Not merely bad, but insulting to boot. This is why some people dislike Carry On films. The first hour is easily at Carry On Columbus
level, if not worse, which I believe is the internationally agreed benchmark for "speed-written garbage so obviously shoddy that you'd think it was written by schoolboys". This isn't just another bad film, though. On the contrary, going Up The Jungle has taken us past an unpleasant milestone. We're in the 1970s now and the franchise is officially now on the slide. That's not to say that they're all worthless from now on, but never before have they felt this tediously and unimaginatively sexual. They're determined to have nudity. The dialogue at times is like a porn film. Goodness knows I'm no fan of Carry On Camping
, but at least that felt like a proper movie that happened to contain unpleasant sex-obsessed characters, whereas here those adjectives apply to the movie itself. This is not work of a professional standard. Instead it feels cheap and amateurish and not in a good way.
In case you were wondering, I don't like it.
With one minor exception, nothing happens in the first hour. It's like bad television. It's an hour of filler, basically, in which the characters have nothing to do and the film's wasting time on stuff that doesn't matter until the scriptwriter can be bothered to think up some plot. No one does anything except talk about sex, make jokes about sex and act like fourteen-year-olds because they can't stop thinking about sex. Theoretically they're in the African jungle to go birdwatching (Howerd, Connor) and look for long-lost sons (Sims), but neither of those goals take up more than sixty seconds' screen time. Instead we have the men spying on Joan Sims in the shower (oh, the hilarity) and a night-time game of musical tents in which everyone thinks everyone's someone else. The only surprise is that there isn't a vicar. There's also a comedy gorilla, played by a man in a gorilla costume. Imagine the Carry On team on the run from a pantomime horse and you'll have a fair idea of how convincing this looks.
Oh, and it isn't even particularly dark in the "stranger in my tent" scenes, despite the fact that the actors are manfully pretending not to know who's sitting in front of them. Sims must have been clinically blind not to be able to identify Connor, for instance. Talbot Rothwell's script is terrible, yes, but Gerald Thomas's direction is hardly rescuing it.
The only story element of any interest in this first hour is Terry Scott's parody of Tarzan. He's fun. He's also the most important role in the movie, which would have been called Carry On Tarzan if it hadn't been for Edgar Rice Burroughs Properties and those pesky copyright laws. Admittedly you'd be best advised to watch George of the Jungle at least twenty times before even thinking about putting this on, but with Brendan Fraser at least you don't have the visual incongruity of a tubby man in his forties running around the jungle in a loincloth. The part was originally offered to Jim Dale, by the way, who'd have been good too. Pseudo-Tarzan is that minor plot exception I was talking about earlier, with the qualification of "minor" being because he only ever talks to Jacki Piper. Nonetheless his scenes are as juvenile as everyone else's and often involve his ignorance of the fact that women have breasts, despite the fact that also living in his jungle are: (a) African tribes, and (b) a village of bikini-clad women ruled by Valerie Leon.
Incidentally the similarities between this film and George of the Jungle are stronger than you'd think, with both of them having a cute girl, comedy Africans, a man in a gorilla suit and a hero who swings smack into trees. The difference of course is that that film's awesome.
What saves it is the performances. This is a memorable cast even by Carry On standards, with Kenneth Connor returning for the first time since 1964 and Frankie Howerd doing one of what's shockingly only two Carry On films he ever did, if you don't count a Christmas TV special. Like Bernard Cribbins, he's one of those people you'd assume had been in almost all of them, although in fairness you could hardly fit a cigarette paper between this and Up Pompeii. Those two are magnificent. Connor isn't the name that first springs to mind with the Carry Ons, but he and Howerd are hamming it up so magnificently that they'd make me laugh even when the script was giving them nothing at all. Thus they actually work better together here than Joan Sims and even the mighty Sid James, despite the fact that those are better actors. I was impressed by the whole cast, actually. Bresslaw's okay, if you can stomach the fact that he's in blackface. Charles Hawtrey gets one of his better roles, Valerie Leon has become capable of line delivery and Jacki Piper is cute, likeable and a better actress than predecessors like Angela Douglas or Barbara Windsor. You can see why she became a Carry On regular.
