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What a Carry On: Carry On Doctor (1967)/ Carry On… Up The Khyber (1968) ~ Reviews

August 31, 2015

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With the Swinging Sixties on the wain and the seductive ideals of free-love and the striking styles of psychedelia turning on the UK youth, it might be said the Carry Ons decided to play it safe with the back-to-back releases of a hospital-housed comedy and a British Raj-based send-up – after all, these were hardly settings a million miles away from what the series had already delivered on more than one occasion.

So then, in this post – the latest in George’s Journal’s ‘summer season’ of offerings celebrating Blighty’s premier saga of big-screen comedy, itself the latest to review, rate and rank each of those flicks – we turn our attention to two of the most well recalled Carry On movies, namely Doctor and Up The Khyber. Are they really just more of the same in an oppugnant era of adolescent self-discovery or something altogether new, daring and, dare one say it, better than ever before…?

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How it works:

  1. The ‘Carry On-athon’ takes in all 29 cinematically released Carry On films, chronologically from Carry On Sergeant (1958) right through to Carry On Emmannuelle (1978), excluding the compilation-clip-comprising That’s Carry On! (1977) and Carry On Columbus (1992), whose inclusion in the original series might be said to be a bit tenuous
  2. The reviews consist of 10 categories or movie facets, the inclusion of which tend to define a Carry On film as a Carry On film (‘the regulars’; ‘the crumpet’; ‘the setting’; ‘the plot’; ‘sauciness’; ‘cross-dressing’; ‘catchphrases’; ‘character names’; ‘music’ and ‘overall amusement’), each of which are rated out of 10, thus giving the film in question a rating out of 100, which ensures all 29 films can be properly ranked – the ratings are made up of ‘Boggles’, after Sid Boggle, Sid James’s utterly iconic character from Carry On Camping (1969)
  3. There’s also an ‘Adjuster for each film’s rating (up to plus or minus 10 ‘Boggles’) to give as fair as possible a score according to its overall quality as a film.

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Carry on Doctor

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“No bleeding, good”/ “Just like the service round here”

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Written by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 91 minutes; Released: December 1967

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Hattie Jacques;
Barbara Windsor; Joan Sims; Jim Dale; Bernard Bresslaw; Peter Butterworth/
semi-regulars: Frankie Howerd (first film); Anita Harris (final film); Dilys Laye;
Derek Francis (first film); Marianne Stone; Peter Gilmore; Julian Holloway; Valerie Van Ost

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The crumpet

Barbara Windsor; Anita Harris; Valerie Van Ost; Jenny White; Alexandra Dane

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The setting

Contemporary (mid- to late ’60s) Britain; sending up the NHS and TV hospital dramas

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The plot

Evangelical-like life coach Francis Bigger (Howerd) is admitted to the men’s ward of the local borough hospital where he encounters a rag-tag bunch of patients – a workshy skiver (James), a cheery chap (Bresslaw) interested in a girl in the nearby women’s ward (Laye) and an effete man suffering from an acute sympathy pregnancy (Hawtrey) – as well as the staff, including the arrogant registrar Dr Tinkle (Williams) and the warm Nurse Clark (Harris), whom pines for the equally attractive and charismatic Dr Kilmore (Dale). Things are complicated, though, when the latter observes a trainee nurse (Windsor) compromise Tinkle, so the latter and the haughty Matron (Jacques), whom hankers after him, plan to stitch-up the young doctor, not realising it will lead to open rebellion among the patients.

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Would you like sauce with that?

It’s no coincidence Barbara Windsor returns to the series and the sauce-o-meter goes up another notch (Babs: “What a lovely pear”/ Ambulance driver eating a pear while looking at her chest: “You took the words right out of my mouth!”); indeed, there’s even a scene where she strips down to her underwear that’s apropos of nothing. Yet, the bawdiness doesn’t rely on Babs’ assets alone. Take Dale accidentally pulling off Harris’s skirt to reveal semi-saucy underpants before leaping through a window and into a bath with a naked girl (allowing us a peak of side-boob – the Carry Ons’ first partial female nudity?). Factor in Kenny and Hattie’s patter and Sid’s fruity asides to the nurses and, with Doctor arriving just months after the ‘Summer of Love’, we’re catching up with the Swinging Sixties fast.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

The sight of the gigantic Bernard Bresslaw squeezed into Anita Harris’s nurse uniform (all chest hair sprouting over the top), so he might slip past the hospital Sister and into the women’s ward and involve Laye in the male patients’ plan to force Williams and Jacques into confessing they fixed Dale, is certainly tittersome, but does feel like an afterthought of a drag moment – included then just to tick the Carry On cross-dressing comedy box? Maybe. Plus, quite how the Sister would mistake Bresslaw for a real nurse is anyone’s guess. Mind you, it’s probably best we don’t think too hard about that.

