At its best, for me it's one of the funniest Carry Ons. It's also patchy and occasionally disturbing, mind you.
Carry On At Your Convenience
had failed at the box office, so here they returned to the proven formula of a hospital setting. At first glance this might look like the fourth in a sub-series with Carry On Nurse
and ...Again Doctor
. That's true after a fashion, but to me it feels very different to them. It's a maternity hospital. No one's sick. Instead they're pregnant. Thus the patients are almost irrelevant, with only Joan Sims getting any real screen time. Admittedly there are a few cameos from the usual dolly birds, but ironically we probably spend more time with anxious fathers-to-be in the waiting room.
What it does have is a huge cast. The only big name who's missing is Peter Butterworth, if you don't count Jim Dale (who'd quit). Carry On Abroad
's the only one to match its line-up of eleven... Joan Sims, Kenneth Williams, Barbara Windsor, Terry Scott, Kenneth Connor, Hattie Jacques, Bernard Bresslaw, Patsy Rowlands, Sid James, Jack Douglas and Charles Hawtrey. That's got to be worth a look, right? Scott and Piper make their last appearances here, but it's Douglas's debut. He's the spasming weird one credited as Twitching Father, who wants to phone the Guinness Book of Records. Incidentally Scott hadn't fallen out with Gerald Thomas or anything, but was about to spend nearly fifteen years starring opposite June Whitfield in Happy Ever After and its subsequent near-clone Terry and June.
That's a lot of old favourites to enjoy. There are few things better in cinema than the sight of Charles Hawtrey, for instance. Unfortunately for a while this makes the plot feel a bit random and pointless, but eventually Talbot Rothwell digs up comedy gold and gives Kenneth Williams the greatest overacting opportunity of his Carry On career. I couldn't get enough of him, especially opposite Hattie Jacques. It's ludicrous material, but not half as much so as his performance. I honestly don't think any script could have matched him.
Of the others, Hawtrey is of course delightful. Hattie Jacques finds more warmth and humanity in her little smiles than everyone else in the film put together. Joan Sims is a trooper. Kenneth Connor is giving it everything as always and yet never really struck me as funny, which is something I tend to get from him.
Sid James is in a slightly atypical role, mind you. He's the villain. By this I don't just mean a dubious protagonist, e.g. Carry On Henry
, but instead a thief who's planning to rob the hospital. His gang of four includes Kenneth Cope and Bernard Bresslaw, both of whom are well-meaning and likeable, and Bill Maynard, who's actually a bit scary. Admittedly Sid James is still his usual cheeky self and the film unfortunately can't bring itself to have anything bad happen to him, but even so this is far removed from his usual (supposedly) lovable antics. His gang's going around hitting people on the head and blowing up doors with dynamite.
I'm ambivalent about the script, though. Firstly, even for a Carry On film it's silly. Kenneth Cope spends most of the film pretending to be a nurse and no one suspects that he's a man, despite the fact that he's disguising neither his face nor even his voice. Barbara Windsor only guesses the truth when she sees he's wearing striped underwear. Eh? You're going to have to run that by me again. Meanwhile Kenneth Williams's character believes absurdities that a four-year-old wouldn't swallow, after which his seduction technique has to be seen to believed. If I hadn't just seen Williams do it, I'd have never believed that it would be possible to sell that dialogue.
Secondly, it's kind of disturbing. I like Talbot Rothwell, but he gives me the creeps. Even leaving aside the morality of letting Sid James go free at the end because he's a lad, there's the problem of Terry Scott's character. He's a sex pest, exploiting his position of authority as a doctor. Today, he'd be arrested. You could make a case in court that his scenes with Kenneth Cope are attempted rape. Fortunately we're being expected to disapprove of his behaviour and the film is planning to humiliate him for it, e.g. a syringe up his bottom... but he still made me uncomfortable. In Rothwell-land, he's a comedy buffoon. In the 21st century, he's a near-rapist. Paradoxically I did sometimes find him funny, but I also strongly disliked his presence in the film and wanted to see him sent to prison for longer than Sid James. I'd also note that every man making sexual advances in this film expresses himself in language that Viz's Sid the Sexist might blanch at. "Peremptory" doesn't begin to cover it. Even the romantic bit where Kenneth Cope kisses Barbara Windsor is caveman-like.
However as I'm a hypocrite, I'll note that the Carry On girls are pretty and not infrequently seen in their underwear and/or the bath. (It's a 1970s Carry On film, ergo tits.) As well as Piper and Windsor, we have Valerie Leon, Margaret Nolan, Wendy Richard and Madeline Smith.
I have problems with this film, but they're not movie-killers. It's not actually offensive. This series can do far, far worse. At the end of the day, Gerald Thomas gets away with it. Despite myself, for instance, I laughed at Terry Scott's character. Sid James is Sid James, not to mention at one point impersonating all nationalities simultaneously in a beard and moustache that turns him into Fernando Rey. At its worst, the movie's passable. However at its best, it made me laugh more than almost any other film in the series. Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques. Wow.