Much better than I'd expected, actually. I'd remembered this as sleazy and unpleasant, but in fact it's extremely funny with some outstanding scenes. When it's cooking, it's as good as anything in the entire Carry On series and the first one I've really laughed at since Carry On Up The Khyber
. It's just that it's also trying hard to make itself unlikeable.
In case you've forgotten, it's the one with Sid James and Hattie Jacques running the Married Bliss lonely hearts agency. In other words, it's all about sex. This is where the series finally got bored with innuendo and just went all-out for fornication. There's a teenage couple who keep cropping up throughout the film, but they hardly get in a word of dialogue because they're always too busy locking tonsils. Almost the entire plot is about sex. People are trying to shag other people and we're supposed to think this is hilarious. Oddly enough though, I wouldn't call it a filthy film. There's nothing actually offensive about it. Despite appearances it's respecting the institution of marriage and I don't think anyone has sex in any scene in the film, although obviously there's plenty going on offstage.
The bits in which the film's trying to make you dislike it are surprisingly few, actually. The problem is that they're far more prominent than they deserve to be, since those are how it both starts and finishes. The film's sex obsession is at its most tiresome at the beginning. Look, those two teenagers are kissing! Look, the word "sex" is written on the side of that bus! Look, no jokes! Then at the other end of the film, the finale is an uncomfortable, mean-spirited scene in which everyone seems to hate everyone else and Sid James in particular does some unpleasant things to Hattie Jacques. At first it's a posh dinner. In the end it's a food fight, with everyone thinking it hilarious when their loved ones get splattered. I see the message Talbot Rothwell's trying to send, about marriage not being simply a "happily ever after" (especially for James and Jacques), but I still think you could do that in an audience-friendly way by cutting everything but the first and last twenty seconds of the finale. Jump straight from the posh champagne toast to chaos. That would be funny.
You could do a fan edit of this film that was five minutes shorter and a thousand times more enjoyable. It wouldn't even be difficult. Just cut the snogging teenagers, 90% of the finale and as much as possible of people interrupting Terry Scott and Imogen Hassall on the sofa. Hmmmm. On further thought I'd also take the axe to Kenneth Williams's introductory scene, although unfortunately you couldn't delete it outright because we need to understand that he's a marriage counsellor who knows nothing about marriage counselling. You know, I'm getting enthusiastic about this idea. There's an outstanding Carry On film in here and it's mostly isolated scenes that are dragging it down.
So what's good about it, then?
Firstly, it's got a huge cast. You've got people like Joan Hickson and Peter Butterworth turning up for a single scene and being brilliant. The mummified old biddies in Hickson's front parlour are a scream. Hattie Jacques is back, which is a cause for dancing in the streets, and she's sharing scenes with Sid James, Charles Hawtrey and Kenneth Williams. Do I need to say any more? Hawtrey's got a lovely little role as a detective, but furthermore the Jacques-Williams scenes here are the best in the series. It's deliberately reminding you of their recurring relationship in the medical Carry Ons, except that here we have far more story layers and some fairly complicated character relationships and motivations. The Carry On films aren't usually about pure farce, but there's an example of that here in their ill-fated dinner with Patsy Rowlands being the funniest she's ever been and Sims, James and Bresslaw all later getting in on the act.
The young(er) men aren't particularly standing out, but I don't mind them. Terry Scott's fine. Bernard Bresslaw's overacting again, but at least he's got an entertaining role. Richard O'Callaghan's wet but likeable... hang on, who's he? Never heard of him. Looking him up, it seems he did two Carry On films, the other being Carry On At Your Convenience
, in a career that didn't set the world alight but is nonetheless still going today. He played the Creator in Red Dwarf: Back to Earth
The women though are amazing. Jacki Piper has never been more adorable, lifting the film to be lighter and more charming whenever she's on screen with O'Callaghan. Significantly the two of them become infinitely funnier once their scenes have stopped being sexual. Meanwhile the likeable Imogen Hassall is living up to her nickname of the Countess of Cleavage, although it's a shame about her suicide in 1980. Yutte Stensgaard was also going to be in it, but her scenes were cut.
It has gay subtext! This clearly wasn't deliberate and it would have been negligible if the actors in question weren't Williams and Hawtrey, but they are. The lesser bit of this involves Hawtry putting on a disguise and following a man into a public toilet, after which he peeps under the cubicle doors, sees sexual activity and gets arrested by a policeman. Yes, he was being tricked by Sid James. Admittedly the Sexual Offences Act had decriminalised homosexuality three years earlier in England and Wales, but the imagery's unmistakable. However that's just a throwaway. Much more central is the conceptual joke of Kenneth Williams getting married, despite him being such an old queen that it hasn't occurred to him that the woman might be expecting intercourse. In a film full of uncontrolled sex maniacs, Williams is like a new-born lamb, blind to what's in front of him until it's far too late. It's one of his best Carry On roles, despite an annoying first scene. Some of his reactions are priceless. What I particularly like about it though is the way Gerald Thomas isn't consciously going for the gay angle. I don't remember the Carry On films ever noticing that kind of thing, thank goodness. Kenneth Williams isn't funny because he's homosexual, but simply because he's Kenneth Williams.
On the downside though, there's that aforementioned Scott-Hassall scene. It doesn't make sense! You'd expect Hassall to take Scott into the privacy of her room, instead of trying to canoodle in the living room she shares with two other flatmates. Sure enough, they get interrupted by lots of people and so never manage to have sex. That's the joke. Talbot Rothwell would appear to have thought this was funny.
Sid James's "computer system" was a prop from the TV series "UFO" (1970), by the way.
This is a bizarrely uneven film, even for the Carry Ons. Sometimes it's up there with the best in the series, but I've spent thirty years thinking it was cheap and nasty. Even today, I couldn't enjoy the finale. Sid James's character is as sex-mad as he's ever been and not particularly likeable, although you've got to admire how James plays the scene of pouring water on himself. However even the snogging teenagers once got a laugh from me, while Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams are tearing down the barricades. Some of their lines are to die for. This is the film where Jacques describes James as a dissipated walnut, you know.
Impressive cleavage, too.