The Bulldog Breed (1960)

screenshot from The Bulldog Breed

Directed by: Robert Asher
Screenwriter(s): Henry Blyth, Norman Wisdom, Jack Davies
Starring: Norman Wisdom, Ian Hunter, David Lodge, Robert Urquhart, Edward Chapman, John Le Mesurier, Liz Fraser, Johnny Briggs
Genre: Comedy
Country: UK
Running time: 1h 37m
Rating: 4 out of 10

Norman Wisdom was consistently in the top ten of UK box-office stars from 1953 to 1966 during which period he starred in a series of ‘little man against the world’ films for the Rank Organisation. Usually critically panned, but watched in droves by the public, Wisdom’s films were akin to those of America’s Jerry Lewis, and centred on a hapless character called Norman Pitkin. The Wisdom character was always an absolute buffoon who slapsticks his way to a happy ending, and often with Mr Grimsdale, his boss, as the antagonist.

The films were relatively cheap to make – Wisdom’s salary aside – and were popular across a number of global markets, most famously Albania, where the dictator Enver Hoxha viewed Wisdom’s output as parables of about the strengths of communism (workers versus the elites) and thus Wisdom became one of the very few western stars whose movies were shown there.

Like Jerry Lewis, Wisdom was (and is) a very Marmite proposition: it’s either your sort of thing or it’s very much not. Also, like Lewis, he was not known as a likeable man, to put it mildly. Michael Caine only had a couple of days’ work on this movie, appearing as an extra with his friend Oliver Reed, but the memory of how badly Wisdom treated the cast and crew obviously stuck with him, as he has mentioned it several times in interviews as one of his worst filming experiences because of the star’s behaviour.

Here, Wisdom plays Norman Puckle, a grocery delivery boy who is bad at his job and unhappy in love. There’s no Mr Grimsdale character. Having been spurned by the girl he admires, Marlene (Peggy Barlow), he fails to commit suicide in several ways (hanging just causes his ceiling to collapse, he manages to get dragged behind a boat when he tries to drown himself with an anchor, etc) and is saved on his final attempt by a passing sailor who persuades him to join the Navy, as that’s a great way to get girls all around the world. Despite being as useless at being a sailor as he was at suicide, Norman is picked by Admiral Sir Bryanston Blyth (Hunter) who wants an entirely ordinary sailor, their very newest recruit, to be trained for a very special mission – being the first man in space!

Norman goes on to fail 'hilariously' at a number of tasks, including sailing, diving and mountain climbing, but still manages to get into space, romance a girl at the NAAFI (the ever-dependable Liz Fraser, above) and save the day for everyone.

It is fair to say that I very much fall into the ‘hate him’ camp with Norman Wisdom and only watched this in my desire to be a Michael Caine completist. Whether you enjoy the film or not depends on your tolerance of Wisdom’s style of comedy, but it’s an undemanding entry in his body of work with solid support from a range of familiar British TV and film faces.


Screenshot of Michael Caine in The Bulldog Breed
Screenshot of Oliver Reed in The Bulldog Breed

Sir Michael Caine appears some 9 minutes in as a sailor involved in a fight at the cinema, where some teddy boys are picking on Norman. It's his only on-screen appearance with his friend, Sir Oliver Reed.