It's an anniversary compilation of twenty years of Carry On movies, released in cinemas as a supporting feature to the Richard Harris film, Golden Rendezvous. What makes it both good and a bit sad is that it came out to celebrate the good old days, yet at the time the franchise was on its deathbed. They wouldn't Carry On. Carry On England
had been a disaster and this compilation flopped at the box office too. This was the first year since the very beginning in which they didn't release a new original movie, despite having been doing two a year at their height, while the next one would be Carry On Emmannuelle
However the good news is that That's Carry On! is quite good. I laughed. It has two particular virtues:
(a) the cast, which by definition is the greatest Carry On cast ever (i.e. all of them)
(b) the clips are being taken out of context, which in many cases arguably improves them. Carry On movies as a rule didn't tend to go for the kind of intricate, high-quality writing craftsmanship in which even a single missing element will cause the edifice to collapse. No, they went for stereotypes and cheap gags. Lots of them. This film plays almost like a 90-minute trailer for the entire franchise, which works better than you'd think and means you can enjoy funny bits from unpleasant films like Carry On Camping
, Up the Jungle
and Don't Lose Your Head
without the drag factor of their storylines.
Obviously I'm not trying to argue that Follow That Camel
, for instance, aren't brilliant. This compilation isn't a patch on either of those. However just as clearly it's leaving Carry On England
and its ilk in the dust.
The cast is... wow. It's quicker to name the people who aren't here. I didn't spot Jon Pertwee anywhere, although Hartnell rightly makes an appearance, and I'd have liked more of Valerie Leon. However I honestly think that's it, with everything else being gravy. Phil Silvers! Frankie Howerd! Leslie Phillips! I think Howerd had me laughing within five seconds. Often it's not the hardy perennials who were the biggest treat for me, but the guest stars who'd joined the Carry On gang for a film or two. There's Harry H. Corbett, Bernard Cribbins and as mentioned already, William Hartnell. I was particularly tickled to be reunited with some of my favourite lesser lights, people like Esma Cannon and the criminally underrated Rosalind Knight.
Then there's the women. Amanda Barrie in her inspired turn as Cleopatra, Angela Douglas (although her acting's bad even in these selected clips), the mighty Fenella Fielding from Screaming!
, Jacki Piper, Madeline Smith, Elke Sommer... and that's without diving into the cleavage. Imogen Hassall, Valerie Leon and Margaret Nolan. Ahem.
I won't apologise for being shallow, incidentally, because nudity is on the film's mind too. The Carry Ons were sex-mad in the 1970s and this is no exception, with a title sequence that's basically been stitched together from nudity and a lot of later clips chosen for the same reason. Most blatant is the nudist film that Sid James and co. watched at the beginning of Carry On Camping
, which is cringeworthy rather than funny and yet crops up here too. Barbara Windsor repeatedly leaves nothing to the imagination. There's the cat fight from Carry On Girls
in which Margaret Nolan is visibly wobbling out, we see Carry On Camping
's famous "PE instructor" scene once more and Carry On Henry
comes across as basically Sid James: Sex Pest. Obviously I'm a troglodyte who's not about to complain about any of this, but it's still blatant enough to notice and it eats up screen time that could perhaps have been better spent instead making the film funnier.
As an exercise in editing, which is basically what this is, I thought they made the obvious choice. They work through the films in chronological order. There are lots of interesting things they could have done instead, e.g. comparing similar films, following particular actors or even editing a frivolous apparent narrative from unrelated clips... but no, they play it safe. I don't mind, though. It's the natural approach. Each film is represented by clips, like an unusually leisurely trailer. They jiggle the running order to bunch all the black-and-white films together, but otherwise everything's in release order except for the film's bookends. They begin with 13. Don't Lose Your Head
, 14. Follow That Camel
and 15. Doctor
, and then end with 22. At Your Convenience
(eh?) and 16. Up The Khyber
Going through in order...
Follow That Camel
and Carry On Doctor
are made mighty by Phil Silvers and Frankie Howerd. Hawtrey gets a fantastic introduction (as far as this compilation's concerned) in Carry On Nurse
. Rosalind Knight made my day in Carry On Teacher
, then Carry On Regardless
has of course the most famous sequence in the black-and-white Carry Ons (Kenneth Williams and the chimp), not to mention one of the franchise's few classier moments in their rather good Hitchcock parody. Later on we're also treated to the occasionally atmospheric Sergio Leone shoot-out at the end of Carry On Cowboy
, which isn't particularly funny but is still enjoyable anyway.
The girls blow us away in Carry On Cleo
and Carry On Cowboy
. Amanda Barrie is so beautiful that you almost don't notice her acting. Carry On Camping
is interesting when it arrives, though, because it's such a change from everything that went before. You can see why it made such a splash in the Carry On world. Its nudist film and its campsite are grimy, faintly unpleasant and utterly down-to-earth, when the franchise had until then been doing historical epics, cowboy films and Hammer horror.
Being edited down makes the films less offensive. Again Doctor
is far better in this version and comes across as hysterical, despite the fact that I don't particularly like the original. You'd think it was Jim Dale's finest hour. Up the Jungle
gets a similar rocket-propelled boost, although Carry On Loving
still manages to come across as sleazy and unpleasant even in this truncated form. As for Carry On Henry
, that's... ooh, Margaret Nolan. However a couple of the lesser-regarded later films (Matron
) unexpectedly manage to be charming, courtesy of gentle, endearing performances from a lovely Hattie Jacques in the former and Sid James's truly brilliant turn as a vicar in the latter. That's my favourite thing James ever did in a Carry On, that is.
I don't believe I've mentioned the specially-filmed framing story. It's throwaway nonsense with Kenneth Williams (yay) and Barbara Windsor (oh well) in a cinema projection room. I didn't mind it. It's pointless, but inoffensive and has some of Williams's finest mugging.
At the end of the day, there's little reason to watch this when you could be watching the originals... but I rather enjoyed it. Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it's merely a bit silly, or worse, but hey. That's the Carry Ons. I'd have liked to see some unseen footage, though, e.g. material that hadn't made it into the finished films because it had been cut out by the censors. However the important thing is the actors. Isn't it worth it for Joan Hickson and June Whitfield? You'll be reunited with the likes of Roy Castle and Bob Monkhouse and even get an accidental reminder of the almost unknown sixth-stringers as they crop up repeatedly in different films (e.g. Victor Maddern). James, Jacques, Williams, Hawtrey, Bresslaw, Butterworth, Howerd... there's a reason these people got famous. This is an entertaining reminder of that.