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DVD SAVANT
Guest Review

The Carry On Collection

Reviewed by Stuart Galbraith IV

The 30-odd Carry On comedies made in England between 1958 and 1978 are largely unknown in America. A few of the early pictures were moderately popular here in small theaters which occasionally showed British films, and a batch of them turned up on TV in the late-1960s, when they were about the raciest stuff on television in those pre-cable/pre-VCR days. But in the U.K. Carry On has become a much-beloved institution. There's really nothing at all comparable in the United States; only Japan's 48-film Tora-san series has evoked such loyal and passionate affection.

I had only the foggiest notion of what the Carry On movies were like - something, I imagined, like The Benny Hill Show with Spike Milligan and Terry-Thomas, none of whom, as it happened, appeared in any of the Carry On films. But after watching the 13 features included in Anchor Bay's boxed set, I must admit I've become an unabashed Carry On fan. The weakest films in this set are at least moderately amusing, while the best ones are real finds, minor gems which fall just short of greatness.

For the uninitiated, one might say the Carry Ons were to British comedy what Hammer was to British horror. Both hit their stride in the late-1950s and petered out in the mid-1970s. Both increasingly turned to sex and occasional nudity as their popularity waned and their budgets were reduced to almost nothing, and both had memorable stock companies of casts and crews who carried over from picture to picture. And, perhaps most importantly, both were embraced by audiences and pretty much reviled by the critics, who only now begrudgingly acknowledge their impact.

Anchor Bay has now released The Carry On Collection but seems to have no idea how to market it to consumers oblivious to the Carry On phenomenon in Britain. While the company's five-film Alec Guinness set of justly-acclaimed comedies is getting all the attention, this high-quality boxed set is an enjoyable find of an altogether different sort, movies which essentially bridge the gap between Ealing and Monty Python.

The box includes the first 12 Carry Ons plus Thats Carry On (1977), a compilation film made just one picture shy of the series' end (1992's reportedly wretched Carry On Columbus not withstanding), and obviously patterned after M-G-M's popular That's Entertainment (1974).

The Carry On Collection
Anchor Bay
all 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / Street Date October 8, 2002 / $89.98
all produced by Peter Rogers

Carry On Sergeant
1958 / b&w / 84 min.
Starring William Hartnell, Bob Monkhouse, Shirley Eaton, Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Terence Longdon, Hattie Jacques
Cinematography Peter Hennessy
Art Direction Alex Vetchinsky
Film Editor Peter Boita
Original Music Bruce Montgomery
Written by Norman Hudis
Directed by Gerald Thomas

Carry On Nurse
1959 / b&w / 86 min.
Starring Kenneth Connor, Shirley Eaton, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, Terence Longdon, Bill Owen, Joan Sims, Jill Ireland, John Van Eyssen, Wilfred Hyde-White
Cinematography Reginald Wyer
Art Direction Alex Vetchinsky
Film Editor John Shirley
Original Music Bruce Montgomery
Written by Norman Hudis
Directed by Gerald Thomas


Carry On Teacher
1959 / b&w / 86 min.
Starring Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, Joan Sims, Leslie Phillips, Rosalind Knight, Ted Ray
Cinematography Reginald Wyer
Art Direction Lionel Couch
Editor John Shirley
Original Music Bruce Montgomery
Written by Norman Hudis
Directed by Gerald Thomas

Carry On Constable
1960 / b&w / 86 min.
Starring Sid James, Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Leslie Phillips, Hattie Jacques, Joan Sims, Eric Barker, Shirley Eaton, Terence Longdon, Esma Cannon
Cinematography Ted Scaife
Art Direction Carmen Dillon
Editor John Shirley
Original Music Bruce Montgomery
Written by Norman Hudis
Directed by Gerald Thomas


Carry On Regardless
1961 / b&w / 90 min.
Starring Sid James, Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Liz Fraser, Esma Cannon, Stanley Unwin, Bill Owen, Terence Longdon, Hattie Jacques, Fenella Fielding
Cinematography Alan Hume
Art Direction Lionel Couch
Editor John Shirley
Original Music Bruce Montgomery
Written by Norman Hudis
Directed by Gerald Thomas and Ralph Thomas

