Not merely the weakest black-and-white Carry On, but the worst Carry On until the 1970s. I still quite like it, though. The usual actors are giving it everything as usual and it has charm.
The problem is Norman Hudis.
A little background. Hudis wrote the first six Carry On films and is generally known as "the one before Talbot Rothwell". His films were extremely successful, but most of them were adaptations or "from an idea by", with his two solo outings making it painfully obvious that he didn't understand scriptwriting. This is one of them. The other is Carry On Regardless
, which scores over it by not even pretending to be anything other than a disjointed collection of sketches.
I don't think I'm even being harsh. Look at this film. That's not a screenplay. It's a collection of gags that happens to waffle on for 86 minutes. The story of Carry On Teacher goes as follows...
William 'Wakie' Wakefield, the stand-in headmaster of Maudlin School, has his sights set on becoming headmaster somewhere else. However he doesn't like caning the children and so when the little darlings hear about this, they decide to make sure he never gets a job anywhere else. Two school inspectors are coming. The children thus embark upon a reign of terror, playing prank upon prank upon the teachers until... um, it's the end of the film, whereupon their secret is discovered and even Hattie "Cane Them To A Bloody Pulp" Jacques forgives everything because, y'know. It's so heartwarming. Who cares about little matters like destroying a grand piano? Personally I'd have put the buggers in hospital, but hey.
Finally the inspectors marry the teachers with whom they fell in love at first sight. The End.
Yes, it really is that bad. It's mostly rescued by its actors, but not for a moment did I buy the script. The children's supposed love for their headmaster came across as self-interested, given the teachers' discussions of corporal punishment and Wakefield's opposition to it. The pranks never go anywhere or amount to anything. It's like a toothless zombie version of the St Trinian's films, which were incidentally in full swing at this point. Norman Hudis is just too nice. There's no malice in this film. We're supposed to believe that the children are doing this all out of love for their dear old headmaster. The teachers discuss educational theories and child psychology. Ironically the leaden script makes it less credible than the unbridled violent anarchy of Ronald Searle's schoolgirls.
There's some daft science. Teachers get drunk from alcohol that's been in a boiling kettle. Vapourisation point of 78.3 degrees Celsius, anyone? Still more ridiculously, it's been swiped from the bottles in the chemistry lab and yet from everyone's reactions would seem to be delicious. There's also the Leslie Phillips character, who writes books about his radical theories on child psychology. Fortunately he's being played by Leslie Phillips and so is brilliantly oblivious to anything that's not wearing a bra, but that's simply the actor managing to overcome his dialogue. The film has opinions about him. His love interest is being played by Joan Sims, who on reading his book decides that his opinions make him the Antichrist and yet at the end does a volte-face for no reason except that we need a happy ending. Naturally a snogging and blissful Phillips promptly admits that he doesn't really believe his own theories. It seems that child psychology is "all right for other people's children."
Nevertheless I still had fun. How could anyone not love this cast? If they'd only had Esma Cannon, the line-up would have been perfect. Leslie Phillips is wonderful, needless to say, but Joan Sims manages to be even smuttier than him. Her name's Allcock. Yes, that's right. No, it's not sophisticated, but it's funny. Kenneth Williams is unfortunately still playing his snooty intellectual, but nonetheless he's okay. Similarly Charles Hawtrey isn't quite as blissfully airheaded as you might hope, but Rowan Atkinson fans will note that his character's name is Mr Bean. Hattie Jacques is terrifying and, as always, great. Even this early in the series, everything feels comfortably familiar.
I've saved for last Kenneth Connor and one of my favourite underused actresses, Rosalind Knight. She only had a minor role in Carry On Nurse
, but here she's the inspector who falls in love with Connor. I've been dismissive so far of this film's romantic elements, but in fact the actors make them work. Connor's the odd one out of these Carry On regulars. All the others get firmly typecast, but it seems he's the one they trust to do some acting. He's been given a different persona every time, here being a language-murdering science teacher who at one point tries to quote Shakespeare at his beloved. He's rather sweet and very amusing. Meanwhile Knight is as strange and gawky as always, with these spectacles that make her look like a bird of prey. I love her reaction on trying to open a door that simply falls off its hinges.
There's also the one-off guest star, of course. After William Hartnell and Wilfrid Hyde-White, this time we have someone with initials that aren't W and H. To be precise, it's Ted Ray. He's fine. Does everything required of him. The only reason he didn't return later in the series was that he was under contract to Associated British (ABC) and they weren't pleased to see him starring for another distributor.
The one way in which this film scores over the St Trinian's films is in its schoolchildren. We have quite a few child actors, some of whom even look under thirty, and yet not a single moment of cringeworthy non-acting. That's quite a feat, you know. Furthermore, more than one would go on to relative fame and fortune. Richard O'Sullivan would be the star of numerous Thames Television comedies such as Man About The House, while Larry Dann would return to Carry On much later in 'Behind'
This film is amateurish rubbish, yet also a rather wonderful vehicle for some of my favourite actors. Even at the end, when we've sat through the tedious "we're making a bomb" routine and a shamefully witless attempt at "bad school play" comedy, Williams and Hawtry could still make me laugh with an accidental kiss and a slap. Note the itching powder scene, for instance. When the script gives the actors some business to do, it falls flat. However when it leaves them alone and just lets them milk the situation in their own way, they're hilarious. This despite the fact that itching powder lies somewhere on the comedy scale between fart gags and "I say I say I say, my dog's got no nose."
You couldn't get a script this bad today. On the level of basic story construction, it's left in the dust by Carry On Columbus
. However the resulting film is amiable, inoffensive and pleasant. It did great business at the box office and audiences loved it. It's easy to see why. Furthermore, no movie can be all bad that contains the phrase "rattling good idea."