That was a nasty little surprise. Everyone seems to think Carry On Camping is one of the great Carry On classics, but I found it unpleasant.
Oh, it made me laugh from time to time. Charles Hawtrey and Hattie Jacques in particular managed to get giggles out of me even when I wasn't enjoying the film. The actors aren't the problem here. No, what I object to is the script, which struck me as mean-spirited, dishonest and morally bankrupt.
The biggest problem is the Sid James character. I adore Sid James, but this film made me want to push him under a bus. He's been going out with Joan Sims for three months and there's been no bedroom action yet, so to get her in the mood he's dragging them along to watch dirty movies and trying to manipulate them into staying at a naturist resort. That's not the repellent bit, by the way. That's merely stupid and unbelievable, since it's impossible to believe that he wouldn't have been dumped on the spot and perhaps physically assaulted if he'd successfully got them to that naturist resort. Joan Sims knows what he's up to and thinks it's disgusting. The only mood his plans were going to get her into was a homicidal one.
No, the distasteful stuff involves a bunch of schoolgirls turning up at the camp site and James trying to shag Barbara Windsor behind Sims's back. Worse still is that he's dragging Bernard Bresslaw along with him, since Bresslaw's playing a gentle giant who's genuinely fond of Dilys Laye, but hardly the world's greatest thinker. It's a fantastic role for him, by the way. He's not much of an actor and he'd been downright embarrassing as a violent revolutionary in 'Follow That Camel'
and 'Up The Khyber'
, but here he's relatively natural and charming. Unfortunately his character spends the whole film following Sid James in all things, so when James turns into (more of) a skirt-chasing sleazebag, Bresslaw does the same. I'd have felt a bit easier about this had Bresslaw ever chosen to show a twinge of conscience, but if you're looking for that kind of subtlety then you've chosen the wrong actor.
Does the script think this is in any way reprehensible? Not on your nelly. His reward is for Joan Sims to agree out of nowhere to shag him, for no reason I could see beyond the fact that it was the end of the film. She'd been angry and hostile almost non-stop throughout the preceding ninety minutes, while James had been hiding his evil intentions about as well as a three-year-old who's seen chocolate. A film with even a speck of honesty towards its characters would have ended with Sims breaking a bottle in James's face.
This amorality extends, although more forgiveably, to Terry Scott. The mitigating factor is that his wife Betty Marsden is ghastly. The horrors and humiliations heaped on him are so extreme that they're the interesting part of the film. Scott's misery would bear comparison with a character from Pinter if it wasn't being played for comedy. There's something horrible and disturbingly truthful about Marsden's steamrollering of his desire to go abroad on the grounds that "you wouldn't like it there", not to mention her having a laugh that would turn a husband's hair white. Spouses have been murdered for less. However the script's resolution of it all is for Terry Scott to shag a stranger. This gives him the courage to stand up to her, you see. Adultery: the answer to all your problems! In fairness it could be argued that there's almost nothing Scott's character couldn't have done that wouldn't have been justified on some level, but in the context of this film I'm slightly queasy about Scott's reaction to an offer of sex. Yes, I realise that the Carry On films have always been filthy-minded, but I don't remember one before ever assuming that all men will always want to have sex with all women, even if they already have a partner. It made me feel uncomfortable afterwards to go through to the bedroom and wake up my wife.
Even Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams are a little uncomfortable to watch. They're simply reprising their Carry On Doctor characters, with Jacques being called "Matron" and Williams playing another doctor despite the fact that they appear to be in charge of a girls' school, not a hospital. Jacques even has a scene in which she explains that she used to be the matron of a hospital and was enamoured of a doctor there who looked like Kenneth Williams, which I believe makes this the only direct sequel in all the Carry Ons. This is of course a classic partnership, possibly the most iconic in the Carry Ons, but there's something rather nasty about Williams's incessant references to Hattie Jacques being old, fat and unattractive. He can't shut up about it, even to her face. Eventually I was wincing, although that old trooper Jacques was still making me laugh out loud anyway.
Then you've got the finale, in which our heroes break up a hippy party in the next field. Frankly I didn't see the problem. The hippies look great, with real 1969 flower power outfits, but their rave is hilariously crap. The shooting took place in November (why?) and the ground was so muddy that the production team were having to paint it green, so the rave is basically extras dying of exposure in a field. A band is playing, but they're inoffensive. Nevertheless our heroes take it on themselves to drag people away with a tractor, blow up the band's instruments and spray everyone with what I think was liquid fertiliser. What a bunch of bastards. It's a laugh to see Sid James and Bernard Bresslaw's flower power disguises, but otherwise I was repelled by this mean-spirited incident.
Even by Carry On standards, this film is sex-mad. Talbot Rothwell's having an innuendo overload, while there's an dumper truck of nudity at the beginning (the nudist film) and of course the famous bra-popping scene. It's not actually funny, but we do glimpse Windsor's right nipple. Still more sordid is the shower scene later on, which is similar to the one from Porky's except that here: (a) you don't see anything, (b) Sid James is nearly sixty, not sixteen, and (c) there's no gag even half as brave as a man's dick nearly getting pulled through a wall by a fat ugly woman. You can't say they didn't have the opportunity. Hattie Jacques would have had me crying with laughter..
Oh, and apparently Sid James's dirty film isn't George Harrison Marks's Naked As Nature Intended (1961), despite the narration encouraging me to think so. Instead it's Nudist Paradise (1958). Now you know.
Nevertheless the weird thing is that Carry On Camping seems to be regarded as one of the classics. I can't even imagine laughing at Sid James's antics here, but it seems I've been outvoted. It was the highest grossing film in the UK in 1968, beating even 'Up The Khyber'
, with people literally queueing around the block to see it. In fairness, it is an energetic vehicle for some of Britain's all-time greatest comic performers, which furthermore has no shame. I can see how that might have been an attraction. Besides, I'm sure children and other moral degenerates wouldn't have a problem with any of the issues I've been talking about. One might perhaps choose to read it as merely another example of men making themselves look like idiots over sex.
Maybe Talbot Rothwell was having marriage difficulties or something?
There's still lots of good stuff here, though. It's quite a packed cast and you're almost guaranteed to find some of your favourites here. Peter Butterworth is a joy as the dodgy campsite owner, there can never be enough of Hattie Jacques and Charles Hawtrey is as always inimitable. Meanwhile Dilys Laye does her last Carry On, while Betty Marsden makes a rare appearance in the series and makes you wish she'd done more. The actors are doing their honest best with the material and are sometimes even charming, for instance with Bernard Bresslaw having to lift Dilys Laye into the air to be able to kiss her. I don't even know why I laughed at that. Occasionally I was even entertained by Sid James. ("Can I help it if they're always standing where I'm staring?")
However on the downside, we have Barbara Windsor. Normally I like her, but here she was annoying the dickens out of me with a shrill, braying, pantomime performance. She's not even pleasant to look at, despite the fact that she's being cast in these films as the sex-bomb tomboy. For heaven's sake, woman, don't wear that swimsuit. It's doing nothing for you.
I was astonished not to like this film. My memories of it had all been positive. It also has some excellent bits and lots of actors I really admire (plus Bresslaw and Windsor). However the moral tone is unpleasant and all too often I don't even believe what I'm seeing. The cast do things that no one would ever do, both on a character level and on the basic one of "you're putting up a tent and you don't appear to be mentally handicapped". The majority vote would seem to disagree with me, but I disliked this one.