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Catchphrase count

‘Yak-yak-yak!’ (James): 4; “Stop messin’ about!” (Williams): 1;
“Oooooh!” (Howerd): 4; ‘Cockney cackle’ (Windsor): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Francis Bigger (Howerd); Dr Kenneth Tinkle (Williams); Dr Jim Kilmore (Dale); Charlie Roper (James);
Mr Barron (Hawtrey); Ken Biddle (Bresslaw); Nurse Sandra May (Windsor); Mavis Winkle (Laye)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Arguably one of the series’ most fondly recalled entries for music, Doctor boasts an ideal score from Eric Rogers. In a strong nod to the predecessor with which it shares more than a passing resemblance (1959’s Carry On Nurse), the movie opens to the melody by Bruce Montgomery that’s probably most heavily associated with the film series, but hits its real heights with the elegantly grand theme that perfectly fits the flick’s TV hospital melodrama-mocking aspirations and later with the love theme that’s mostly used to soundtrack Dale and Harris’s snatched moments of potential romance.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Surely only a heavy (or sickly) heart would heavily fault Doctor’s funnies. There’s the wonderful you-push-I-push-you-back Kenny/ Hattie byplay, the bed-bound Sid defying the medical staff and his other half, Dale’s silly but cracking slapstick and the ongoing commentary from Peter Gilmore and Harry Locke’s paramedic pair on all the hospital’s outrageous proceedings. Surprisingly, though, Howerd and Windsor’s contributions leave you wanting more – the former because he could have been given saucier, funnier material, the latter more screen-time – but they’re hardly oversights deserving of a bed-bath.

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Adjuster: 0

Something of a ’60s update of ’50s favourite Carry On Nurse, Doctor – at least for this reviewer – isn’t quite as funny or as good as he remembers it. And yet, it seems cruel to suggest it’s unworthy of classic status within the series (not least because of the strength of its cast; it was the first to star the ‘big five’ – and boasts Frankie Howerd). More a gilded than golden offering then from the golden era of Carry On.

Total Boggles

79/ 100

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The best bit

Babs’ nurse trots through the ward towards Sid, who’s having his blood pressure taken, and stops to greet him with a mock-coy ‘Hi’, causing his reading to sky-rocket and the measuring machine to blow its top

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The best line

“You may not realise it, but I was once a weak man” (Williams)/
“Once a week’s enough for any man” (Jacques)

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Trivia

A booming success with the British public, Doctor was the third biggest hit at the UK box-office in 1968

Surprisingly, given the film’s eventual popularity, producer Peter Rogers believed it would probably be the series’ swansong (owing to the lack of enthusiasm for the Carry Ons from relatively new studio Rank), thus – as it was felt Rogers’ wife Betty Box’s Doctor film comedies were coming to an end too – this effort was intended as a sort of tie-up to both series, hence why a portrait of James Robertson Justice (whom played the formidable Sir Lancelot Spratt in the Doctor movies) hangs in the hospital foyer

Sid James’ character is bedridden for the majority of the movie as he himself was recuperating from a heart attack sustained shortly before shooting; this doesn’t exactly explain away his smoking in the film

The de facto lead role of Francis Bigger, which was filled by Carry On debutant Howerd, was initially offered to Williams, but he apparently balked at the responsibility of ‘carrying’ the movie so instead opted to play the conniving Dr Tinkle

A sign of just how much a tribute Doctor is to Carry On Nurse comes in the scene when a nurse offers to ‘put in’ a long daffodil for Howerd’s character – in claiming “No, thank you, I’ve seen that movie!” (misunderstanding she innocently means putting it in a glass of water for him), he’s referring to Nurse’s memorably risqué closing gag.

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Bring on the dancing girls – get rid of this idiot!”/ “Fakir, off!

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 86 minutes; Released: September 1968

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Joan Sims; Bernard Bresslaw;
Peter Butterworth/ semi-regulars: Angela Douglas (final film); Terry Scott;
Julian Holloway; Peter Gilmore; Valerie Leon (first film)

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The crumpet

Angela Douglas; Wanda Ventham; Alexandra Dane; Dominique Don;
Valerie Leon; Eve Eden; Vicki Woolf; Angela Grant

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The setting

The British-controlled Indian province of ‘Kalabar’ near the Khyber Pass in the 1890s;
spoofing 1964’s Zulu and Kipling-esque adventures, and sending up the British Raj in general

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The plot

The uncomfortable peace between the natives of India’s Kalabar region – nominally under the rule of its Khasi, Randi Lal (Williams) – and the controlling British under the command of the Governor Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond (James) is threatened when marauding Afghan warrior Bungdit In (Bresslaw) from across the Khyber Pass observes that a lowly British private (Hawtrey) dons underwear beneath his kilt, in defiance of his supposedly fearless regiment’s reputation as ‘devils in skirts’. Things quickly get out of hand when it’s then discovered the entire regiment is foregoing its au commando tradition, not least as Ruff-Diamond’s Khasi-enamoured wife (Sims) promises to furnish his opposite number with incriminating photographic evidence. Will the affair lead to full-blown rebellion and, if so, can the outnumbered and frankly deluded British force avoid humiliating annihilation?

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Would you like sauce with that?

It’s hard not to conclude that, finely straddling the line between the suggestiveness of much of the series’ ’60s output and the outright raciness of the later Carry Ons, Khyber gets its ribaldry spot on – from Sid’s exhausting ‘righting of the wrongs (supposedly) done on to him’ with as many of the Khasi’s wives as possible to Terry Scott candidly clasping the naked upper thigh of a harem girl to all those innendos referencing the regiment’s would-be nakedness beneath their kilts. Plus, lest we forget, uniquely this movie even features its own self-contained, superb cypher for sex – who’s up for some ‘tiffin’?

