I'd never seen this before. All the other Carry On films have been repeated on TV so often that they're effectively carved into our brains, but not Emmannuelle. Maybe it's just because it's a higher certificate than the others and unsuitable for small children? Or else maybe the TV channels shunned it as the ugly death-rattle of the franchise, with a reputation to make your hair fall out? It didn't so much flop as self-destruct. It killed the Carry On movies for twelve years, until (shudder) Columbus
I'd been looking forward to a train wreck, but in fact it's schizophrenic rather than rubbish. In specific ways, I even think it's good.
It's ostensibly a parody of the French erotic movie series Emmanuelle, but with an extra "N". Some have assumed this is for copyright reasons, but I think they just couldn't spell. There's also nothing here that feels like a parody of any French films, instead just giving the impression of a rather timid would-be sex comedy that doesn't dare go as far as the Confessions series. There are plot similarities, but that's all. It's a Carry On film, basically. It's got Carry On actors in it and the franchise's usual sniggering approach to sex... or at least it would have had, if it weren't for Suzanne Danielle.
Wow, she's odd. She's not actually bad as such, but she's missing the point. Carry On films are comedies, yet Danielle is playing it dead straight. This is distracting. In some ways it arguably improves the movie, lifting it above the level Gerald Thomas was aiming for, but it's still weird to see what's essentially a straight Emmanuelle movie with lots of Carry On cameos in it.
That cast though is impressive. As with Columbus
, they're bending over backwards to avoid "doing an England
" and so have rounded up as many old favourites as they can. Obviously some of the biggest names were unavailable (e.g. dead), but we still have Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Jack Douglas, Joan Sims and Peter Butterworth. There are blasts from the past like Eric Barker and Victor Maddern.
Best of all though is the incomparable Beryl Reid, tragically doing her only Carry On despite also having starred in the likes of The Belles of St. Trinian's, No Sex Please: We're British, The Benny Hill Show and The Goodies. This wasn't even her worst British sex comedy of 1978, since she was also in Rosie Dixon - Night Nurse. She's playing it relatively straight as well, but she still made me laugh. She's playing the peculiar mother of a peculiar son, who in any other Carry On film would just be another hen-pecked mother's boy but here the two of them seem almost scary. There's something incestuous about that relationship. They're not having sex with each other, but they behave almost as if they are. It's a layer of somewhat disturbing realism where you'd be expecting the usual bubbleheaded Carry On formula. I liked that.
The returning regulars are a mixed bag. Williams is the only one with a meaningful role, but he hated the script and only did it after rewrites and being given his highest ever fee. His performance is okay, but I'm afraid we see him naked. He's like a corpse in the desert that's been staked out for the buzzards. Connor is playing a leering sexist and so is unlikeable in a bad way, but he had no way out of that one without playing against the script. Jack Douglas is playing it dead straight and does very well. I was surprised. Sims and Butterworth are wasted, though. They tried to get Barbara Windsor too, but the filming dates clashed with a holiday she'd booked.
Throughout, there's a tension between the traditional Carry On film it's trying to be and the straight Emmanuelle movie this actually is. The latter is eccentric, but sort of works. The former is both intermittent and terrible. It's not funny. Sometimes that's because Danielle isn't even looking for the comedy in her scenes, but just as often it's because the Carry On approach to sex is a toxic blight on cinema that couldn't make you laugh if it sprayed you with nitrous oxide. They think sex is hilarious. That's it. They don't think they need jokes. Sometimes this will make you cringe, as in the various bits of the film where I lost patience and hit the fast-forward button. Occasionally (Connor) it's offensive. However quite often it's merely a "this is what on Earth we call humour" moment, in which you marvel at the 1970s and give thanks for the invention of political correctness.
Worst is the Pakistani immigration officer at the beginning. Unbelievable. You'll want to hurt the entire decade after watching that scene, then later they do another character with a similarly outrageous accent. Also what the hell is an "Arabian ambassador" supposed to be? There's no single country called Arabia.
However despite these not insigificant obstacles, the movie is charming. Suzanne Danielle loves her husband. She's all over Kenneth Williams at every opportunity and it's not her fault that he's ascetic even by Williams's standards. There's no implication that he is or might be gay, but I think that might have been a performance choice since the script has him watching muscleman videos and delivering the following line of dialogue. "I can't straighten anything. I'm completely bent."
Danielle has thus become a man-eater, spreading her legs for anything in trousers, but this never shakes her devotion to Williams. She gets it into her head that he's in danger of assassination, for instance, so she sleeps with all his diplomatic contacts to "check their weapons". This suggests some peculiar mental compartmentalisation, but they both know and approve of this behaviour. She hides nothing. Williams knows all and even tells her to go out and enjoy herself. Bizarrely this makes the film almost lovable. I hated Camping
, for instance, for its laddish attitude to infidelity, yet Emmannuelle has a ton of on-screen adultery and gets away with it. Amazing.
It's also surprisingly quotable. The plot is shapeless, e.g. when the film gives up and does random flashback episodes that have nothing to do with anything. However it had three uncredited writers, including Willie Rushton, and there are some good lines here. Sims claims to have "highly reclaimed sex appeal", for instance.
"If you were at death's door, he'd pull you through."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
As for the nudity, there's enough of it that they couldn't get a comedienne and had to cast Danielle even though she'd never acted on-screen before that year, yet it's oddly coy. Bare backs and bottoms are permitted. Side-boob, maybe. Nipples, almost never. Groin shots, no way. Thus if you're wondering how Danielle can walk after her exploits with that football team, notice that somehow she kept her clothes on.
This is a very odd film. Sometimes it's ugly, with Kenneth Connor's flashback being an affront against aesthetics in every way. Sometimes it manages to break through and become a Carry On, which doesn't tend to be a good thing. Sometimes it's just wasting your time. Quite often though, it's its own unique thing. Danielle's TV interview, for instance, is excellent. I preferred this to what I've seen of the Confessions films, which didn't appeal to me at all despite being more financially successful than most 1970s British sex comedies, while it's less pretentious than a real Emmanuelle movie. Danielle even looks a bit like Sylvia Kristel. She's a failure at the job she's been given, but I'm pretty sure the film would have crashed and burned with a less inappropriate lead performance.
Audiences hated it, though. I can't deny that it's a mess.
"Why me? You can have Tom, Dick or Harry."
"But I don't want Tom and Harry."