I wasn't particularly keen on this one. It's perfectly functional and stars all the usual favourites, but for some reason it rubbed me up the wrong way.
Basically I don't much like the characters. For starters, the men are vaguely unpleasant. Our hero is Doctor Nookey, played by Jim Dale in his last Carry On film until 'Columbus'
, and he's an immature man-child with a reputation for having sex with lots of different people. Admittedly he's still Jim Dale and thus inherently sweet and endearing, but to get there we're having to see past the character's childish attitude towards women. You've got to admire the actor's energy though. The faces he makes on drinking surgical alcohol... wow. Apparently Dale did all his own stunts and at one point was taken to hospital for emergency surgery after hitting his arm on a trolley, only to turn up for filming as usual the next day and fall through a wooden floor on a hammock.
Meanwhile his superiors at the hospital are Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey, both of whom are snide and vaguely villainous. In fairness Hawtrey's being his usual twittering self and is thus basically inoffensive, but even so he's perfectly capable of spiking the drinks at a party out of random mischief. He's the one dressing up in drag this time and he's arguably more convincing as a woman than as a man. Williams though comes across as sneering and unnecessarily sexist, even by Carry On standards.
The only male character I actually liked was of course Sid James, despite the fact that he's as unrepentant a crook as any of them. For a while I was worried that he wasn't going to appear, but sure enough he eventually shows up on a tropical island as a man with some peculiar native customs and no first-hand experience of the outside world. I think the character's meant to be from an ethnic minority, but James isn't worrying about trivia like that. You can laugh, but I think we can count ourselves lucky there. Imagine how it would have played today if he'd been wearing blackface and doing a Pakistani accent. Anyway, Sid James is the best thing in the film and despite appearances not quite doing his usual schtick because of his character's unique value system. He pays cabbies in cigarettes and thinks larger women are attractive, e.g. Hattie Jacques.
The important women are Barbara Windsor and Joan Sims. I quite liked Windsor this time. She's being cheeky and fun again rather than annoying, but on the downside her character's pestering Jim Dale to marry her and yet stonewalling him on anything that even looks as if it might lead to bedroom action. The film just about gets away with this, but only because Dale's character's an even bigger twat. Windsor's also wearing a grey beehive wig that hedgehogs could nest in. Meanwhile Sims is looking to pack people off to an appalling foreign country that's infested with Sid James. Neither of these character traits are innately endearing, but on top of that for some reason the film appears to be trying to exploit them as ill-chosen sex objects. We first meet Windsor in a stripper's outfit in which we're told she'd been modelling, then later we see her naked head-to-toe from behind. In neither case is this particularly pleasant to look at. However at least we'd been given warning from other Carry On films to expect this, whereas I don't think anyone could have predicted that Sims (born 1930) might have been about to strip down to her corset and knickers, then further. Fifteen minutes later, it occurred to me that maybe they'd meant that to be sexy.
Yes, the babe factor's low in this one. Valerie Leon gets a scene (yes!) with dialogue (no!), but somehow they manage to make even the mighty Leon's cleavage look unappealing. Look at those ribs. Add in the Carry On debut of Patsy Rowlands, aka. the boot-faced one, and... yes, I think I've just killed any chance of any woman talking to me again.
There are a few noteworthy cameos, though. Peter Butterworth gets a quick scene, Shakira Caine (i.e. future wife of Michael) gets to stand there and look pretty and Wilfrid Brambell (i.e. Albert Steptoe) does his only Carry On film and gets all of about thirty seconds on-screen, although they play the Steptoe and Son theme tune for him.
Obviously it's the latest of the medical Carry Ons, as is indicated in the title. Williams, Jacques and Dale are playing more or less the same roles as before, but the niftiest bit of casting continuity is Harry Locke. He did three Carry On films and in all three of them he played hospital staff. He's a porter in Nurse (1959)
, an orderly in Doctor (1967)
and the man at reception here. It's just a shame they couldn't squeeze him into Carry On Matron
. It gave me a bit of an old-school buzz to see him, actually. Oddly though it's not very similar to its predecessors at all, mostly abandoning the hospital setting halfway through in favour of tropical islands, expensive private clinics and so on. We meet a few patients, but none of them amount to anything more than a cameo. Everything's about the doctors and their shenanigans this time.
Overall, this didn't hit the spot for me. It's okay, but we're talking about something that's fundamentally no more than passable and only sometimes manages good bits. The Sid James subplot is great, although I could have lived without that prank he plays with his medicines at the end. Hattie Jacques is shamefully underused, but any Jacques at all is better than nothing. Sid James is as good as everything else put together, Hawtrey has some funny moments and I'm in awe of Dale's energy. He made me laugh in his opening scene, at least. I should also mention that the film actually has a plot, which is a nice surprise even if it ends a bit abruptly, but I think my main objection is that it's another Carry On with morality that I find slightly distasteful. It's nowhere near as bad as 'Camping'
, but I can't see myself rewatching it any time soon either.