Discussion in 'Movies' started by Mel O'Kalikimaka, Aug 1, 2017.
Sergeant opened in cinemas on 1st August 1958.
I'm almost ashamed to admit that despite being such a huge fan of the Carry-Ons I don't actually have the DVD box-set. But I hope to rectify this soon.
With the exception of Carry On England, Emmanuelle and the awful Columbus, they are all timeless classics.
Last night I watched Sergeant on a whim. It's been a number of years since I've watched any of the series, though in that time I've watched a number of the second-tier Carry Ons from the same team. In fact I watched Nurse On Wheels just last weekend.
It's so good to approach this series from a place of relative neutrality. I dare say I could still recite the dialogue of most in the series verbatim, and I regularly listen to Gavin Sutherland's delightful recreation of music from the series, but the Donald McGill cartoony antics of the latter films are far from fresh in my mind at this point.
Despite being four years earlier than Nurse On Wheels, Sergeant seems less dated in many ways. The National Service premise dates it, of course. But aesthetically it's almost timeless. The barrack setting and every character being in uniform for practically the entire film mean there's no specifically late-fifties wardrobe. The men's haircuts are all short back and sides. And the only vehicles seen in the entire film are a classic (even then) sports roadster and some generic looking army trucks. Jack may have been the first deliberately period piece but in its own way, Sergeant, too, is very much removed from mainstream 1959 society and placed in a timeless little world somewhere.
Still, it's hard to be objective about the characters inhabiting this world. Last night I was trying to decide which actors would have grabbed my attention most had I been stepping into this world for the first time and it's nigh on impossible. There are so many contrasting styles, quirks and eccentricities going on one would think they would clash and the film fail but there's a subtle hand here that brings them all together for quieter moments and convinces me they're a team.
The editing is interesting. It's all very no-frills and economical. Exposition scenes in particular dissolve away very quickly once we've had the necessary information. It feels as though longer scenes have been cut short, mid dialogue. But it also feels that not a minute is wasted. Then when there are prolonged scenes with no dialogue - such as seeing the group marching to the Carry On Theme - they hold the attention because one feels they are there for a reason. Which they are, of course.
Watching Nurse last night it's easy to understand why the Carry Ons took the path they did into broad comedy. Not because it was necessary, but because Nurse is a pretty perfect film. And how does one improve on perfection?
Each time I watch these first half dozen films I appreciate them a little more. That goes for the films from the same company during this period that are Carry Ons in all but name (Please Turn Over; Twice Round The Daffodils and the above-mentioned Nurse On Wheels) including a couple that come very close albeit with different writers (Watch Your Stern and Raising The Wind).
These early Carry Ons rarely seem to get much love amongst casual fans. They're almost forgotten, overshadowed by Barbara Windsor's boobs and the grotesque caricatures that some of the present company evolved into.
But the Norman Hudis era is so very charming, its stories and characters full of heart. Kenneth Williams, for example, is an actor here, rather than "doing" another six monthly Carry On. He gets to go broad (hear his signature braying shriek as he sharpens his tools while under the influence of alcohol and laughing gas during the operating room sequence), but it's all balanced nicely by his character's chaste romance with Jill Ireland, which would have been unthinkable a few years down the line. Of the long-term Carry On-ers, the exception in the subtlety regard is Charles Hawtrey who is essentially playing his eccentric self, just as he would when portraying Charlie Muggins or Sir Roger De Lodgerly. But it's not to the detriment of the film at all. He even gets to do the first of many, many drag sequences when he impersonates a nurse.
The actors chosen for these early films are engaging. Terence Longdon; Rosalind Knight; Leslie Phillips; a very young June Whitfield; Bill Owen; Joan Hickson.
Even the female eye candy has a great deal of substance here. There's something very proper, almost homely, about Ireland; Susans Stephen and Beaumont and even Shirley Eaton. There are a number of moments where they get objectified and sexually harassed, but there's a sense that they're primarily there (both as actors and characters) to do their job to the best of their ability. The closest thing to an object here is Marita Stanton whose only memorable scene involves chasing Hawtrey in her underwear demanding her nurse's uniform back. But even this is tastefully done.
Last night I found myself fascinated by Ann Firbank whose status is quite lowly according to her placement in the credits, but who brought something very special to every scene she was in. I believed she was a nurse who was professional to her fingertips which allowed me to believe in the playfulness too, when it came (Firbank's character delivered what is perhaps Nurse's most memorable line of dialogue where, after fighting Kenneth Connor to whip off his boxer shorts, she flatly commented "What a fuss about such a little thing"). She's quite sexy but in an upmarket Sixties kind of way.
Truthfully I've often struggled to tell which nurse is which, apart from Eaton, Knight and Joan Sims. I kind of know which is which but I've never got their names. So - mainly for my own memory:
Damn. This is in danger of becoming a "rewatching" thread which wasn't intentional. @James from London has already done the definitive Carry On one.
