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One Good Turn (1954)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of One Good Turn (1954)
35mm, black and white, 94 mins
DirectorJohn Paddy Carstairs
Production CompanyTwo Cities Films
ProducerMaurice Cowan
ScreenplayMaurice Cowan
 John Paddy Carstairs
 Ted Willis
PhotographyJack Cox
MusicJohn Addison

Cast: Norman Wisdom (Norman); Joan Rice (Iris); Shirley Abicair (Mary); Thora Hird (cook); William Russell (Alec Bigley)

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Norman, an orphanage employee, works hard to make enough money to buy one of the children an expensive toy car.

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One Good Turn (d. John Paddy Carstairs, 1954), quickly produced following the massive success of Trouble in Store (d. Carstairs, 1953), sees Norman Wisdom once more adopting the ill-fitting suit and cloth cap of his 'Gump' persona. It features one of the best, and most representative, comic sequences of his film career. Travelling by train, lowly Norman defiantly enters the First Class compartment, attempting to engage its haughty occupants in conversation, inviting them to join him in a sing-song, and offering them swigs from his grimy lemonade bottle. Norman does not understand the social structures that position him beneath the First Class passengers; and this brilliantly funny sequence highlights the stiff-backed absurdity of British manners and class relations.

Problems caused by money and social status, and differing ideas of value and wealth dominate the narrative. Norman struggles to raise money for a toy car for the orphan, Jimmy. Tellingly, by the time he finally manages to buy the toy, the child's attention has already been transferred to an expensive model aeroplane, purchased by Iris, the object of Norman's unrequited love. Clearly of a higher social class than Norman, with a ready supply of cash, she has no idea of the reality of Norman's struggle to earn the money she spends so easily. Conclusively, the toy aeroplane knocks Norman into a puddle; a comic reminder that the class divide between Iris and Norman will forever preclude their romance.

Stalwart character actress Thora Hird and Shirley Abicair, the Australian actress and zither player, provide adequate support; however, Wisdom's greatest screen foil, Jerry Desmonde, does not appear, and thus the film lacks a suitably self-important straight man. There is a heavy reliance on sentiment, and the easy potential of the orphanage setting is relentlessly exploited. However, despite some flat sequences, this film provides further evidence of Wisdom's great talent as a comic performer, and ample explanation of his box-office success.

Vic Pratt

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Video Clips
1. The telephone call (3:32)
2. The orphans' day out (3:20)
3. First class travel (4:06)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Carstairs, John Paddy (1910-1970)
Hird, Thora (1911-2003)
Wisdom, Norman (1915-2010)