I've seen this called the best of the six Norman Hudis Carry On films. I'll have to rewatch 'Regardless'
to see if I agree, but it's certainly a pretty good one. Hudis's episodic structure feels more natural in a police setting and by Carry On standards this is a landmark cast.
Firstly, let me scream to the skies that we have Sid James. In case any of you missed it, this is Sid James I'm talking about, or in other words, Sid James. That's right, it's Mr Carry On. Everyone loves Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey and the others, but the tent pole of the franchise was always the dissipated walnut. This is his first appearance in the series and it's immediately obvious why they kept him around. He's fantastic! He brings comic weight. He finds reality in even corny dialogue. He takes this film by the scruff of the neck and becomes the star of the show, despite being the straight man. Everyone else gets the gags. He just growls at them and reports to his superior, Inspector Mills.
If one regards this film as a loose remake of Carry On Sergeant
, then he's playing the Hartnell role. Their characters are even serving under the same actor, Eric Barker. Incidentally James was only cast in this film because Ted Ray was under contract to another distributor and there had been a bit of a stink about him appearing in Carry On Teacher
. That's a stroke of luck there. I have nothing against Ray, but James is brilliant. I'm genuinely startled by how much he impressed me.
Of the other actors...
1. This was Leslie Phillips's last Carry On! Well, unless you count Carry On Columbus
. Never again in the series would he and Sid James share the screen together, which in itself makes this a treasure for the ages. Phillips did three of these films at the end of the 1950s and for the rest of his life has never been allowed to forget it. This is of course because he's almost as wonderful as Sid James, although having said that he's not best served here. His girl-chasing is a bit random and undirected this time, although he gets a great scene with Shirley Eaton.
2. There's been a fundamental change with Kenneth Williams. He's still a snooty intellectual, full of theories, but suddenly he's also an imbecile. His character thinks he can tell people's character from their faces, so of course the film mocks him mercilessly. Of course he thinks he's a genius. He's still waltzing around delivering lectures exactly as he's always done, but the script also gives him plenty of opportunities for outrage, misunderstanding, idiocy and all the other things for which we know and love him. Naturally he's all the funnier for it.
3. Joan Sim is short-changed as a super-efficient recruit called Policewoman Passworthy (groan) who can run rings around all her colleagues and yet ends up manning the switchboard. Huh? Hattie Jacques for once gets to be sweet, while this film also marks the first appearances of Esma Cannon and Joan Hickson. Esma's the slightly mad old bat who giggles her way through a few of the early Carry Ons like Charles Hawtrey on stimulants, while Hickson's playing gloriously against type as a flamboyant upper-class drunk. This might be my favourite role of hers, actually.
4. Kenneth Connor as Constable Constable (yes) is another reminder of Carry On Sergeant
, except for being obsessed with bad luck rather than hypochondria. He thinks he's doomed. Everything is an ill omen. He can't make a move on a girl without first checking her star sign. Connor is as endearing as ever in the role, but his character's a complete twonk who furthermore won't shut up. He appears in quite a few scenes and even gets to romance Joan Sim, but the character still feels undercooked and I'm undecided as to why. Option One: maybe an early version of the film contained scenes to explain why Sim goes from "don't even touch me" to "hold me, my darling", and why Connor is so ready to abandon his cherished beliefs without warning at the end of the film. It's clumsy and jarring. I could easily believe that Connor's character had been overdone and so they had to delete scenes which explained these character points.
However exactly the same thing happened in the previous film but with Leslie Phillips, so I'm going to have to come down in favour of Option Two, i.e. the "Norman Hudis was an escaped laboratory rodent with no more clue about screenwriting than about the dark side of Uranus" argument.
Having said that though, I quite liked Hudis's work here. He wouldn't know a plot if it sat on his face and wriggled, but he's good at writing dialogue for Carry On films. He likes wordplay and innuendo. He's also not afraid of shamelessly cheap jokes, even if the result is characters who'll do things that even a five-year-old would have the common sense not to do. When Williams and Hawtrey go undercover in search of shoplifters, why do they do so in drag? Admittedly they're scarily convincing. There's always been something oddly sexless about Kenneth Williams, while a feminine Hawtrey is almost pretty. Nevertheless it's still a moment that pretty much screams out, "I'm a comedy character in a Carry On film."
Furthermore for the first time Hudis has also written an ending. I don't know if someone sat down and explained it to him or if he just realised in the bath one day, but astonishingly for once he doesn't just reach the end by stopping. No, for the first time in this series something happens. Thieves steal £10,000. Can our heroes catch these dastardly villains? To the amazement of all, indeed they can! My amazement, in case you were wondering, comes from the fact that Kenneth Williams, Leslie Phillips, Kenneth Connor and Charles "Schwarzenegger" Hawtrey managed to track down, fight and overpower three big thugs. You wouldn't trust them to take down one little old lady. One of the film's best laughs for me came at the beginning, at the sight of this lot in uniform. Proper police procedure? Don't get me started.
There's even nudity. Yes, in 1960. There's one scene of a girl in her underwear, another of our heroes running naked around the police station and most memorably Shirley Eaton getting out of the bath. We only see her back, but it's still an eyebrow-raiser.
There's also a woman who's lost her pussy. It's called Fluff. Before you ask, the word "pussy" has had a sexual connotation since at least the late 19th century.
This film's rather wonderful in its datedness. Even a robber will wear a smart suit and a hat. However it's ready to go further with its policemen than Carry On Sergeant
was with the army, with our heroes unwittingly helping criminals and a superior officer who's nearly as stupid as everyone else. Eric Barker isn't lumbered with an unnatural speech pattern and works better this time, although I got a feeling in his first scene that Hudis had had something in mind with his characterisation which hadn't come over properly. This film is often ludicrous, but in such a sweetly old-fashioned way that I (mostly) forgave it. It also underplays its inevitable romances, which doesn't really work with Connor and Sims but works like a charm with Sid James and Hattie Jacques. They're lovely together, although any scene at all with those two will be of the highest quality.
The Carry On films don't have a particularly elevated reputation. They're often described as the cinematic equivalent of a naughty seaside postcard. So far I haven't seen a single moment that I'd call intellectually elevated, but I also think it's a series deserving more respect than it gets. These are some of Britain's finest comedians. Watch 'em and learn.