Peter ButterworthBernard BresslawNorman ChappellMerlin
Carry On Laughing! Short Knight Long Daze
Medium: TV
Year: 1975
Director: Alan Tarrant
Writer: Lew Schwarz
Series: << Carry On >>, << Carry On Laughing >>
Keywords: King Arthur, Merlin, comedy
Country: UK
Actor: Bernard Bresslaw, Jack Douglas, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor, Peter Butterworth, Norman Chappell, Brian Osborne, Billy Cornelius, Desmond McNamara, Susan Skipper, Brian Capron
Format: 24 minutes
Website category: Carry On
Review date: 30 March 2012
It's the fourth episode of Carry On Laughing!'s second series, but the first one I've liked. This is for a subjective value of "liked", though. We're now halfway through.
I liked Lew Schwartz's contribution in the first block, but here it's taken him a while to settle down. It might also be significant that this is his first sequel to a previous episode, once more taking on King Arthur after his catastrophically unfunny season opener, Under the Round Table. I think doing a sequel has helped him write better. It's like the second superhero movie in a series. The first instalment is always likely to be a bit clumsier, as the writer sets up his world and establishes stuff that you know already. The second movie on the other hand doesn't have to worry about all that, but can simply get on with its story. Hence the oft-observed (although not universal) pattern of "The Second Movie Is Better" in adapted genre movie franchises (X-Men, Star Trek, Spider-Man, Christopher Nolan's Batman, etc.).
I think that applies here. Under the Round Table was painful. This week's episode on the other hand gets on with things and is quite good, although that might be Stockholm Syndrome talking. Scenes feel as if they have a point. The characters never feel as if they're just killing time. It's snappier.
Strangely the plot is in outline almost the same as last time. Kenneth Connor's King Arthur once again finds himself in trouble when Bernard Bresslaw goes out to duel on his behalf. Will he be saved by the magic of Peter Butterworth's Merlin? (Clue: no.) Will his sex-starved queen, Joan Sims, throw herself at another man? (Clue: yes.) Will Jack Douglas try to make the episode unwatchable with a limp performance as, ho ho, Sir Gay? Wow, you guessed! Furthermore last time Bresslaw was playing a Lancelot-a-like with a comedy name, while this time he's actually playing Lancelot, but with a Northern accent and gormlessness.
However that's just the outline. In practice the episode feels completely different. It's not just non-stop innuendo being mistaken for jokes and a bunch of anonymous knights yapping away to no purpose, but instead there's an almost sex-free storyline about Arthur's bum boil, the difficulties of delegating power to a bunch of workshy runaways and how to cheat in a grand tournament for the king's honour. Bresslaw also has a much less irritating character to play. I'm not saying it's brilliant, but it's doing nothing much wrong and I kind of enjoyed it, while Under the Round Table will make you wonder why Gerald Thomas never went bankrupt.
There's still plenty of badness, though:
1. Jack Douglas's Lord Gay. It's as if he's embarrassed by his own performance.
2. Joan Sims, who I suspect stopped caring during the season break and is in competition with Douglas to be the worst thing in the episode.
However on the upside, for some reason I was happier than before with Kenneth Connor's King Arthur. Butterworth is a bit anonymous under his Merlin get-up, but Bresslaw's the best thing in the episode and has come on by leaps and bounds since his early Carry On films. Happily there's also no Barbara Windsor, although she'd have been a better Lady Guinevere than Sims.
I also still like Schwartz's style. He tries things. This time he's playing with language a lot, with rhymes all over the place and some fun being had with King Arthur's elevated language. He talks like a Shakespeare character, which is amusing when his dialogue gets translated into tabloid-ese by the Daily Herald. It's not a great joke, or even a particularly good one, but I enjoyed it. In addition despite the irritation factor of Lord Gay and everything associated with him, he actually has some rather nice dialogue in the games it's playing with antiquated language. Mind you, it's a shame that the minstrel in the opening scene has a modern guitar.
In summary, I liked it. It's mediocre, as you'd expect from this TV series, but it's also a functional episode that does its job and entertained me for 25 minutes, which frankly by this point isn't what I'd been expecting at all. If you can manage not to be offended by both the scripted roles and performances from Jack Douglas and Joan Sims, it's even likeable. The characters' motivations work. The story works. It's okay.