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  On the Beat Call The Cops
Year: 1962
Director: Robert Asher
Stars: Norman Wisdom, Jennifer Jayne, Raymond Huntley, David Lodge, Esma Cannon, Eric Barker, Eleanor Summerfield, Ronnie Stevens, Terence Alexander, Maurice Kaufmann, Dilys Laye, George Pastell, Jack Watson, Campbell Singer, Lionel Murton, Robert Rietty
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: There is a siege going on and only one man can solve it: Norman Pitkin (Norman Wisdom), a superb police officer who has the criminals cowering before him. He arrives at the scene and grabs a megaphone off one of the policemen, then gives the gun-wielding bad guys an ultimatum: if they don't come out in sixteen seconds, he's going in after them. The lead hoodlum tosses a grenade at Pitkin, but even that does not faze the man, though it does ruin his clothes when it goes off, and so, true to his word, he advances on the building, ready for anything aimed at him...

If this sounds like the start of a Clint Eastwood movie about ten years before such things were trendsetters, then not to worry, as here it's presented as so ridiculous it must be a dream, which is what it turns out to be. But Norman does have his heart set on joining the force, except there's a problem in that he's barely five feet tall, and therefore will not meet the minimum height requirement, so he cannot follow in his father's footsteps as he's always wanted to do. That this script was co-written by star Wisdom makes this plot point notable because if there was one thing his real father was not, it was someone worth looking up to.

But really it's the usual innocently anti-authoritarian stuff from Wisdom, not through the lead character's design but more through him inadvertently making a mess of things wherever he goes. By 1962, his screen persona was firmly established, and making box office tills ring around the world; the critics may have hated his movies - some of his reviews were scathingly, unnecessarily harsh in their vitriol - but the public would not listen, and at his height Wisdom's works were more successful that the contemporary James Bond series. It's easy to see the appeal as they were uncomplicated and exuberant, with one purpose in mind.

Which was to make you laugh, and for many that's precisely what they did. On the Beat saw him taking on a new profession (there seemed to be a different one every outing), which was the police, something the great silent comedians had done as Norman followed in their footsteps. There's a lengthy sequence halfway through which looked to have been explicitly paying tribute to Buster Keaton and his classic short Cops where Norman, dressed in his late father's uniform, accidentally blows his whistle while refereeing a kids' football match and sets about fifty constables racing around the streets searching for the source of the problem. Needless to say, they end up chasing our hero before long.

Although at times the film resembles a series of themed sketches, there is a story to this, and it involves that old comedy favourite, the comedian's exact double. In this case, Pitkin's spit and image is ladies' hairdressing salon owner Giulio Napolitani, who happens to be eavesdropping on his rich clients so as to work out where to stage his gang's next robbery - this offers Wisdom the chance to put on an outrageously affected accent and prance about in a ludicrous approximation of how Brits saw the Italians. You'd be forgiven for forgetting about this part of the plot after it's introduced early on, because for a long period afterwards we concentrate on Pitkin's failure to better his position as Scotland Yard car park attendant.

Backing up Wisdom were a selection of reliables, filling the straight man role admirably in the face of such escalating nonsense. There's a five minute scene where Norman tries to pass for seven foot tall with the aid of stilts, and goes for a medical with doctor Eric Barker, which the two comedians play off each other expertly, leading to one of the funniest, if not the funniest, parts of the film, a splendid mixture of slapstick and verbal silliness that only the stoniest-hearted would not laugh at. There is a romantic angle too, as there often was in these efforts, where Italian Rosanna (Jennifer Jayne), trying to get out of marrying Napolitani, finds herself in the arms of Pitkin, but even this does not get as sentimental as the star could be prone to. What On the Beat really needed was a great payoff, as it amounts to a slightly anticlimactic runaround for its finale, but there was enough brightness to enjoy here nevertheless. Music by Philip Green, with a nice trad jazz theme.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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