I've always loved this one, although I'm not expecting other people to agree with me. I find it charming.
What's surprising is how this manages to dodge the Talbot Rothwell bullet. It should be as offensive as anything else he's written. The plot's all about ogling women in swimsuits and it's as hostile towards feminists as At Your Convenience
was towards the trade unions. Nevertheless against the odds it manages not to be one of the misogynistic, creepy or morally repugnant Carry Ons and by accident even finds itself saying interesting things.
None of it's deliberate, of course. Rothwell wouldn't have known subtext if it took a dump on his face. Nevertheless the film he's written is taking a much subtler approach to male-female relationships than it appears. Firstly, the feminists. June Whitfield and her cronies are man-haters who think a public lavatory is sexist and can't even burn a bra without having to be rescued by the fire brigade. Naturally they despise Sid James's idea of a beauty contest. It's war and they're the villains. Nevertheless...
1. They win. James gets his arse kicked by the killjoys and downtrodden women. Whitfield ruins the beauty contest in style, Joan Sims steals all the money and James ends up penniless and being chased out of town.
2. Patsy Rowlands joins them and she's no ideologue. It's simply that she's been driven to it by her husband. Kenneth Connor is a charmless, pompous fool who isn't even satisfying in the bedroom. In fairness Rowlands is hardly a trophy wife either, either in her looks or her manner, but even so this is feminism that's simply the desire to fight back against the unacceptable behaviour of men. (She wins too, by the way, dropping Connor through a trapdoor and so metaphorically dumping her man.)
3. About the beauty contest, Whitfield is right. Of course on one level it's just harmless fun that's hurting no-one, but watch the audience. When the feminists get out the sprinklers, oil and itching powder, the audience's non-stop laughter is almost disturbing. On stage is chaos. People are soaking wet and falling over. You can understand why someone might find this funny, but again and again Gerald Thomas cuts back to the sight of ugly laughter. He does this so much that the scene unwittingly stops being about the women and instead becomes about this herd of men who came to leer and have no emotional connection to the women they're looking at.
4. There's less nudity than usual, even if that's thanks to the BBFC. The Windsor-Nolan bikini catfight was originally more revealing, for instance. The film still has miles of cleavage, yes, but you won't see tits unless you're freeze-framing.
5. The male-female relationships all have subtleties. Thematically the most important is Connor and Rowlands, with their miserable marriage and Connor's pathetic attempts to live up to his perceived status. Importantly neither is the villain. Rowlands is a nightmare too, but she's passive and reactive whereas Connor is actively a dick. However as well as them there's also Bresslaw-Leon, which admittedly has the usual Rothwell message of "the route to domestic happiness and emotional fulfilment is for women to find sex", but still has a jealousy-reversal for Bresslaw and a challenge to nearly all his masculine assumptions. Sid James is an incorrigible old goat and Joan Sims gives him his comeuppance. Hell, there's even repeated table-turning on Peter Butterworth's bottom-pinching geriatric sex pest.
The film's most crucial relationship though is Sid James and Barbara Windsor. For me, this is easily Windsor's best Carry On. I think she's wonderful in it. She's basically a female Sid James, with that braying laughter at anything "saucy", and they're the opposites of both Connor and Whitfield. They never stop laughing, especially at themselves when another character in the same situation would be embarrassed. There's not a speck of pomposity in them and I love the happiness of the ending as they run away together on Windsor's motorbike.
I like all the cast, although it's a shame to be missing Kenneth Williams (doing a play) and Charles Hawtry (sacked). (They were both in line at one point to play the gay TV producer, but it eventually went to Jimmy Logan.) Valerie Leon turns down an opportunity to act and gets away with it. Her character has an emotional journey that she ignores, but despite this she makes it work anyway because she's Valerie Leon and because her self-possession is as always so immaculate that what she creates is indistinguishable from an actress choosing to play against the text. I can't remember Kenneth Connor being funnier, with glorious reactions to his loss of dignity. Sid James's grunting is a joy. Joan Sims is a trooper as always. Joan Hickson is wonderful, even if it's a semi-cameo. Jack Douglas... okay, I don't quite see the point of Jack "twitching" Douglas, but eventually I thawed even to him.
Then there are the girls, who are after all the point of the film. Barbara Windsor doesn't count, but Margaret Nolan's cleavage practically gets star billing and we also have Valerie Leon, Sally Geeson, Wendy Richard and many more. Oooooh. No, I have no shame.
You'll have to turn off your brain for Bernard Bresslaw in drag, though. He's as convincingly female as I am, yet not only does no one suspect him but they later even believe he might have been Valerie Leon. Then there's his height. Bresslaw's more than two metres tall (six foot seven) and everyone must have seen him before in the hotel, yet no one recognises him as a woman of the same height. Oh, and the hotel has a full-length dress in his size. Nevertheless it works because it's funny, especially when Bresslaw's letting his outfit go to his head.
As I said, I find this film charming. It's not the funniest, although it definitely has its moments, but to me it feels happy. Even Whitfield is capable of a softer side, when it comes to her son. I like the characters, I like the warmth and I particularly like the fact that, despite their best efforts, Talbot Rothwell and Gerald Thomas have managed to create a feminist Carry On film about buxom girls in swimsuits.