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Cross-dressing to impress?

With a Carry On cast on such good form and a roaring roster of titillating talent, one probably wouldn’t miss any transvestism this time out, but, Khyber being one the series’ best exemplars, don’t worry, drag’s on the menu all right. It comes when, in attempting not to be discovered trying to escape from Bugdit In’s Burpa fortress, Roy Castle, Hawtrey and Scott’s soldiers, Butterworth’s missionary, Sims’ Memsahib and Douglas’s defecting Indian princess don dancing girls’ outfits and try to gyrate their way out. It’s a vain effort, of course, but this many Carry On-ers cross-dressing really is quite the sight.

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Catchphrase count

‘Yak-yak-yak!’ (James): 5

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Marvellous monikers

Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond (James); Randi Lal, the Khasi of Kalabar (Williams);
Private James Widdle (Hawtrey); Bungdit In of Jacksi (Bresslaw); Princess Jelhi (Douglas);
Sergeant Major MacNutt (Scott); Brother Belchar (Butterworth); Major Shorthouse (Holloway);
Private Ginger Hale (Gilmore); The 3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment (fictitious Highland regiment)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

An exquisite take-off of the patriotic bombast to be heard in the celebrated war classics of UK cinema (such as 1955’s The Dam Busters, 1956’s Reach For The Sky and Zulu), Eric Rogers’ score finely fits its flick’s lampooning aims, while most on-screen antics are also perfectly soundtracked – not least the comedic cue for Scott’s Chaplin-esque marching of Hawtrey to Sid’s office to admit his uniform faux pas that sets in motion the whole British military calamity. Admittedly, there could be one or two more of these marvellous touches of musical farce, as in other Carry Ons, but that’d arguably be nit-picking.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Excellently blending the usual Carry On components of bawdiness, slapstick and – certainly this time – wonderful wordplay (see ‘The Best Line’ and the video clip below), Khyber scores so highly in the comedy stakes because it also succeeds at sending up its subject matter so well (the British Raj, Imperial militarism and indeed Britishness itself) that it spills over into terrific satire. Indeed, its demonstration of the absurdity that’s the relationship between the racial elites, the stiff upper-lip nonchalance of Brits in crisis and, best of all, the latter Army’s unlikely fearsome reputation throughout the Empire – represented brilliantly by kilt-clad squaddies going without underwear – is historical pastiche of the highest order.

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Adjuster: +3

Proof that, at its best, this series is as far from (ahem) comic rank stupidity as Private Widdle is from stoic Victorian cannon-fodder, Khyber is undeniably the cleverest and most consistent, arguably the wittiest and just maybe the funniest of all the Carry Ons. Go on, do yourself a favour, bungdit in the DVD player and wallow in its Khasi-doused delights – you’ll have a tiffin-tastic time and no mistake.

Total Boggles

90/ 100

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The best bit

The climax – Ruff-Diamond calls the troops up into a line and orders them to pull up their kilts (this time sans undies), causing the rebelling natives to howl in fright and scarper (Khasi: “There’s nothing to be afraid of! * looks himself * Ooh, I dunno, though!”)

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The best line

“May the benevolence of the god Shivu bring blessings on your house” (Williams)/
“And on yours” (James)/ “And may his wisdom bring success in all your undertakings” (Williams)/
“And in yours” (James)/ “And may his radiance light up your life” (Williams)/ “And up yours” (James)

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Trivia

Khyber was the second biggest film at the UK box-office in 1969

It’s the only Carry On film to contain scenes shot outside of England – the Khyber Pass sequences were captured in Wales’s Snowdonia, where a plaque now celebrates the fact

The utterly irreverent Fakir character was intended for madcap comedy legend Tommy Cooper, but ended up being scaled back and played by comic actor of stage and screen Cardew Robinson

The final shot of the film (following the foiling of the Khasi’s plan with the revolting Burpas being seen off) features a Union Jack flag flying over the near destroyed Governor’s residence, on which is printed the legend ‘I’m Backing Britain’ – this is a direct reference to a patriotic yet risible economic campaign of the same name that flourished and died in the early months of 1968, hence why Peter Butterworth’s character delivers the final line to the audience: “Of course, they’re all raving mad, you know…”

The movie is held in such high esteem among the Carry On flicks and by the UK film industry that it was voted 99th in the British Film Institute (BFI)’s poll of ‘The 100 Greatest British Films’ (1999)

Indeed, it was celebrated for its humorous sending up of authority (in the shape of the Victorian Raj) and inverted class snobbery in this particularly thoughtful article by academic and filmmaker Colin MacCabe, whom has also named it among his top 10 movies of all-time.

