just about to break, but for the milkmen of Grimsdale's the day is only beginning. Well, not so much milkmen as milkman, because they are a small business and their sole employee is Norman Pitkin (Norman Wisdom), who trails up and down their ten streets dutifully supplying the residents with their two pints daily. Of course, to get to that stage he has to get up out of bed, and he, Mr Grimsdale (Edward Chapman) and their housekeeper Miss Hoskins (Paddie O'Neill) have a hard time staying bright when they're up with the lark. However, a takeover bid by Consolidated Dairies is quite the thing to sharpen the wits...
For his first film in colour, Norman Wisdom didn't alter his tried and tested formula much, co-writing the script with Jack Davies to stick to the little man against the world motif that had served him so well. But there is a sign of moving with the times, perhaps not as drastic as his sex comedy What's Good for the Goose a few short years later, but more agreeable in that it presented the tide of progress as something that should not wash away the smaller concerns, such as a small milk delivery business. The big corporation planning to oust them are portrayed as nothing but bad, so we know we're on Norman's side all the way.
Once the plot is established, after a lengthy introduction that sees the Grimsdale establishment struggling to wake up and falling down stairs and blowing up the bathroom in the process, the film settles down into a series of comic setpieces. To make Norman look like a saint, Consolidated behave abominably to reinforce the sense of him facing the bullies, so the large rival smashes all the Grimsdale bottles that are lying out on the customer's steps thanks to boo-hiss company milkman Bryan Pringle's deviousness. There then occurs a spaghetti western-style encounter in the street where Norman confronts him and ends up with a feeble explanation (the cats did it) and a few slaps round the chops for his trouble.
Of course, all this stuff with putting out the bottles to be refilled every morning seems like ancient history now, but does lend a quaint air of yesteryear to The Early Bird. And in spite of what the critics said, Wisdom could be quite inventive with his big moments, such as the sequence where he goes to visit the area manager of Consolidated, Mr Hunter (frequent Wisdom stooge Jerry Desmonde), at his mansion and ends up destroying his garden and his car with a runaway lanwmower - the model work here is of Thunderbirds quality. Unlike other Wisdom efforts, sentiment is not allowed to dominate, and the slapstick thankfully lacks the cruelty that took the humorous edge from a lot of his work.
That's not to say there is not any schmaltz at all, as Norman's attachment to his horse Nellie provides a would-be tearjerking moment or two, especially when Mr Grimsdale orders her to be taken to the old horse's home and retired, but the comedy almost reaches a surreal level when the evil milkman gives them doped apples to eat. Norman and Mr Grimsdale each help themselves then give the rest to Nellie, whereupon they begin to freak out (Miss Hoskins' clacking knitting needles being the main trigger for this). On discovering the horse is sick, the doctor is phoned but he thinks Norman is talking about a person so the beast ends up being taken to bed with a hot water bottle. Much of the broad hijinks stays on the right side of ridiculous, and everyone who has seen this will recall Norman inadvertently destroying Consolidated with a hosepipe and a smoke machine. Wisdom has always divided audiences, but he's pretty good in this one. Music by Ron Goodwin.