Because of my interest in the Rank Organisation, I watched a service comedy tonight from 1958 called “The Square Peg,” starring Norman Wisdom and Honor Blackman. Wisdom stars as Norman Pitman, a British council road builder during World War II who gets drafted into the army. Along the way, he gets to impersonate both a woman and a Nazi general. The film reminded me more of the “Carry On” films than any of the classic British comedies, such as “The Maggie,” from 1954, or “Whiskey Galore,” from 1949 — but it’s better to compare it to “No Time for Sergeants,” an American service comedy with Andy Griffith from 1958.
In a typical service comedy, a sad sack fish out of water frustrates his military superiors, but manages to save the day and win a medal at the end. It seems dated to make fun of the military in this day and age, but with the world at peace in the fifties, moviemakers could afford to have a few laughs at the military’s expense. When Norman Wisdom impersonates a Nazi general, the film becomes a farce, but with nastier Nazis than one might encounter in “Hogen’s Heroes.” The lovely Honor Blackman (a future Bond Girl) plays a spy impersonating a French barmaid. She has always been a good actress.
Although Norman Wisdom starred in numerous films, theater and TV productions, this year’s Oscar telecast did not mention him in the “In Memoriam” segment, even though he died in October 2010. That’s odd because Charlie Chaplin referred to him as his favorite clown, and he became a cult hero in Albania. The UK knighted him in 2000, and he continued working until the age of 90.