Saturday, 28 July 2018
Carry On Regardless (1961)
Carry On films in general are not renowned for complex plotting but this one is almost entirely plotless. It’s actually nothing more than a series of sketches. That’s not really a problem. The quality of the sketches is variable but most are fairly amusing. The extraordinarily strong cast helps a good deal.
The premise is that a group of desperate unemployed people have answered a newspaper advertisement placed by the Helping Hands Agency. The agency is run by Bert Handy (Sid James). The agency claims to be able to provide people to do just about any temporary job that can be imagined. Naturally the enthusiastic but hapless assortment of misfits assembled by Bert Handy usually manage to make a fairly spectacular mess of things.
They create mayhem in a hospital, on a railway station, and at an Ideal Home Exhibition. They almost manage to break up numerous marriages. They are hopeless enough when sent to the correct assignments but when the scheduling system at the Helping Hands office goes awry and they start getting sent to the wrong assignments it all becomes total chaos.
There are some quite clever moments, and even some inspired ones such as the marvellous spoof of The 39 Steps (including the famous Forth Bridge train scene).
This film has most of the early Carry On regulars - Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor, Joan Sims and Hattie Jacques. This was the final appearance by Terence Longdon who’d been made in most of the early Carry Ons and it’s the first appearance by the delightful Liz Fraser who ended up making four Carry On films. Sid James had joined the team in the previous entry, Carry On Constable, and was already becoming the star player.
The episodic format of this film meant that there were appearances in minor rôles by a truly extraordinary wealth of British comic talent - Patrick Cargill, Sydney Tafler, Fenella Fielding (who was later to be a memorable sexpot in Carry On Screaming), Eric Pohlmann, Howard Marion-Crawford and countless others.
A particular highlight is the appearance by Stanley Unwin. Unwin was a unique comic talent. His trademark was his ability to speak fluent Unwinese. This was a private nonsense language he’d invented. What made it clever was that it wasn’t mere gibberish. There was a system to the way he mangled ordinary words and it was always on the borderline between making sense and not making sense. You could more or less figure out what he was saying even when you couldn’t understand a single actual word. And it sounded like a real language and had a rhythm to it. Unwinese is used very cleverly in this film.
There’s some mildly risque stuff but it’s rather tame compared to the later Carry Ons. One of the fascinating things about the Carry On series is that they were made over a time period (1958 to 1978) that saw censorship go from being quite strict to being almost non-existent. At first it seemed like a good thing. The Carry Ons were arguably at their peak from about 1964 (Carry On Spying) to 1971 (Carry On Henry). They were able to get away with being cheerfully naughty without descending to crassness. By the late 70s crassness was becoming the order of the day and the decline of British comedy was well and truly under way. Comedy needs some limits. It needs some discipline.
Of course this time period also charts the long sad tragic decline of the British film industry which was booming in the late 50s and had become a walking corpse by the late 70s.
This is possibly the most good-natured film of the series with the crew of misfits at the Helping Hands Agency actually having a certain camaraderie and even a certain affection for one another.
On the whole the format of loosely linked sketches works well and it helps to keep the pacing brisk.
The ITV Studios DVD (part of their Carry On Ultimate Collection boxed set) offers a very good anamorphic transfer and the extras include an audio commentary featuring Liz Fraser (who interestingly enough blames the Carry On movies for wrecking her career!) and Terence Longdon.
Carry On Regardless is perhaps not one of the very best of the Carry On movies but it’s far from being the worst. In fact it's unfairly underrated. It’s consistently amusing and it can certainly be recommended.