I've never really liked this one. I can appreciate how remarkable it is by Carry On standards and I can see all the laudable things it's doing, but somehow it rubs me up the wrong way. You see, it wasn't a Carry On film until the last minute. Talbot Rothwell had adapted a stage play into a film called Call Me A Cab, but Anglo Amalgamated were so pleased with the results that they changed its name to be their latest Carry On movie and Rothwell ended up being the regular series writer for the next decade.
The results are something that's characteristic of neither the Hudis Carry Ons or indeed all the scripts Rothwell would write for the series once he knew what he was writing for. It has a plot. It's about something. It has a social realism that you won't find anywhere else in the series, with Sid James's taxi company being vulnerable to business competition, obstructive unions and unsociable working hours. He tries to help out other ex-soldiers by giving them work, which miraculously justifies his hiring of Charles Hawtrey but also acknowledges that times could be hard. His wife's at the end of her tether because she hardly ever sees him. This may be a comedy, but it's revolving around a marriage being strained almost to breaking point.
Unfortunately there lies my problem. This story had some amazing potential. It's taking a hard look at the conflicts that arise between men and women, which in the film's second half escalate into rival taxi companies. Sid James's drivers are men. Hattie Jacques's Glamcabs employs gorgeous women in revealing uniforms. You can see where this is going. Sure enough the business conflict soon gets nasty, with the men trying all kinds of dirty tricks to undermine their rivals while the women simply listen in and pass on the information.
Furthermore the film's first half is great. You can see things falling apart for Sid and Hattie, who play their relationship surprisingly straight. They're lovely together, actually. You really want to see how things are going to turn out... but then Glamcabs starts up and things get ugly. The film remains funny, but underneath the jollity it's pretty brutal if you see it as a metaphor for the battle between the sexes. There's some delightful "taste of your own medicine" role-reversal, but towards the end we briefly see that Sid's been driven to drink and has basically given up. This is powerful stuff. If they'd given this the ending it deserved, we'd have had something memorable here. Unfortunately it's resolved with a monumental script handwave as thieves try to rob Glamcabs and the men stop them. The end. No, really. That's it. No one apologises for anything. Sid James remains exactly the same as he's always been, except that he learns that Hattie's pregnant.
Yes, I realise that I'm complaining about the sexual politics in a Carry On film. I am officially an idiot. Nevertheless this movie leaves a slightly bad taste in my mouth in a way I don't get with their more obviously sexist films. Sid James is charming and funny, but he only ever apologises on a surface level and he's as sexist and bloody-minded as any sixties authority figure. He doesn't listen to his wife, even when she's trying to confess all. He lives for his work. He's to blame for his own problems, having driven his wife to these extremes by consistently giving her the lowest available priority. However does he realise this? Does he learn anything? Don't be silly. He's the man! After all, this is 1963. No, it's Hattie who keeps having crises of conscience and has to be reassured by her Glamcab co-workers that she's doing the right thing.
Maybe I'm taking it too seriously. A lot of people obviously think so. It's a popular entry in the series and the filmmakers themselves clearly see it as a happy romp. Assuming you can put aside all these considerations and merely take it as a fun runaround, what about the actors?
Sid James remains colossal, although I'd have been happier if he'd put more into the scene where he finds out what Hattie's been up to. Well, perhaps that would have jarred with the remainder of the film. Other men include the stalwart Kenneth Connor, a suddenly heterosexual Charles Hawtrey, the new lad Jim Dale and (both for the last time, in small roles) Bill Owen and Cyril Chamberlain. Meanwhile a chap called Peter Gilmore makes the first of what would be many Carry On appearances for him. However Kenneth Williams for the first time is absent, having passed because he didn't like the script.
Turning to the women, the ever-magnificent Hattie Jacques steals the show from even Sid James. It's strange to see her with a lower-class accent. My heart went out to her when they gave her a fat joke, though. Esma Cannon makes her final appearance (sob), but on the upside we have Liz Fraser and making her debut the delicious Amanda Barrie. It's worth watching the film just for her. No Joan Sims again, mind you.
One curiosity is that in the same year Sid James would also play London cabby Sid Stone in a twelve-part BBC TV series called Taxi! (1963-64), also starring Bill Owen and Ray Brooks.
Overall, this is a film I respect more than I like. I admire what it's doing, but I think it chickens out from giving its story the correct ending, perhaps because they simply didn't think of it. It's very 1963, after all. Instead we just get a big plot convenience. One might also point out that Sid James's character is theoretically drunk throughout the entire climax, including the bit where he drives a taxi himself. However I'm sure many viewers won't have all these issues with the film and will instead see it as a lovely black-and-white comedy with a surprisingly strong story and lots of their favourite actors.