Happily it's the last Norman Hudis Carry On. I don't mind the chap, but he'd basically written the same film six times and it's good to know we'll soon be in for a better class of smut. Of course there's absolutely no plot... well, maybe that's not fair. There is perhaps something approximating to a story in the form of the love lives of Dilys Laye and Kenneth Connor. We're on a cruise liner on the Mediterranean, but for Laye it's more than just a holiday. She's husband-hunting. Of course this doesn't give rise to any kind of character development or plot progression, but at least these are a couple of characters with clear goals. For Norman Hudis, that's like a lost Shakespeare.
Meanwhile yet again we're following the misadventures of new recruits trying to impress a weary authority figure, the long-suffering Sid James. At one point he's thrown into confusion when Dilys Laye throws herself at him. Eh? James manages to pull the scene off, but it's hardly in character for the lecherous old bugger. Well, I suppose they hadn't quite finalised his Carry On persona yet, although as a screen performer he's in such complete command at all times that one wonders if he could get away with anything. Yet again he's the best thing in the film and the main reason to watch it, although that's certainly not to say that the rest of the cast are negligible. Going through them in order of how much they impressed me...
1. Esma Cannon. How much do I love Esma Cannon? Why didn't she do more of these films? Because of her, we don't even notice the lack of Hattie Jacques, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Hickson et al. Here she's as dotty as she'd ever be, playing a holidaymaker so chirpily excitable that at times she seems barely sentient. See how much impact she can make even with little or no dialogue, for instance.
2. Dilys Laye, who's surprisingly good. She did a few Carry Ons, but she was never a first-tier regular and only got this role as a last-minute replacement for Joan Sims. Nevertheless she gets a lot to do here and really goes for it.
3. It's taken him a while, but at last Kenneth Williams is almost there. The script hasn't forgotten that he's the clever-clogs, but his performance is at last everything we know and love. Nostrils, braying laugh, wildly misplaced dignity and a willingness to make a complete idiot of himself. He doesn't get as much material to work with this time, but he's still fun to watch anyway.
4. Lance Percival. Who? This was his only Carry On, but he's in quite a few 1970s British comedy films, especially those with nudity. Up Pompeii and its regrettable sequels, a Confessions film, Rosie Dixon: Night Nurse... okay, not all of that's recommendable, but I like him as a performer. In addition he was in Twice Round the Daffodils, which was the Carry On team's more serious attempt at the play which they'd turned into Carry On Nurse
. Here he plays a ship's cook and does rather well, although unfortunately he's lumbered with a scene towards the end that makes no sense at all and makes use of racial stereotyping. It's small potatoes for 1962, but a little uncomfortable to watch today.
A separate problem is that the scene makes his character look like a idiot. This is a professional chef who puts all kinds of ridiculous ingredients into a cake that will clearly turn out to be inedible, yet he thinks it's going to be a culinary masterpiece. He doesn't even boil the spaghetti!
5. Kenneth Connor. Everyone always forgets Kenneth Connor. He never built himself an iconic screen persona the way the others did, but he's likeable enough and does everything the film asks of him. It's easy to see why they kept asking him back, anyway.
6. Everyone else. Anton Rodgers is in there somewhere, although I didn't notice him. Whoops, forgot Liz Fraser. She does well. A chap called Jimmy Thompson gets no laughs but is rather sweet as the ship's barman, while you can also spot old-time series regulars like Cyril Chamberlain and Ed Devereaux. They're a pleasant bunch. It's always nice to spend time with them, even if the story isn't up to much.
Oh, and trust me. It isn't. This script makes no sense. Carry On films are hardly known for gritty realism, but what we have here is outright idiot plotting. I've already mentioned Percival's cake-making, but earlier in the film his character had already gone into the doctor's surgery and swallowed three unknown pills the size of his fist. He didn't know what they were. He'd gone in looking for the ones he'd taken previously and just assumed that these other ones would do instead. Meanwhile Liz Fraser's attempted seduction of Kenneth Connor is even more absurd. She's doing it for a reason, but nine times out of ten her strategy would have backfired with Connor's character forgotting any thought of Dilys Laye. Imagine a 1962 Liz Fraser all over you. Nice, isn't it? Even the visual continuity is off, if you watch the flower vase into which Sid James is pouring the alcohol in the drink-mixing scene.
Oh, and we learn at the beginning that Sid James is in line for promotion to captain of a new Atlantic liner, only at the end of the film to turn it down because he loves his crew. How many times did Norman Hudis use that plot device? Was it 10000000000000 or only 9999999999999?
In fairness, the film's going for something slightly different in the form of embarrassment comedy. Lots of it. Norman Hudis has discovered "woman throwing herself at a man" gags, which I must admit had me cringing at times. In a good way, I hasten to say. I cringe at Fawlty Towers too. Kenneth Connor gets to be an idiot too. It's not my favourite kind of comedy, but I can't fault the playing from the actors involved.
Overall, this is one of the weaker Carry Ons but at least it's amiable and perhaps a bit better-looking than usual. It's the first in colour and was produced with the help of P & O Orient Lines. There would have undoubtedly been more bikini-clad sunbathers had the film been made ten years later, but Dilys Laye and Liz Fraser still get to dress up in bathing suits, underwear and even belly dancers' outfits. I've even read that Laye got to keep most of her costumes. I bet she liked that. Frankly this isn't a particularly good film, but it's floating on enough Carry On formula that I still managed to find it endearing. For a start, I think I'd enjoy almost anything if it starred Sid James.