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Carry On Ranking

(All out of 100; new entries in blue)

1. Carry On… Up The Khyber (1968) ~ 90

2. Carry On Cabby (1963) ~ 85

3. Carry On Screaming! (1966) ~ 83

4. Carry On Cowboy (1965) ~ 80

5. Carry On Doctor (1967) ~ 79

6. Carry On Cleo (1964) ~ 68

7.  Carry On Nurse (1959) ~ 65

8. Carry On Constable (1960) ~ 63

9. Carry On Spying (1964) ~ 62

10. Carry On Jack (1963) ~ 61

11. Carry On Cruising (1962) ~ 60

12. Follow That Camel (1967) ~ 59

13. Carry On Sergeant (1958) ~ 58

14. Don’t Lose Your Head (1966) ~ 57

15. Carry On Teacher (1959) ~ 56

16. Carry On Regardless (1961) ~ 55

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Keep calm,
the Carry On reviews
will, yes, carry on

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Poster artist extraordinaire: Drew Struzan ~ the man who made us go to the movies

August 13, 2015

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Here’s some I drew earlier: Drew Struzan surrounded by a career’s worth of iconic film poster artwork

To put it simply, it’s arguably impossible not to recognise a Drew Struzan poster. Should you not do so, you’ve surely never visited a cinema, stepped into a video or DVD store, surfed the Internet or, frankly, held any interest in popular culture in the last 35 years. So ubiquitous is the man’s work. There’s no question his status as the movie poster maestro of the modern age is only challenged by the late, great Bob Peak (another artist to have been celebrated in such a post on this blog); otherwise, to paraphrase the tagline on the poster of James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only (1981), no-one comes close to Drew Struzan.

Born in 1947 into a poor family in Oregon City, yes, in the US state of Oregon, Struzan grew up drawing on anything he could get his hands on (apparently including toilet paper) before he enrolled at LA’s Art Centre College of Design at the age of 18. Following graduation, he barely carved out a living – with only $200-$250 a commission – with an ad agency producing the artwork for album covers for then prominent music artists, such as The Bee Gees, Roy Orbison, Earth, Wind & Fire and Alice Cooper.

Then in 1978, after making something of a name for himself churning out B-movie posters, he was approached by artist friend Charles White III to collaborate on a project the latter had been given by one George Lucas – creating a one-sheet for the re-release of Star Wars (1978), just a year after its debut in cinemas. The result saw the two artists create a poster (White focusing on the spacecraft and Struzan on the characters) that was both dynamic, memorable and distinct from the iconic images already created for the monster blockbuster.

And now Drew’s career truly took off. As the ’80s progressed, his idiosyncratic style – built, as it is, on an unusual airbrush-based approach – seemed to become the go-to look for poster art of Hollywood’s ever expanding sci-fi and family fantasy output, much of which was made up by or influenced by the barnstorming blockbusters of Lucas and Spielberg; and many of whose movies’ artwork was also created by our man Struzan.

Like I said at the top of this post, a Drew Struzan poster is instantly recognisable. That airbrushed background giving the thing a pleasingly smooth, almost glossy appearance, while the portraiture (although excellently detailed) tends to err on the comic book-esque. Most admirable of all, though (and probably the mark of the greatest poster artists), the composition of his works are always dynamic, often fantastical and usually unforgettable. Take for example, the awesome perspective conjured up by the cast of The Goonies (1985) desperately hanging on to each other’s ankles, or the irresistible iconoclasm of the principal players of the Back To The Future trilogy (1985-90) checking their watches in bemusement as they step out of the time-travelling DeLorean. Quite simply, nothing evokes Hollywood fantasy and/ or adventure like a Drew Struzan poster. It’s that simple.

As the 1980s slid into the ’90s and the art of the movie poster was ‘modernised’ like so many things by the computer, Struzan found himself in less demand; although he was still called on to produce a number of classic images for major movie promotions. Eventually, however, he moved on from film poster work for regular commissions from the comic book world, Franklin Mint collectible plates and US postage stamps. Finally, after a career of more than 35 years, he retired in 2008 following, fittingly, his efforts for that year’s Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Two years later, the comprehensive coffee-table book The Art Of Drew Struzan (featuring reams of his extensive artwork for the publicity campaigns of so many movies) was published and in 2013 the documentary Drew: The Man Behind The Poster was released.

Rightly so, though, Drew didn’t bow out without a swipe at modern Hollywood’s reliance on digital imagery over the more imaginative, nay more inspiring hand-drawn approach to poster art, once writing in an email:

I love the texture of paint made of colored earth, of oil from the trees and of canvas and paper. I love the expression of paint from a brush or a hand smearing charcoal, the dripping of paint and moisture of water, the smell of the materials. I delight in the changeable nature of a painting with new morning light or in the afternoon when the sun turns a painting orange or by firelight at night. I love to see it, hold it, touch it, smell it, and create it. My gift is to share my life by allowing others to see into my heart and spirit through such tangible, comprehensible and familiar means. The paint is part of the expression.