Please -- carry on!
The early Carry Ons - the Norman Hudis era - are very underrated, they are very strong entries in their own right.
But Talbot Rothwell's entry to the series helped cement the reputation that the films now have, creating some of the greatest British comedy films ever.
Tee hee. And thank you.
In terms of reputation I agree that it's Rothwell's films that are in the public consciousness of most Brits today. For most people the term "Carry On" would probably bring a scene or soundbite from one of his films to mind. He did write nineteen-and-a-bit after all, compared with Hudis's six.
But let's not play down the success of the Hudis-scripted films. Sergeant was the third most successful film of the year in Britain which was the reason a follow-up was made.
Nurse topped the British box office for 1959 and was the most successful Carry On in terms of bums on seats in the cinema - both at home and in America.
I would guess (but don't know for sure) that things may look quite different in terms of television screenings and home media. Rothwell's scripts have the advantage of being mostly in glorious colour, meaning networks were more likely to screen them at a time when colour television was a new technology and home audiences had an aversion to their sets displaying black and white images. Only one of Hudis's scripts was shot in colour.
Whether Rothwell's scripts are better than Hudis's is another matter entirely and I suppose a subjective one.
On a related note, I think the Rank films have been treated better for home media. With one or two exceptions the only Carry Ons I recall being shown on TV in the Eighties and Nineties were the Ranks. That may not mean the first dozen weren't shown. Perhaps I just didn't notice them (believe it or not, there were a number of Carry Ons that were new to me when I collected them on VHS in the latter part of the Nineties). It's only very recently that the Anglo-Amalgamated and Rank films have been packaged together on DVD. Prior to that it was the Ranks that had the sparkly box sets while the Anglos were only released individually. The Ranks also had special editions with bonus features for some time before the Anglos were given the same treatment.
Perhaps that trend is now reversing though. After all, the first four films to be cleaned up for Blu-ray are Cleo, Cowboy, Screaming and Jack.
I am spoiled for choice in terms of favourites, obviously Cleo, Camping and Henry are stand-outs, but my personal favourites are Carry On Don't Lose Your Head and Carry On Dick. Sid James combining dual roles in both films absolutely brilliantly.
I had a Ted Ray double-bill at the weekend with Carry On Teacher and the brilliant Please Turn Over.
The Carry Ons would certainly have been very different had Ray continued in the series as originally planned before studio politics saw him ungraciously removed. I'd have thought that he would have taken on most of the Sid James roles, but James's cheeky Cockney persona is so very different from Ray's avuncular staidness it's quite difficult to get my head round. One can only imagine that the writing would have become quite different for the characters since Rothwell in particular wrote each role with the actor in mind.
Either way, Ray is very likeable in his one official Carry On outing. He has the requisite authority but is also quite reigned in. He's the anchor around whom the other, more eccentric actors fly in this instalment. In fact his role here feels very similar to that of Kenneth Horne in his radio shows. It would have been interesting to see him do at least a couple more.
While I knew Richard O'Sullivan was in this one as a child actor, I had convinced myself that Dennis Waterman, too, was in this one. I was rather surprised at my level of disappointment on being reminded this is not the case. The majority of the kids in the film are notable for their lack of precociousness. At least one of the girls, unfortunately, appears to have had elocution lessons, but there's nothing jarringly syrupy or twee about them.
Compared with the two films preceding it, Teacher feels somehow very workaday and small. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps it's because the setting is one I've had more experience with. Or perhaps it's Hudis's formula becoming evident.
There are some great lines here. Joan Sims is involved in my two personal favourites, both of which seem rather daring for the late '50s.
One of them comes from Joan blowing her whistle which makes no sound. Looking inside she furiously ejaculates "they've taken the pea".
The second exchange is after Joan's tiny gym shorts rip when she bends over (is this the first Carry On wardrobe malfunction?), something she bemoans repeatedly in the staff room. Asked to shut up about her shorts, Joan wails "You haven't seen the hole in them", to which blatantly gay Charles Hawtrey does one of his trademark horrified stage jolts and retorts "I've no wish to".
The latter example in particular seems as filthy as anything the Carry Ons were able to get past the censors over the next decade and a half. At least to my smutty mind.
I'd watched Please Turn Over quite recently (within the last year), but was glad to enjoy it in a chronological context here, made as it was between Teacher and Constable. Which would explain why Ray is in the lead role once again.
With a cast including Ray, Joan Sims, Dilys Laye, Joan Hickson, Leslie Phillips, Victor Maddern, Marianne Stone and Charles Hawtrey in a guest appearance. It's written by Norman Hudis; produced by Peter Rogers and directed by Gerald Thomas. This is a Carry On in all but name.
