It's a Norman Hudis Carry On, so you already know it's going to be random comic scenes strung together without even making any real attempt at connecting them into a plot. What's different about this one is how whole-heartedly it embraces that. It's not even pretending to be doing otherwise. Sid James runs the Helping Hands employment agency and sends his temps out on random jobs. That's the film.
In other words, it's effectively an anthology. Over a dozen comic scenarios of varying length, with the odd little interlude as someone comes into the office to talk gobbledigook. Personally I loved it. Its best moments are the funniest in the series thus far. Not every sketch is equally effective of course, but there's enough variety that I find it hard to imagine anyone getting nothing from it. If nothing else, it has the most magnificent cast. All kinds of people show up, if only for tiny cameos. Look out for Bill Owen, Norman Rossington, Molly Weir, Cyril Chamberlain, Terence Alexander, Fenella Fielding, Nicholas Parsons and Terence Longdon in his last performance, after Leslie Phillips backed out. Apparently it's also the first Carry On of Michael Nightingale. No, I don't know who he is either.
Of the main series regulars, we have Sid James, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Connor. Are they wonderful? Need you ask? Hattie Jacques fell ill and couldn't participate as much as planned, so her role got shared between Joan Sims and a debuting Liz Fraser. She does appear, but alongside Joan Hickson in what's basically a Carry On Nurse
crossover, except that they're playing each other's roles.
One of my favourite things about this cast is the central role given to Esma Cannon, here the secretary of the Helping Hands agency and the main sidekick for Sid James. She's a gem, she really is, and it's a crying shame that she would soon retire from the industry. Here she's as much a part of the family as the main regulars. Stalwarts from the old days like Longdon, Rossington and Owen are on their way out, but Cannon's going from strength to strength. She's as dotty and full of personality as anyone. She's also a lot of fun opposite Sid James, although in fairness I think it's impossible for him to play a bad scene.
What's more, Hudis is writing to his cast. The effeminate string of spaghetti known as Charles Hawtrey gets thrust into the milieu of a boxing ring and being the chucker-out at a strip club. Kenneth Connor is growing a screen persona, although he's still the chameleon of the bunch. Turning to the women, Liz Fraser gets all the sexpot stuff while Joan Sims gets to be more of a screw-up. Incidentally Fraser would go on to do a number of few British sex comedies in the 1970s, although I wouldn't recommend them. Meanwhile Sid James gets a moment of lechery that's as funny as Leslie Phillips's and yet completely different. Phillips was head-over-heels in love with every woman who crossed his path. James is just a dirty old bugger, not to mention having the most awesome laugh in history. Has anyone else ever laughed like James? His face also gets likened to a relief map of the Himalayas.
As for talking about the film, there's little I can do but go through the sketches.
1. Liz Fraser takes her clothes off. You don't need any more, do you? Even lovelier is the gorgeous Carole Shelley as the wife unexpectedly coming home. It's not the funniest of the sketches, but you can see why they opened with it. I appreciated its aesthetic qualities, but I also laughed.
2. Fenella Fielding vamping it up as Kenneth Connor doesn't know where to look. The film probably sounds as if it's heading for the gutter, but don't worry. There's less sex from now on.
3. Kenneth Williams and the chimp, which I didn't actually find that funny but is still the one that everyone remembers.
4. Joan Sims at a wine-tasting. Wow. It's embarrassment comedy, played to the hilt by an actress who was clearly born to Carry On. This might be the most extreme performance in any scene of the film, which is quite a feat considering her co-stars. Incidentally Gerald Thomas put neat gin in her glass for the filming, claiming that he wanted a good reaction shot. Yes, she drank it.
5. A quick interlude as Incomprehensible Bloke comes to spout gibberish at Sid James. This is one Stanley Unwin, a British comedian and comic writer of the time who'd invented his own language called Unwinese. The film calls it gobbledegook. It's wildly mangled English, with only the occasional real word. He's fine. He comes back repeatedly and it's basically the same joke every time, but I didn't mind him.
6. Sid James meets Carry On Nurse
. Obviously he gets to see a room full of nurses in their underwear. You know, as you do. I don't even need to tell you that this is awesome.
7. A quick laugh at Kenneth Williams's ego.
8. Not actually a job. Connor's trying to stop smoking and Sims is in the office at the time. Connors turns into a raving idiot in a way that's never referenced again throughout the film, but that's okay because Gibbering Connor will still blossom forth richly and in a multitude of forms.
9. Williams gets to use his much-vaunted intellect for once. In this film, he speaks 16 languages. He's the go-between for a German-speaking wife and English-speaking husband (Terence Alexander) who are having a flaming row. I loved it, actually. Williams takes a completely ridiculous scene and makes it astonishingly funny.
10. Charles Hawtrey. Boxing match. 'Nuff said.
11. Okay, this is special. I'd have never thought Gerald Thomas had it in him. For five brief minutes, it's Carry On Hitchcock. What's more, it's a surprisingly dead-on spoof of his cinematography and favourite story elements. Kenneth Connor even does an American accent, which he then deliberately drops out of for comedy effect. A sinister man phones up giving unclear instructions and Connor sets off for the Forth Bridge, en route meeting sinister strangers and a glamorous foreign woman. It's on a train, of course. Of course the wild leaping to conclusions isn't credible for a moment, but it's a far closer parody than I'd have expected from this series. There's a certain level of stylistic homage in Carry On Spying
and Carry On Screaming!
, but nothing on this level. Wow.
...oh, you get the picture. I don't need to go through them all. Everything's entirely random, despite a mild attempt at the end to threaten the existence of the Helping Hands agency itself. Plot? Naah. We end with the team insanely demolishing everything in sight, only for Stanley Unwin to wave his Deus Ex Machina magic wand and make everything okay again. Does it matter? Not in the slightest. Not in this film, anyway. Another good thing is that this is the only Norman Hudis Carry On that doesn't waste our time with romantic shenanigans. I appreciated that too.
Incidentally Eleanor Summerfield filmed a scene with Charles Hawtrey that was thrown out by the censor. Oooh, I'd love to have seen that.
I think I might have called Constable the best Hudis film in the series. I'd have to check. However if I did, I think I might have been unfair on this one. Obviously your reaction to it will depend on whether you're a "glass half full" or "glass half empty" kind of person, but this film never lost my attention and often had me laughing hard. It's a comedy. Mission accomplished.