So, here’s to the one, the only Drew Struzan – from Indy to Star Wars, The Muppets to The Goonies, Police Academy to Rambo and Hocus Pocus to Harry Potter, he was quite simply as integral a part of the magic of ’80s crowd-pleasing cinema as Harrison Ford, John Williams, ILM special effects and multiple, multiple sequels. All the images that follow are the copyright of Drew Struzan. Obviously…

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Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)/
Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (1984)

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Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)

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Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008)

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Back to the Future trilogy (1985-90)

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Return (Revenge) Of The Jedi (1983)/
Star Wars ~ cinema re-release (1987)

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Star Wars ~ Special Editions (1997)

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Star Wars ~ the prequels (1999-2005)

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E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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The Goonies (1985)/ Adventures In Babysitting (1987)

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Coming To America (1988)/ Crocodile Dundee II (1990)

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Police Academy (1984)/ Police Academy 3: Back In Training (1986)/ Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol (1987)

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The Muppet Movie (1979)/ The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)/ Muppet Treasure Island (1996)

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Big Trouble In Little China (1986)/ Masters Of The Universe (1987)

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The Cannonball Run (1981)/ Cannonball Run II (1984)

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Hook (1991)/ Cutthroat Island (1995)

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Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)/ The Thing (1982)

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An American Tail (1988)

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Return To Oz (1985)

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Ladyhawke (1985)/ Harry And The Hendersons (1987)

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The Name Of The Rose (1986)/ Shirley Valentine (1989)

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The Pirates Of Penzance (1983)/
DuckTales The Movie: Treasure Of The Lost Lamp (1990)

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The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)/ A Small Town In Texas (1976)

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Hocus Pocus (1993)/ The Flintstones (1994)

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*batteries not included (1987)/ Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

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Blade Runner: The Final Cut (2007)

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Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone (2001)/
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets (2002)

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Further reading

drewstruzan.com

Find the book The Art Of Drew Struzan (2010) here

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Playlist: Listen, my friends! ~ August 2015

August 3, 2015

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In the words of Moby Grape… listen, my friends! Yes, it’s the (hopefully) monthly playlist presented by George’s Journal just for you good people.

There may be one or two classics to be found here dotted in among different tunes you’re unfamiliar with or have never heard before – or, of course, you may’ve heard them all before. All the same, why not sit back, listen away and enjoy…

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CLICK on the song titles to hear them

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The Walker Brothers ~ Summertime (1966)

Cilla Black ~ Alfie (1966)¹

Kenneth Williams ~ Above All Else (1967)

B. J. Thomas ~ On A Bicycle Built For Joy (1969)²

Kim Weston ~ Eleanor Rigby (1970)

John Barry ~ Main Theme from Walkabout (1971)

John Lennon ~ Oh My Love (1971)

Shirley Bassey ~ This Is My Life (Meco Monardo Disco Remix) (1979)

Jerry Garcia Band featuring Phil Lesh ~ Dear Prudence (1981)

Paul Nicholas ~ Mr Mistoffelees (1981)

Alan Hawkshaw ~ Best Endeavours (1982)³

Paul McCartney ~ Tug Of War (1982)

Jack Nitzsche ~ Starman Leaves (1984)

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¹ The one, the only Priscilla White passed away yesterday at the age of 72 years young. RIP, Cilla…

² The version of the unforgettable, unbeatable Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head as it appears on the soundtrack of the all-time cinematic classic Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)

³ The king of ‘library’ music’s cracking composition that’s instantly recognisable to teatime current affairs viewers up and down Blighty as the iconic theme to ITN’s Channel 4 News

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What a Carry On: Don’t Lose Your Head (1966)/ Follow That Camel (1967) ~ Reviews

July 31, 2015

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And so, here we are. Yes, that’s right. This blog’s marathon of Carry On films (incorporating the reviewing, rating and ranking of each and every one in said series) has reached its halfway stage, peeps. ‘Cor blimey! At bloomin’ well last!’ you might say – in a Sid James voice, as would be your wont.

Anyway, we’ve finally got here. But what are the two movies that mark this mid-way point in George’s Journal’s Carry On-athon? Well, like it or not, it’s the intriguing Don’t Lose Your Head and Follow That Camel – intriguing not least because neither’s title carries the usually customary Carry On prefix. And just what has this reviewer got to say about them following their viewing – ‘Coo, what a lovely pair’ or ‘I wouldn’t touch that again with a barge pole’? Well, read on, dear reader, and all shall be revealed…

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How it works:

  1. The ‘Carry On-athon’ takes in all 29 cinematically released Carry On films, chronologically from Carry On Sergeant (1958) right through to Carry On Emmannuelle (1978), excluding the compilation-clip-comprising That’s Carry On! (1977) and Carry On Columbus (1992), whose inclusion in the original series might be said to be a bit tenuous
  2. The reviews consist of 10 categories or movie facets, the inclusion of which tend to define a Carry On film as a Carry On film (‘the regulars’; ‘the crumpet’; ‘the setting’; ‘the plot’; ‘sauciness’; ‘cross-dressing’; ‘catchphrases’; ‘character names’; ‘music’ and ‘overall amusement’), each of which are rated out of 10, thus giving the film in question a rating out of 100, which ensures all 29 films can be properly ranked – the ratings are made up of ‘Boggles’, after Sid Boggle, Sid James’s utterly iconic character from Carry On Camping (1969)
  3. There’s also an ‘Adjuster for each film’s rating (up to plus or minus 10 ‘Boggles’) to give as fair as possible a score according to its overall quality as a film.