If this were part of the canon I could imagine it being called Carry On Up Peyton Place. Not that the Carry Ons would have been likely to so blatantly acknowledge their source material at this point. But there's no getting away from the fact that the plot of the film is remarkably similar to aspects of Peyton Place, (the plot is especially similar to Return To Peyton Place though it's worth noting that Metallious's sequel only came out shortly before Please Turn Over was released and the film version would be a year or two away). The central character, a teenage writer whose book is based on those in her small town is pure Allison MacKenzie, and her omniscient narration very similar to that in the 1957 film.
The big difference here is that the events in the book in Please Turn Over come from the fertile imagination of a young girl who perceives those around her as being boring. I really love the way the film shifts between quirky reality and the even quirkier fantasy. It's like two Carry Ons in one and gives an opportunity for the actors to have fun playing their character and a hugely distorted version of the same character. Character actors Joan Sims and Dilys Laye in particular shine here. Sims plays the "reality" of her moaning char lady with a fag hanging permanently from her mouth and the fictionalised version of the same character as a glamorous French maid. Laye starts out as a mousy secretary then portrays the "book" version of the same character as a gold-digging vamp.
It would be interesting to know the reason why some of these films got the Carry On prefix and some not. I'd wondered if in this case it was because the film was based on a play, but then I remembered that so was Carry On Nurse. I'll have to dip into some of the books and see if the reason is mentioned. I have a feeling the reason is given in Peter Rogers's Mr. Carry On book, but I suspect it's probably as simple as the fact that there had already been two Carry Ons released during 1959 and Constable would be released just two months after PTO. I'm sure there would have been concern about oversaturation of the titles.
I have quite a few Carry On books and certainly the producers did have their work cut out on occasion getting past the censors. In Carry On Teacher they had serious concerns about the way in which Leslie Phillips said the name "Allcock" and the entire crew would walk round Pinewood proving they could say it without sounding risqué but they couldn't! The "k" sounds proved problematic, apparently.
My favorite is the hotel one(the name has slipped my mind.)I think it was in the 70's.The couple dancing well the hotel is falling apart around them,is to me the funnest thing I saw as a kid.
Phillips has said that the more he tried to make it sound innocuous the filthier it became.
Carry On Abroad. The standard for bad package holidays ever since.
Carry On Abroad is a very good entry, lots of good stuff in especially from Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Peter Butterworth.
Rather spooky timing for watching Carry On Constable on the evening of 24th August, as that date is mentioned several times as WPC Passworthy's birthday (a red herring as it turned out).
It always feels as though Eric Barker did a lot more Carry Ons that just the four. I wish he had done more. He's the perfect authority figure for these films. His pratfall into the pool has to be one of the series' most foreshadowed gags, starting just three minutes into the film where he mentions his plans to dig a pond in his garden and followed up with Constable Constable's visions of his past life by a pool with Constable Potter.
This is Kenneth Connor's third film as the nervous type who falls for a woman and eventually triumphs. It remains endearing. In fact it works so well I'd prefer this variation on a theme to seeing him as a boxer. I particularly enjoyed the aphasia that characterised his Teacher variation.
I'd nearly forgotten that Sid James started out with lust in his eyes. He's far more restrained than in later films, but there's no mistaking the lecherous looks he throws at Potter's sports car driving girlfriend or even less his reopening a door for a second look at a scantily clad woman (the series' seediest moment to date). His chemistry with Hattie Jacques was great here.
Not for the first time, Jacques's character has a hint of feminism. In Sergeant her presence as an officer in a man's world was statement enough. Her character in Teacher conspired with Joan Sims's character, feeling it would be a coup for the two female teachers to find the culprits. Constable sees her pointing out that the only capable officer out of the new shower is a woman. This isn't the last time we'll see Jacques explore this territory.
Another first for the Carry Ons with partial nudity as the four PCs bare their bums. For the record, it's my humble opinion that Leslie Phillips has by far the most photogenic posterior.
Just to balance things out, Shirley Eaton's first scene has her in the shower for no particular reason. It feels like she's had less to do with each passing film, to the point where this - her final Carry On outing - seems like a cameo or token appearance.
Jill Adams reminded me very much of a young Rowena Wallace. Even her voice was similar.
Last night I watched another pseudo Carry On: Watch Your Stern.
It's not written by a writer associated with the series. But it's produced by Peter Rogers; directed by Gerald Thomas, has music by Bruce Montgomery and has a cast including Kenneth Connor, Leslie Phillips, Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, Sid James, David Lodge and Victor Maddern so we're certainly in the territory. It certainly feels like part of the series.