Carry On Cruising
1962 / Color / 89 min.
Starring Sid James, Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, Liz Fraser, Dilys Laye, Lance Percival, Esma Cannon
Cinematography Alan Hume
Art Direction Carmen Dillon
Editor John Shirley
Original Music Bruce Montgomery and Douglas Gamley
Written by Norman Hudis
Directed by Gerald Thomas


Carry On Cabby
1963 / b&w / 91 min.
Starring Sid James, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Liz Fraser, Esma Cannon, Bill Owen, Milo OšShea, Jim Dale, Carole Shelley
Cinematography Alan Hume
Art Direction Jack Stephens
Editor Archie Ludski
Original Music Eric Rogers
Written by Talbot Rothwell
Directed by Gerald Thomas

Carry On Jack
1963 / Color / 91 min.
Starring Kenneth Williams, Bernard Cribbins, Juliet Mills, Charles Hawtrey, Donald Houston, Percy Herbert, Jim Dale, Cecil Parker, George Woodbridge, Ian Wilson
Cinematography Alan Hume
Art Direction Jack Shampan
Editor Archie Ludski
Original Music Eric Rogers
Written by Talbot Rothwell
Directed by Gerald Thomas


Carry On Spying
1964 / b&w / 84 min.
Starring Kenneth Williams, Bernard Cribbins, Eric Barker, Barbara Windsor, Charles Hawtrey, Dilys Laye, Jim Dale, Eric Pohlmann, Judith Furse, Richard Wattis
Cinematography Alan Hume
Art Direction Alex Vetchinsky
Editor Archie Ludski
Original Music Eric Rogers
Written by Talbot Rothwell and Sid Colin
Directed by Gerald Thomas

Carry On Cleo
1964 / color / 92 min.
Starring Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Jim Dale, Amanda Barrie, Jon Pertwee, Francis De Wolff
Cinematography Alan Hume
Art Direction Bert Davey
Editor Archie Ludski
Original Music Eric Rogers
Written by Talbot Rothwell
Produced by Peter Rogers
Directed by Gerald Thomas


Carry On Cowboy
1965 / color / 93 min.
Starring Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Angela Douglas, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth, Percy Herbert, Jon Pertwee, Sydney Bromley
Cinematography Alan Hume
Art Direction Bert Davey
Editor Rod Keys
Original Music Eric Rogers
Written by Talbot Rothwell
Directed by Gerald Thomas

Carry On Screaming!
1966 / color / 97 min.
Starring Harry H. Corbett, Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Charles Hawtrey, Fernella Fielding, Joan Sims, Angela Douglas, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth, Jon Pertwee
Cinematography Alan Hume
Art Direction Bert Davey
Editor Rod Keys
Original Music Eric Rogers
Written by Talbot Rothwell
Directed by Gerald Thomas


That's Carry On
1977 / Color / 95 min.
Hosted by Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor
Editor Jack Gardner
Directed by Gerald Thomas
Linking Material Written by Anthony Church
Features clips from all of the above, plus Don't Lose Your Head (1967), Follow That Camel (1967), Carry On Doctor (1968), Carry On . . . Up the Khyber (1968), Carry On Camping (1969), Carry On Again, Doctor (1969), Carry On Loving (1970), Carry On Up the Jungle (1970), Carry On Henry (1971), Carry On at Your Convenience (1971), Carry On Matron (1972), Carry On Abroad (1972), Carry On Girls (1973), Carry On Dick (1974), and Carry On Behind (1975)

Perhaps unique among film series, no one person completely dominates the Carry Ons, and no performer appeared in every film. The Carry Ons shuffled their core regulars - Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques, etc. - and the pictures themselves are surprisingly varied. Official comedy teams like, say, Abbott and Costello, made movies in myriad genres but remain, essentially, Abbott & Costello movies. The Carry Ons began as well-made formula comedies in the Abbott and Costello mold with similar settings: a boot camp, a school, a hospital ward, etc. But soon the series began dabbling in other areas: Carry On Regardless is practically a sketch film, while Carry On Jack is much more a throwback to satires like The Crimson Pirate than a burlesque like Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kid. Carry On Cabby is a straightforward working class comedy with a grittier, "kitchen sink" look and well-drawn characters, while Carry Ons Cleo, Screaming! and Spying are elaborate, Mel Brooks-like spoofs whose antics and one-liners supercede any concern for story and characterizations, leaning heavily on established personae. In short, while the actors' characterizations remain fairly constant, the films themselves are surprisingly disparate. Carry On Jack, for instance, is so completely different from the film which preceded it, Carry On Cabby, it's difficult to believe they're part of the same series.