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Short back and sides, not too much off the top

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 87 minutes; Released: December 1966

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Joan Sims;
Jim Dale; Peter Butterworth/ semi-regular: Peter Gilmore

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The crumpet

Dany Robin; Valerie Van Ost; Jacqueline Pearce; Jennifer Clulow

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The setting

Late 18th Century revolutionary France and England; spoofing Emma Orczy’s
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) and sending up the ‘Reign of Terror’ in general

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The plot

At the height of the Reign of Terror, the chief of the French secret police, the clumsy Citizen Camembert (Williams), oversees the beheading of aristocrat after aristocrat, via the guillotine. That is, until a pair of dandy English aristos Sir Rodney Ffing (James) and Lord Darcy Pue (Dale) learn what’s happening to their French counterparts and, declaring ‘it’s just not cricket’, successfully sabotage the killing spree as disguised vigilantes; Ffing in particular causing notoriety thanks to his nom de plume ‘The Black Fingernail’. Following their rescue of the carefree yet Monarchy-connected Duc de Pommefrite (Hawtrey) and the trio’s escape from France, Camembert, his idiotic lieutenant Citizen Bidet (Butterworth) and his mistress (Sims) adopt false identities of their own and cross the channel to track them down.

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Would you like sauce with that?

Keeping up the series’ mid-’60s custom of getting bawdier each time out, Head ups the sauce stakes on its predecessors, but here naughtiness doesn’t automatically equal amusement. Much of the saucy humour revolves around Joan Sims’ chest, which is, well, unavoidable thanks to the plunging necklines of the women’s costumes. But little of this stuff’s witty or that funny really. Another bawdy bit occurs when an old lady complements Sid’s Sir Rodney on the quality of his balls – his society shindigs, that is. Yep, were plumbing the depths here – as a character in this film might well say of Sims’ décolletage.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

The flick’s most fulfilling Carry On facet has to be this one; Head delivers when it comes to drag, which makes for far from a drag. Not only do we have Sid and Dale disguised as peasant hags with ludicrous false teeth in the guillotine square, but minutes later the former’s again decked out as a woman (possibly the ugliest of the series thus far) only to bizarrely and amusingly arouse Williams. Funnier still, Kenny and Butterworth then mistake for a man Dany Robin’s sexy love-interest for Sid, only because she’s dressed in the latter’s coat and hat – and still aren’t sure when these are removed to reveal she’s wearing very feminine nightclothes underneath. All very daft it may be, but drag done well it also is.

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Catchphrase count

“Yak-yak-yak!” (James): 9; “Oh, hello!” (Hawtrey): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Sir Rodney Ffing (pronounced ‘Effing’)/ ‘The Black Fingernail’ (James); Citizen Camembert (Williams);
Duc de Pommefrite (Hawtrey); Desiree Dubarry (Sims); Lord Darcy Pue (Dale);
Citizen Bidet (Butterworth); Malabonce (Leon Greene)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Although rather perfunctory, Eric Rogers’ work here nonetheless holds an important distinction within his Carry On repertoire. For this score, at least as far as this humble reviewer can tell, marks the first, albeit brief appearances of two or three melodies that would become synonymous with future series entries (especially those set in the then domestic present, such as Carry On Doctor and Carry On Camping – which will be coming up soon in this blog’s Carry On-athon, of course). Elsewhere, Rogers does a decent job at appropriately recreating the sound of cinematic swashbucklers of old.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Despite a de rigeur fine turn from Williams and Hawtrey’s pantomimic aristocratic fop – a role he was born to play – too often Head’s humour-blade fails to hit its target. Sure, Talbot Rothwell enjoys himself with a plethora of puns mixing English and French (“I’m Camembert! I’m the big cheese!”), but there’s little of the strong wit he delivers when in full rein and, aside from a moment at a ball when Sid and Dale fear their alter egos have been uncovered and resolve to act inconspicuous only to proceed to dance with one another, good visual gags seem to have gone missing from the guillotine’s basket too.

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Adjuster: -2

“Carry on choppin’!” Williams declares at the start; at times, you wish this one wouldn’t. It has its moments but not enough, plus there’s some noticeably clumsy editing and the would-be swashbuckling swordfight climax just goes on and on. An instance of the series surprisingly creaking during its arguable mid- to late ’60s high, Don’t Lose Your Head just doesn’t really cut the, er, French mustard.

Total Boggles

57/ 100

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The best bit

Hawtrey’s introduction ahead of his sabotaged beheading – sitting on a cart next to a dolly bird, laughing his head off reading ‘the Marquis de Sade’s latest’ and making Butterworth look a lemon

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The best line

“Shall we use the thumbscrews?” (Bastille guard)/
“No. No, no, we’ll wait until Citizen Camembert gets here;
if there’s any screwing to be done he’ll do it –
he’s practically screwed up the revolution already” (Butterworth)

Trivia

Head was originally released without a Carry On prefix in its title owing to the series shifting studios from Anglo-Amalgamated to Rank, the latter not wanting it to carry the prefix as it was so identified with the other studio; however, following a poor box-office showing by this and next effort Follow That Camel, they were both re-released quickly and achieved much better returns with the prefix attached

In the US and other markets, Head was released as Carry On Pimpernel

The primary ‘crumpet’ was played by actual French actress Dany Robin, most famous for Hitchcock thriller Topaz (1969); legend has it that years after Head’s filming, as she was the wife of Sid James’s agent, the couple allowed Sid to stay at their house one night while the husband was away, only for Ms Robin to discover Sid attempting to get into bed with her – twice

In his first draft, screenwriter Talbot Rothwell added alternative titles to be shown in the opening credits sequence (which was a traditional practice in the series, although far from all the movies followed it); inexplicably, none of them made it to screen – they read as follows: Short Back And Sides or Heads You Lost or Death Of A Hat Salesman or Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me A Tourniquet, A Romance Of The French Revolution by Talbot Rothwell or A Script With Cuts In It by Ivor Guillotine.

