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Early Bird, The (1965)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Early Bird, The (1965)
Directed byRobert Asher
Production CompanyRank Organisation Film Productions Ltd
Produced byHugh Stewart
Screenplay byJack Davies, Norman Wisdom
Director of PhotographyJack Asher
MusicRon Goodwin

Cast: Norman Wisdom (Norman Pitkin), Edward Chapman (Grimsdale), Paddie O'Neil (Mrs Hoskins), Bryan Pringle (Austin), John Le Mesurier (Colonel Foster)

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Norman Pitkin, a milkman, fights to save Grimsdale's Dairy from a ruthless combine's takeover bid.

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Norman Wisdom's films were some of the most profitable in the Rank roster, both domestically and as far afield as Holland, Denmark, India and Persia (now Iran). Wisdom's A Stitch In Time (d. Robert Asher, 1963) had once again broken box office records in London and the provinces, outperforming Rank's major release of 1963, From Russia With Love (d. Terence Young). In view of this continued success, Wisdom demanded greater involvement in the development of future projects, and wished, to some extent, to break away from his established comic style. The Rank Organisation was reluctant to alter what was undeniably a winning formula, and two years of dispute followed before The Early Bird (d. Robert Asher, 1965) was released.

Interestingly, given the suggestion that Wisdom was keen to change his comic approach, the film begins with a brilliantly performed and entirely characteristic extended visual comedy sequence, in which a half-asleep Norman repeatedly tumbles down flights of stairs. Very much in keeping with the Wisdom tradition, and the physical comedy of his variety training ground, this excellent sequence, which is virtually devoid of dialogue, harks back to the days of silent cinema comedy.

The narrative premise of the film, in which a tiny family dairy struggles to survive against the ruthlessness of a corporate milk combine, is an ideal setting for Wisdom's 'little man', Pitkin, who ultimately (but quite accidentally) brings the mighty Consolidated Dairies to the brink of destruction. However, the film is never as funny as it ought to be. Various implausible, over-long comic sequences lack narrative motivation, reason or believability; also there is a over-reliance on contrived, mechanical slapstick, often utilising unconvincing special effects. Such scenes underuse Wisdom's talent.

For all its failings, The Early Bird was another big box-office hit, although The Sun's reviewer called it "the only film I have ever seen which made me feel sympathetic towards monopolies."

Vic Pratt

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Video Clips
1. Lawnmower chase (3:14)
2. Takeover bid (3:45)
3. A peace treaty (1:48)
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Le Mesurier, John (1912-1983)
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Wisdom, Norman (1915-2010)