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Carry On at Your Convenience
One of the best of late period "Carry Ons," Carry On at Your Convenience (1971) has the series going right into the toilet -- literally. Set at the WC Boggs Lavatory Factory, much of the picture revolves around mostly tiresome workers vs. management humor, but it also has a surprising sweetness about it, and is even subtle at times, a rarity for the long-running series.
Much of the running time though focuses on a strike launched by hard-nose union rep Vic (Kenneth Cope), who is also obsessed with beautiful canteen worker Myrtle Plummer (Jacki Piper). She in turn is also being pursued by Lewis (Richard O'Callaghan), playboy son of company president W.C. Boggs (Kenneth Williams).
Neither the love triangle between Cope, Piper, and O'Callaghan, nor Cope's anal leadership is particularly amusing. Piper and O'Callaghan were put to better use in the previous year's Carry On Loving, especially O'Callaghan, who was very funny in that film as a clumsy, painfully shy single man looking for romance. Here, both men are simply grating, with that only-in-the-movies conceit (going back to at least the Astaire-Rogers musicals) in which the man annoys and stalks the woman until she falls in love with him. The three were cast to gradually introduce a younger generation of players into the series (and, it was hoped, bring a younger audience with them). In this case though, it fell to the series' old-timers to win the film its biggest laughs.
Sidney James (as the factory's middle-manager liaison) and Hattie Jacques have several good scenes as a longtime married couple now living vicariously through a stubbornly silent budgie named Joey. (They have a hilarious fight over a "honey ring" Sid's given the bird.) Charles Hawtrey, meanwhile, steals every scene he's in as Boggs' resident toilet designer, who takes giddy delight playing strip poker with Vic's banshee of a mother (Renee Houston). Kenneth Williams is also fun the company president, a man reluctant to change with the times when a huge order of bidets is placed.
Moreover, despite the flatness of the Cope-Piper-O'Callaghan scenes, they do contain one of the picture's funniest bits. Apparently inspired by the movie-within-the-movie in Carry On Camping, at Your Convenience features a hilarious spoof of Mondo-Cane-type pictures. This soon gives way to an equally funny lead-in to a nudie film introduced by a "doctor" justifying its educational value.
As a picture spoofing union extremism, though, Carry On at Your Convenience can't avoid comparison with the Boulting brothers' classic British comedy I'm All Right Jack (1959). Cope's Vic is essentially Fred Kite with long hair and a handlebar mustache, but not nearly as funny. This was popular actor Cope's first Carry On (the actor is best known in Britain for Coronation Street and That Was the Week That Was). Quite unlike I'm All Right Jack, however, Carry On at Your Convenience isn't particularly anti-management, and other than troublemaker Vic, the assembly line workers and management get along quite harmoniously. The picture did disappointing business during its original theatrical run (only to be rediscovered as a minor gem decades later), partly because it makes Vic look like an idiot while presenting Boggs and middle manager Sid as warm-hearted. Clearly though, the Boggs Factory is presented as a small, family-like operation, and therein lies part of the film's charm.
Most of the last third of the picture involves the entire company (only about 30 people) jumping aboard a bus to spend the day on the pier in Brighton, the British equivalent of a company picnic. These scenes have a wonderful congenial air about them, as workers and management put aside their differences for a day of drunken revelry at the seashore. The story stops dead here, but who cares? Simply watching the Carry On cast run around the pier, its rides and exhibits, getting drunk and having a good time is fun in and of itself. If you're a fan of the series the attractiveness of these scenes will be obvious, if you're not than you probably haven't made it this far anyway.
This sequence and those immediately after, also have a real sweetness in the form of Sid's relaxed friendship with saucy assembly line worker Chloe (Joan Sims). Both are married, not especially happily, and an affair between the two seems inevitable. What happens is unexpected and one only wishes more of the '70s Carry-Ons had this level of sensitive, adult scripting.
As a friend and colleague recently pointed out, the British were making low budget and series comedy long after Hollywood had given up on such films. That many look cheap and only marginally funny should be forgiven, or at least taken into consideration. Movies like Carry On at Your Convenience may not be the cream of the British comedy crop, but they have their moments.
Video & Audio
Carlton's DVD of Carry On at Your Convenience is presented in 4:3 letterbox format, with no anamorphic enhancement. While the cinematography doesn't exactly rival the visual splendor of Lawrence of Arabia, a 16:9 transfer would have been preferred. Nonetheless, the image, matted to about 1.77:1 is generally fine, and the mono sound acceptable.
As with all of Carlon's SE Carry Ons, Carry On at Your Convenience has the usual well-written, full-color booklet by series historian Robert Ross, which offers fascinating capsule bios of the cast and puts their careers into historical context. The disc itself has a trailer (also 4:3 letterbox), a better-than-most still gallery (fully animated and captioned), and an audio commentary track, with co-stars O'Callaghan and Piper warmly recalling the film's production.
The other big extra is a November 1975 episode of the teleseries Carry On Laughing entitled "The Case of the Screaming Winkles." A broad parody of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, this was one of three shows to feature series regulars Jack Douglas and Kenneth Connor as Lord Peter Flimsey and his butler, Punter. The show has its fans but this reviewer was underwhelmed. The show does have a good supporting cast, though, including Joan Sims, Peter Butterworth, David Lodge, Marianne Stone, and Melvyn Hayes, among others.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. He is presently writing a new book on Japanese cinema for Taschen.