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It has been truly said, the mind of the white infidel is like the action of the cleanser – clean round the bend

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 91 minutes; Released: September 1967

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The regulars

Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Joan Sims; Jim Dale; Bernard Bresslaw;
Peter Butterworth/ semi-regulars: Angela Douglas; Anita Harris (first film);
Peter Gilmore; Julian Holloway (first film); Sally Douglas

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The crumpet

Angela Douglas; Anita Harris; Sally Douglas

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The setting

The Sahara Desert and the English Home Counties in the early 20th Century;
spoofing P. C. Wren’s Beau Geste (1924) and sending up the French Foreign Legion in general

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The plot

Following an inexcusable faux pas he makes during a cricket match, English toff ‘Bo’ West (Dale) flees the old country for the French Foreign Legion in the Sahara, inevitably escorted by his faithful manservant Simpson (Butterworth). Upon joining their garrison as lowly privates, the pair fortuitously get one over their all-the-angles-playing sergeant Nocker (Phil Silvers), while the somewhat hapless Commandant Burger (Williams) and his underling Le Pice (Hawtrey) try to maintain order. However, none of them are prepared for an imminent attack from local Arabian do-badder Sheikh Abdul Abulbul (Bresslaw), nor the eventual arrival of Bo’s would-be-betrothed Lady Jane (Douglas), whom is journeying to her man’s side, having discovered he was framed and didn’t have to flee in the first place.

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Would you like sauce with that?

Thanks to the debuting Anita Harris’s turn as a sultry belly dancer, Camel takes its bow as undoubtedly the most skin-friendly series entry since the Amanda-Barrie-body-showcasing Carry On Cleo (1964). However, this flick’s flesh count isn’t the main contributor to its sauciness, it’s really the frank humour – some of which emanates from street-wise one-liners delivered by Silvers (something new for the Carry Ons, certainly). However, surely the fruitiest funnies are derived from Douglas’s Lady Jane far from subtly shagging her way across Europe and North Africa thanks to encounters with randy try-it-ons.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

A middling effort. We have to wait until the last quarter-of-an-hour for it and when it eventually comes, it’s hardly a drag-tastic highlight; Butterworth exchanging clothes with Douglas so the latter might escape ‘a fate worse than death’ (having sex with Bresslaw’s Arab brute – even though she’s done that with dubious white cads throughout the film, hmm…) doesn’t exactly set the Sahara alight. But it does mean Douglas dons a soldier’s uniform for the next few minutes. Which is sort of sexy.

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Catchphrase count

“Oh, hello!” (Hawtrey): 2

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Marvellous monikers

Sergeant Ernie Nocker (Silvers); Commandant Burger (Williams); Commandant Le Pice (Hawtrey);
Zigzig (Sims); Bertram Oliphant ‘Bo’ West (Dale); Sheikh Abdul Abulbul (Bresslaw);
Lady Jane Ponsonby (Douglas); Corktip (Harris)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Sure, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Eric Rogers’ score (and because it doesn’t get in the way of any of the action or jars at any point, one might say everything’s right with it too), yet contrasted with a choice selection of his Carry On efforts, there’s little about his work in Camel that’s genuinely memorable following the closing credits. Mind you, an unkind viewer may say the same about this movie in general; however, this section of the review wouldn’t be the place to make such a statement. Oh no.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Don’t doubt it, Camel does offer memorable moments that raise a decent laugh (Dale and Butterworth’s master-and-servant routine; Silvers’ first ‘heroic’ return to the fort; cockerels being repeatedly shot or blown up for waking everyone up at dawn), but there really aren’t enough and, although Bresslaw has lots of fun playing his bloodthirsty sheikh, surely for most modern viewers the Muslim-mocking, Arab stereotype-reliant laughs sit pretty darn uneasily. Conversely, much funnier – indeed, arguably top hole – is the opening section that mercilessly takes the p*ss out of upper-class English society.

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Adjuster: 0

With Bilko on lead duties in place of Sid and so many sand dunes, Camel’s something of a curate’s egg of a Carry On. It might also be said to be a broken egg, with Rothwell still searching for form and Williams and Hawtrey’s talents rather wasted. And that’s to say nothing of the awkward constancy of civilised-Europeans-versus-barbarian-Arabs – no wonder you don’t see it on TV nowadays.

