Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Carry On Constable (1960)

Carry On Constable was the fourth film of the Carry On series. After the enormous commercial success of Carry On Nurse in 1959 it was obvious the series was going to be a consistent money-spinner and producer Peter Rogers was anxious to maintain a stock company of regular cast members. By the time Carry On Constable was released in 1960 that had more or less been achieved. Most of the stars who would become so familiar to audiences had been assembled - Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Hattie Jacques, Joan Sims, Charles Hawtrey and Sid James (who made his Carry On debut in this film).

Norman Hudis wrote the scripts for the first six films after which Talbot Rothwell took over and wrote most of the remaining films. The Norman Hudis Carry On movies have a rather different flavour compared to the later movies. The acting is much less excessive. Even Kenneth Williams is quite restrained. The actors are making an attempt at playing actual characters in a film rather than playing directly to the audience. There’s not quite as much of a madcap quality.

Whether you prefer these earlier films or the later Talbot Rothwell-scripted ones is a matter of taste. Personally I prefer the Talbot Rothwell films but the early films do have their charm.

Carry On Constable doesn’t have a great deal in the way of plot. A flu epidemic has caused a major manpower shortage in the police force and the station run by Inspector Mills (Eric Barker) has been hit particularly hard. Mills is understandably relieved when three replacement officers arrive. His relief soon turns to dismay. The three are fresh out of police school and Constable Benson (Kenneth Williams), Constable Charlie Constable (Kenneth Connor) and Constable Tom Potter (Leslie Phillips) are a trio of bumbling incompetents. Even worse Mills has had to resort to putting Special Constable Timothy Gorse (Charles Hawtrey) onto full-time duties.

It’s up to the experienced Sergeant Wilkins (Sid James) to whip these hapless recruits into shape. Sergeant Wilkins has his own problems - Inspector Mills is trying to get rid of him.

What follows is more like a series of comic episodes with only the thinnest of connecting narratives. The three new constables manage to make a mess of just about every situation in which they find themselves. There’s a great deal of slapstick humour. There are of course plenty of double entendres but not quite as many as in the later Carry On movies. It’s mostly gently amusing rather than laugh-out-loud funny but it has its moments and it’s good-natured fun.

This was the third Carry On movie for Leslie Phillips. Peter Rogers was anxious for Phillips to continue as a regular but although Phillips enjoyed making these movies he decided enough was enough and didn’t want to become part of a permanent comic team. Phillips was a fine comic actor and he does well as the skirt-chasing rather aristocratic playboy Potter. 

Sid James had started his career as a serious actor and he plays Sergeant Wilkins surprisingly straight. Kenneth Williams might be more restrained than in the later films but there are signs of the inspired comic madness that was to come. Hattie Jacques as Sergeant Laura Moon (who has a bit of a thing for Sergeant Wilkins) is as delightful as ever. Kenneth Connor is quite over-the-top as the insanely superstitious Constable Constable who falls hopelessly in love with WPC Gloria Passworthy (Joan Sims). Shirley Eaton makes one of her several Carry On appearances in this movie. There’s a galaxy of British comic talent in minor roles.

Although filmed mostly at Pinewood Studios there’s a surprising amount of location shooting in this film.

The ITV Studios DVD (part of their Carry On Ultimate Collection boxed set) offers a fine anamorphic transfer and includes an audio commentary featuring Leslie Phillips, who has some truly outrageous anecdotes to tell about the making of the movie.

My own view is that the series was at its peak from about 1962 to 1971 with Carry On Henry being the last of the great Carry On movies. Carry On Constable can’t really compare with classics like Carry On Spying, Carry On Cleo or Don’t Lose Your HeadCarry On Constable might not be one of the best of the Carry On movies but it’s amusing and enjoyable. Recommended.

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