As someone who knew almost nothing about these films and purposely watched them in order of release, I often liked films (such as Carry On Regardless and Carry On Jack) generally disliked by hard-core Carry On fans and was sometimes underwhelmed by those usually hailed as classics (including Carry On Nurse and Carry On Spying).

These early Carry Ons, all produced at Anglo-Amalgamated by Peter Rogers and directed by Gerald Thomas, only hint at the tittering innuendo, toilet humor, and double-entendre which were to eventually dominate the series. These films, in contrast, are downright quaint and charming with their sense of innocent and not-so-innocent fun. And they are indeed best enjoyed in order of release, if only to take pleasure in the development (and surprising range) of regular cast members.

Just as Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, and other teams established their screen careers in successful army comedies, so too did Carry On. Carry On Sergeant is an utterly formulaic army romp, yet done with such skill it's also instantly lovable and frequently funny. Much of the cast and situations were inspired by a popular British teleseries, The Army Game, (itself the basis for the Hammer comedy I Only Arsked), including the casting of teleseries regulars William Hartnell (later the first Dr. Who) and Charles Hawtrey.

The next half-dozen movies are all practically remakes of Carry On Sergeant, with the same bumbling troublemakers, more or less, wreaking havoc in a hospital ward in Carry On Nurse, as the target of unruly school children in Carry On Teacher, as police cadets in Carry On Constable, as employees of a temporary agency in Carry On Regardless, as the crew of an ocean-liner in Carry On Cruising, and as taxi drivers in Carry On Cabby.

Nurse, for my money, is undermined by a lack of story and an inconsistent tone, while Teacher rather oddly finds its cast at the receiving end of trouble instead of causing it. Regardless, is uneven - some of the vignettes don't work at all, while others are quite funny: Williams as a German translator hired by a bickering couple, Connor's assignment at an exclusive club where silence is golden, and Hawtrey's as a bouncer at a strip joint are priceless. Carry On Cabby is also quite good, leaning heavily on story and resolutely British characterizations and humor, which is lost to some extent in Spying and Cowboy.

But even the weaker films generally work because of the delightful casts, most of whom remain completely unknown in America: Sid James as the hard-drinking, skirt-chasing rogue who looks like Forrest Tucker and talks like Andy Capp; Kenneth Williams as the nostril-flaring, snobbish twit; Kenneth Connor (and later Jim Dale) as the bundle-of-nerves, love-struck rube; Charles Hawtrey the owlish, blithely clueless old queen; Hattie Jacques the long-suffering matron.

The later films in the collection are hit-and-miss satires of then-popular genres. Carry On Spying has to be the first of the James Bond spoofs - when it was made only Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963) had even been released. As a result, the picture sends up much older thrillers like The Third Man (1949) and The 39 Steps (1935) in equal measure. Similarly, Carry On Screaming! has surprisingly few puns directed at Hammer - rather it's a more generic genre romp. However, there is an amusing, extended bit of business lifted right out of Abbott and Costello's seminal "Who's On First?" routine, one of the film's few direct references.

Carry On Cleo is far more cohesive, a satire utilizing sets built for the very film it's spoofing, the gargantuan Burton-Taylor Cleopatra (1963). Beyond looking more expensive than it actually was, the picture plays like an antecedent to the comedies of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker, with bad puns and sight gags thrown at its audience in Naked Gun-like fashion.

As for Carry On Cowboy - Cor, blimey! A British Western was not without precedent, but even The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958) had a handful of Americans in the cast. It's truly odd to see a Western street recreated on the Pinewood backlot and in the hills beyond (complete with fake, pointy rocks and potted cacti) populated by British actors playing Western archetypes with sometimes excellent, sometimes awful American accents. One of the wonderful bits of trivia to be found in Robert Ross' gushing but essential The Carry On Companion was that Kenneth Williams based his accent on none other than Hal Roach, whom he had met some time earlier. The cast is clearly enjoying itself - and indeed that's part of the fun, but the film is only marginally funny.