Watch Your Stern feels very much like a vehicle for Kenneth Connor's versatile character acting. His usual-for-this-era bumbling underdog gets into so much trouble that - abetted by his equally-usual-for-this-era crush-that-he's-too-shy-to-admit-his-feelings-to (Joan Sims again, following on from their romance in Constable) - he is forced to disguise himself; first as a bearded old Scottish scientist and - when that fails - as a middle aged woman.
When watching Connor's performances in recent years I sometimes recall reading the Charles Hawtrey bio The Man Who Was Private Widdle, where the author expressed great contempt for Connor's style. I seem to remember he described him as a "pain in the arse". It's true that Connor can overdo the gurning and mugging on occasion, and I can understand how someone could find his style offputting. Let's face it, though, the same can be said tenfold for Hawtrey. Personally I've long enjoyed Kenneth's contributions to British comedy and find him not just funny but very likeable.
There's a great deal of very enjoyable farce which is set up very well and all comes to a head when Kenneth is fighting off a grizzled old sea captain disguised as scientist Agatha Potter while the real Agatha Potter is mistaken for a man in drag. Poor Hattie gamely made this indignity work, though I imagine it's not an enviable arc for an actress to have thrust upon them.
Kind of a precursor to Cruising. And funnier at times.
I find it hard to believe that Kenneth Connor's performances could be found to be offputting, he produced a wide range of comic performances in the Carry Ons, ranging from Carry On Cleo to Carry On Girls/Carry On Dick, and his performances were always extremely professional.
As part of my regular Britcom schedule I've opted to rewatch Our House, written by Norman Hudis and starring many Carry On favourites.
A precursor to the 1975 Carry On Laughing series, it's certainly a curio to see a telly version of the early Carry Ons.
Fittingly, I'm watching these episodes in between Constable and Regardless, which is exactly when they would have aired, the first series having aired in the final quarter of 1960. This is reflected in the main cast: Hattie Jacques, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims and Norman Rossington would all go on to appear in Regardless.
I can't help wondering if the episodic nature of this series influenced Regardless's disparate style with its series of loosely connected stories. Hudis would probably have written the two vehicles practically side-by-side so it's within the realm of possibility. It wouldn't even surprise me to learn that Regardless was compiled out of some excess Our House script ideas.
Last night was Simply Simon - the first of the three episodes known to survive. Jacques didn't appear in the episode at all so Hawtrey got top billing; a situation that I can imagine delighted him given his legendary battles with Peter Rogers over billing in the films. He had multiple roles here: in addition to his usual wide eyed "Charlie Muggins" type he played said character's older relatives.
Perhaps it's the space that the TV format necessitates, but there were some subtleties to his performance that aren't really seen in the films. Last night I was particularly struck by a moment where, playing an older gentleman, he looked with great sadness at a beautiful young woman, moving an artist to paint them. There was something oddly moving about it. Then within a short time he was dragged up as his character's aunt and revelling in going wildly overboard with his mincing and chuckling, playing the audience for all he was worth. So there were three very different performances.
Watching last night it occurred to me that there's a good likelihood these episodes aired live, in which case it serves to show the professionalism and slickness from everyone involved more than the films ever could. It certainly has the kind of undercurrent of excitement that live transmissions frequently have (though I suppose it could be argued that all scenes are "live" for the people involved at the time of filming. And if retakes are frowned upon it's as good as live anyway). There was a moment where Rossington and Sims, their characters having practically fallen on top of one another, seemed to be laughing as they deliver their lines that was most endearing. Another moment had Rossington muddling up Hawtrey's female character's name. In the context of the scene it worked perfectly because there was some confusion going on, but I couldn't tell you if it was written the way Rossington delivered it or ad libbed because of a trip of the tongue. Either way, it was a nice moment for him as an actor.
Yes, if memory serves me right, it was a row over billing that resulted in Charles Hawtrey not appearing in Carry On Cruising.
After her absence in the first remaining episode, the other two were quite Hattie-centric, which was lovely.
The first of the two ventured into diet and exercise fads as everyone bar Joan Sims became health and weight conscious. A kind of Carry On Losing, if you will. I'm glad everyone got involved as it had started with some fat jokes at Hattie's expense:
Later scenes even included Hattie's bed making a "boing" sound every time she rose from sitting on it. As ever she was sporting about it. But there was a heart to it too and it's easy to imagine Talbot Rothwell took inspiration from this episode for parts of Cabby, including Hattie weighing herself.
Hudis must've been really into The Third Man around this time. Foreshadowing Regardless, there were references to it in the last of the episodes, in which Hattie thought her new fiancé was a serial killer. The ending (which for the purposes of the DVD is also the series ending) was a poignant one, Hat having turned down her fiance, she not knowing that he wasn't a killer, he not understanding why she'd rejected him. It was all done lightly, of course, but the episode ending on something of a downer seems a bold move for a 1960 sitcom.
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