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Square Peg, The (1958)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Square Peg, The (1958)
DirectorJohn Paddy Carstairs
Production CompanyRank Film Productions
ProducerHugh Stewart
ScriptJack Davies, Henry Blyth, Norman Wisdom, Eddie Leslie
PhotographyJack Cox
MusicPhilip Green

Cast: Norman Wisdom (Norman Pitkin/General Schreiber), Honor Blackman (Lesley Cartland), Edward Chapman (Mr. Grimsdale), Campbell Singer (Sergeant Loder), Hattie Jacques (Gretchen)

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Road mender Norman Pitkin is conscripted into the army and becomes involved with the Resistance movement in occupied France.

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The Square Peg (d. John Paddy Carstairs, 1958) is perhaps the best of the Wisdom comedies. Well constructed and unsentimental, it features many memorable comic sequences and numerous unexpectedly subtle touches of characterisation.

Wisdom, who was by now more closely involved with the scripting of his films, is at the peak of his powers as Norman Pitkin, an effective refinement of the 'Gump' character, with greater scope for character development. For the first time, Edward Chapman portrays the immortal Mr. Grimsdale, the archetypal pompous, self-made man, here particularly good as the self-important local government official. The well-drawn relationship between the dignified Grimsdale and the uncouth Pitkin is central to the film's success. Pitkin was to strike a chord with international audiences, particularly in Albania, where the leader, Enver Hoxha, decreed that the character, known there as 'Pitkini', was a 'proletarian hero'.

The Square Peg was the last Wisdom film to be directed by John Paddy Carstairs, who, after disagreements with producer Hugh Stewart, had grown tired of working on comedy films. Wisdom's dual role in the film, as both Pitkin and General Schreiber, initially caused dispute with Carstairs, who was convinced that the comedian was unsuitable for what he perceived as a straight role. Ultimately, Carstairs had to accept the casting: Stewart overruled the director.

As shooting progressed, Carstairs acknowledged that Wisdom was excellent in the role of the German General. Indeed, he delivers an unusually understated and restrained comic performance, particularly in the carefully underplayed sequence with the opera singer, Gretchen (brilliantly portrayed by Hattie Jacques), that constitutes the film's comic highlight.

The film was another hit for Wisdom. Its popularity with the public was, to some extent, matched by a grudgingly positive response from the critics. The Sunday Times was forced to call The Square Peg "the best Norman Wisdom film so far: greater range, and the star shedding most of his usual beaming self-approval."

Vic Pratt

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Video Clips
1. Council property (3:07)
2. Marching orders (3:35)
3. Champagne frolics (3:56)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Blackman, Honor (1925-)
Carstairs, John Paddy (1910-1970)
Cox, Jack (1890-1960)
Jacques, Hattie (1922-1980)
Wisdom, Norman (1915-2010)