Friday, 4 April 2014

Oh, Norman!

Have you ever wondered what Norman Wisdom's arse looks like? Want to see him frugging and fugging along to a group called The Electric Banana (The Pretty Things) in a swinging nightclub called The Screaming Apple? Check. Want to see him dressed as Austin Powers? Check. Want to see him cop up with a promiscuous dolly bird half his age? Check. And you want to see all of this take place against a backdrop of swinging Southport? KER-CHING! 'What's Good For The Goose' has it all, and so much more besides.

Little Norman plays Timothy Bartlett, a London assistant bank manager who has a home in the suburbs, a wife, three kids and a tank full of tropical fish. He seems to like the fish best, perhaps because they're the most exotic thing in his life. When his boss dies suddenly, Timothy is expected to attend the annual conference at the Grand Hotel in Southport (it must be a fairly minor bank, there's only about ten of them there). Before he even gets there he has been accosted by two teenage hitch-hikers who spend the drive down messing about with his bowler hat, eating his sandwiches, licking his fingers and getting him done for speeding. He takes a shine to Nikki (Sally Geeson, in her film debut), especially when she shoves her bare leg inbetween his and pumps his accelerator.

When they get to Southport, they go their separate ways but Timothy finds himself thinking about Nikki throughout the day. In the evening, bored by the load of bankers he's supposed to be socialising with, he goes out to find her, eventually walking voluntarily into a psychedelic seaside world of free love, loud music, double whiskies and dancing like a monkey on a psychotropic banana diet. Little Norman looks so small and sweet and old as he jigs and jumps about, but then his most endearing qualities were always his total enthusiasm and the physical abandon he brought to every task. Nikki can't help but be impressed by Timothy's sudden dedication to the cause of 'in' and the fact that he has a hotel room rather than a sleeping bag under the pier, so she decides to go back with him and, after quite a lot of unfunny messing about, including a flash of the Wisdom pubes, they finally have sex. Probably: we don't see any of that, it's not quite that sort of film.

The following day, Norman claims to be ill so he can spend the day with Nikki. They do pretty much everything Southport has to offer, from amusement rides to having it off on the sands to skinny dipping (cue arse). The whole sequence seems to prove what I had surmised it would be like to have an affair with a much younger woman: exciting, but extremely tiring. Give me a woman who appreciates the value of a sit down and a nice cup of tea any day. Timothy thinks it's love, of course, and goes out and buys a load of mod gear and rents a flat for him and Nikki to live in, only for him to quickly realise that the free and easy attitude to sex that led her to sleep with him also means that she will sleep with others. Crushed, he calls his wife and asks her to join him.

When Mrs. Bartlett arrives he basically takes her through a whirlwind induction to what's happening, baby, kitting her out in hot pants and groovy sunglasses and doing all the things he did with Nikki (although the pants stay on during the swimming this time, which is a relief). His wife is, of course, pretty surprised at his behaviour but strangely unsuspicious. Timothy's a lot more fun this way, and Mrs. B scrubs up pretty well, so they're both happy. As they head home, it's clear that life will go on in much the same way for them, but with far more sex and a hipper wardrobe. Result!

'What's Good For the Goose' is a fairly harmless film, although a moderately more explicit version was released on (ulp) 'The Continent'. Much of its appeal, of course, depends on whether you like Norman Wisdom or not. Personally, I think he's great, although I prefer him with his kit on. Already playing against type as a banker, Norman goes fairly off piste here, although he does it in his usual guileless, gormless, 'gumpy' way. It takes him literally five minutes to decide to cheat on his wife, for instance, but he never comes across as immoral or self-serving - it's just Little Norman getting his end away and, as long as most of it is left to the imagination, who could object to that?*

* The British public objected to it. Norman didn't appear in another feature film for 21 years.

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