Roughly 70% of the clips which make up That's Carry On are from 15 of the films which followed Carry On Screaming! What's more, the clips are more or less presented in chronological order, giving the viewer a pretty good idea the directions the series would eventually take. The last few pictures tellingly reflect the state of the British film industry in the 1970s - production values are threadbare, the jokes unfunny, and the cast looks awfully tired. However, the excerpts from Carry On . . . Up the Khyber (1968), Carry On Camping (1969), and Carry On Abroad (1972) are inspired and often hilarious.

That's Carry On works as both an introduction to the later films and as a primer for Cor, Blimey!, a superior made-for-British-TV docudrama about the personal and professional lives of key Carry On cast members, covering a period of roughly 1963-76.


Cor, Blimey!
Bfs Entertainment & Multimedia
2000 / color / 1.50 flat / 108 min. / Street Date July 31, 2001 / $19.98
Starring Samantha Spiro, Geoffrey Hutchings, Adam Godley, and Barbara Windsor
Cinematography Paul Wheeler
Art Direction Chris Edwards
Film Editor Martin Sharpe
Original Music Barrington Pheloung
Written and Directed by Terry Johnson

Though saddled with the usual challenges inherit in entertainment biopics, Cor, Blimey! is a touching, adult comedy about mostly miserable people. The focus of the show is the relationship between Carry On anchor Sid James (Geoffrey Hutchings) and his longtime affair with co-star Barbara Windsor (Samantha Spiro), the busty, bubbly "Babs" of the later films. James, according to Terry Johnson's script, was very much like his screen persona: a heavy-drinking womanizer, simultaneously breezy and likeable and pathetic. He meets his match in Windsor, who talks like a sailor, is married to a mobster, and refuses to take any of James' crap.

Unlike American TV movies (or, for that matter, American movie movies), Cor, Blimey! is forthright and adult in dealing with sexual issues and relationships. James' obsession with sex is not too far removed from Auto-Focus, while Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey's homosexuality is addressed frankly and with admirable depth. The performances, especially Spiro's uncanny Windsor, are uniformally excellent.

And, unlike most movie bios, Cor, Blimey! has a pretty authentic feel in its behind-the-scenes sequences, particularly as the British film industry falls into decline. There's also some nifty footage of the Pinewood lot, and some nice references to other films being shot concurrently, including Bond pictures like Goldfinger. Like Tim Burton's Ed Wood, Cor, Blimey! emulates the style of the movies it's about, but marries it with an adult and emotionally real script. It pulls no punches about the poor quality of the later Carry Ons and offers some good insight on the nature of celebrity, acting, and comedy. For instance, there's a monologue by Kenneth Williams (Adam Godley) about laugh tracks that's dead-on and surprisingly haunting.

All thirteen films in The Carry On Collection are given the 16x9 treatment with 1.78:1 aspect ratios, approximating the original theatrical release format. The prints are all in fine shape, with the exception of Carry On Cruising, whose color looks like something out of a two-color Technicolor musical circa 1929. (The trailer which accompanies this title has much truer color). The mono sound is fine. The only extras are 16:9 trailers for each title, though the menu screens and cardboard inserts (reflecting each film's original ad art) are quite nice. The box holding the set, however, is both garish and flimsy.

Except for That's Carry On, the films are packaged two to a disc, but are out of sequence and the second feature is rather slighted in the package design. Still, with 25% off the SRP now the norm, these pictures can be purchased for as little as $5 per film - not a bad deal at all.

The packaging for Cor, Blimey! touts it as being "widescreen" (there's no 16:9 enhancement), but the letterboxing is so slight (much less than 1.66:1) as to make no difference compositionally from full frame. The film appears to have been shot in Super-16 and was mixed for Dolby Surround, and the transfer looks and sounds fine.

The Carry On movies aren't for everyone. Some of the humor is singularly British, and you need to be receptive - as I certainly was - to the bad puns, obvious double-entendre, and silly pratfalls that the Carry On spirit unapologetically embodies.




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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