Anyway, that first hour is worthless. It's not bad enough to make you want to kill Gerald Thomas, but it's certainly bad enough to be embarrassing if someone tried to watch it with you. However the last half-hour is almost action-packed. This contains all the stuff you remember, such as Piper and Scott's language lessons that always end in sex and the village of beautiful bikini-clad jungle savages from Aphrodisia who need men for sex. You might have noticed a theme there. It's just as puerile as the first hour had been, but more watchable thanks to Valerie Leon's cleavage... um, no, I mean a story in which stuff's happening. It may be immature, stupid and openly celebrating its own ridiculousness, but that just means we're back on familiar Carry On territory. By the time you reach the end of the film, you'll probably be back in the swing of things and will have forgotten how poor the first hour was. The twist with Charles Hawtrey and the film's final shot with Terry Scott's treehouse are good, anyway. That doesn't mean it's not wildly flawed, though:
1 - It makes absolutely no sense. I realise we're talking about a Carry On film in which African wildlife is being represented by panto costumes and a runaway Muppet, but even so I'm talking about industrial-grade gibberish here. You could fly the Andromeda galaxy through these plot holes. Gerald Thomas would probably say that that's the point. Terry Scott (aged 43) was lost as a baby twenty years ago on the honeymoon of his parents Joan Sims (aged 40) and spoiler (aged 56). The inhabitants of this jungle variously speak English, some native language and no language at all. Sid James falls over whenever he shoots his rifle, which I suspect was meant to be funny. The women of Aphrodisia have had thousands of daughters over the past century but never any sons, for no given reason except that Talbot Rothwell wants to rehash 1950s SF cliches via the Hammer Slave Girl genre (One Million Years BC, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, etc.)
2 - Next, the racism. I realise that's a strong word for such a harmless, good-natured series, but I'm tempted to go that far. I didn't mind Bernard Bresslaw blacking up for 'Follow That Camel'
and 'Up The Khyber'
, but that had hardly been a tan and he hadn't been standing next to black actors at the time. Africans apparently aren't human for plot purposes, with Terry Scott not having noticed their women and Valerie Leon taking no interest in their men even when she raids their village. Black characters get shot and speared to death and we're supposed to find this funny, although that's not uncharacteristic given the Carry Ons' long-standing and slightly disturbing callous streak. However there are two bright spots in all this. The first is when a tribal raiding party see Terry Scott in woman's underwear and fall about laughing, which for a moment allows them to be people with their own viewpoints and reactions. The second is the extraordinary lengths Bernard Bresslaw went to in order to be authentic. Rothwell just wrote nonsense for the lines in native language, but Bresslaw had the relevant parts of his dialogue translated into Ndebele and delivered them as such, even though the actors playing Africans were really from the West Indies and couldn't understand it. Sid James recognised it though, being from South Africa.
3 - As for the sexism... hmmm, is it actually sexist? The women are more intelligent, powerful and mature than the men, after all. However it's equally hard to see this as a blow for feminism when the movie's so obviously leering over Joan Sims topless in the shower, Jacki Piper doing her bit for wet T-shirt contests and Valerie Leon apparently smuggling zeppelins down her bra. I'd be a liar if I claimed to be objecting, though. The Lubba Dubba women are absolutely stunning, unless you're only interested in Caucasian blondes. Even in the scene where we're supposedly looking at three ugly women, I rather fancied the one on the right.
4 - More fundamentally, this is a teenage sex comedy whose stars are in their fifties. If you made this film today, it would be American Pie or something. However this is 1970 and James, Howerd, Hawtrey and Connor were all born in 1913-17. Terry Scott is the youngster! Admittedly the women are nearer to what you'd expect, but even then there's Joan Sims.
I'll confess that I've gone overboard a bit on this one. As I've said, the plot injection of the last half-hour means it doesn't seem so bad by the time you've reached the end. I did laugh sometimes, mostly due to Howerd or Connor, but there are also some good scripted bits like the snake scene. The dinner in the jungle with dinner jackets, candlestick, silverware and a waiter is also so mad that it's wonderful. At the end of the day, you could give this cast a telephone directory and they'd still make you laugh with it. Nevertheless that first hour is shocking and the remaining thirty minutes are hardly Oscar Wilde. Go on, watch this thing and count how many gags or story situations there are in nearly the first fifteen minutes, if you don't count innuendo. (Hint: none.) Admittedly I hadn't remembered this as being one of my favourite Carry Ons, but never did I expect anything this lazy and shoddy. In some ways it's probably better than I've painted it, but in several major ones it's exactly that horrible.