Total Boggles

59/ 100

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The best bit

The repetitive lost-in-the-desert-and-seeing-a-mirage gags – culminating in the gang espying in the distance a glamorous hotel offering booze, food, dancing and a swimming pool; the only spectacle they dismiss as a fake and which, of course, turns out to be real

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The best line

“They couldn’t have been regular troops, sir; let me see, they’ve got indigestion tablets, glucose tablets, salt tablets, the pill and… The pill? What do you suppose they used that for?” (Silvers)/
“I can’t conceive” (Williams)

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Trivia

Apparently, Sid James had been intended for the Sergeant Nocker role, but his commitment to ITV sitcom George And The Dragon (1966-68) saw US TV and Hollywood star Phil ‘Bilko’ Silvers replace him – Silvers’ casting was an active effort on the part of the Carry Ons’ studio Rank to secure a US distribution deal with Hollywood’s Paramount Pictures

Silvers was paid £40,000, easily the highest amount of any actor in the series’ entire history

Like its immediate predecessor Don’t Lose Your Head, Camel was initially released without the Carry On prefix in its title; it was released in the US and other markets as Carry On In The Legion

Shooting had to be halted several times during the three weeks spent at Camber Sands in Sussex (doubling for the Sahara Desert) owing to it snowing – no, really.

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Carry On Ranking

(All out of 100; new entries in blue)

1. Carry On Cabby (1963) ~ 85

2. Carry On Screaming! (1966) ~ 83

3. Carry On Cowboy (1965) ~ 80

4. Carry On Cleo (1964) ~ 68

5.  Carry On Nurse (1959) ~ 65

6. Carry On Constable (1960) ~ 63

7. Carry On Spying (1964) ~ 62

8. Carry On Jack (1963) ~ 61

9. Carry On Cruising (1962) ~ 60

10. Follow That Camel (1967) ~ 59

11. Carry On Sergeant (1958) ~ 58

12. Don’t Lose Your Head (1966) ~ 57

13. Carry On Teacher (1959) ~ 56

14. Carry On Regardless (1961) ~ 55

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Keep calm,
the Carry On reviews
will, yes, carry on

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What a Carry On/ Legends: Sid, Kenny, Charlie & Hattie (Pt. 2) ~ Kenneth Williams

July 23, 2015

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The unhappy clown

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The last entry in the diary of Kenneth Williams, written on April 14 1988, reads: “Oh, what’s the bloody point?”. One day later he was dead from an overdose of sleeping pills and painkillers. How did this happen? How could this have come to pass? Kenneth Williams had been revered as a brilliant comic performer on the screens big and small, on the radio and on the stage for more than 30 years. He had enjoyed a career many could – and many to come would – only dream of. He had become a beloved national institution – had he lived longer he surely would have been knighted. So how, on this fateful day in the late ’80s in this wasteful way, did his life come to such a sad, untimely end?

Kenneth – known as ‘Kenny’ to those who knew and loved him best – was and remains most famous for his colossal contributions to the Carry On movies, one of the longest ever running British cinematic series and certainly the most popular and most fêted of those that cosily sit in the comedy category of the UK film industry. And it’s for that reason this post about the man is the latest in George’s Journal’s extended run of posts dedicated to those flicks (its ‘Carry On Summer Season’). But, as if that wasn’t enough, there was more to Kenny than the Carry Ons – and that’s why this post also sees him inducted, and absolutely not before time, into this blog’s ‘Legends’ corner.

The truth is, Kenny was a prodigiously talented performer – as evidenced by his best Carry On work, naturally, but also by his extensive and varied work across the entire comedy spectrum. Testament to that is everything from, on radio, his incorrigible innuendo on Round The Horne/ Beyond Our Ken to his delicious ribaldry on Just A Minute and from, on TV, his exquisite aimed-at-kids vocal dexterity on Jackanory and Willo The Wisp to the hilarity of him holding court on the Parkinson chat show.

Over the course of his career he carved out for himself less a niche than a huge cleft of the British comedy firmament. The public adored his work; they didn’t seem to mind a jot, in times far less permissive than those of today, that he was patently gay. But he did. It bothered him greatly – as did many things about both himself and pretty much everybody around him. When it comes down to it, despite all his success and adoration, Kenny didn’t so much enjoy his career (as I wrote above), but endured it. As he did his life, it seems. He was a fantastically funny man, but was also a complicated, flawed, tragic individual; too much of the time, the epitome of the unhappy clown.

As with so many great figures in their field, it’s very difficult to suggest from where Kenny’s clownish talent derived; sadly, it’s far easier to confidently speculate on the source of his unhappiness. He came from humble beginnings, born in February 1926 to a working class mother (Louisa – or Lou) and father (Charlie), the latter of whom was a barber, and grew up in the Barnsbury area of Islington, London. Both parents owed their origins to Welsh ancestors, and you might say there’s something of the Welsh accents’ grandiosity and rhythm in Kenny’s own voice. Not that he got that from either parent though, whom were both Cockneys and, after all, his father couldn’t understand either his son’s desire to go into showbusiness nor why, even at an early age, he adopted a semi-plummy, even mock-upper middle class voice, determinedly rolling his ‘r’s and indulgently enunciating the best words offered by the English language (which fascinated and delighted him in equal measure).

And one can only assume what the elder Williams (a strict Methodist) made of Kenny’s homosexuality, when it became obvious. It’s fairly clear, along with the other differences between the two, what effect it had on the young man yearning for the fame, fortune, glamour and grandeur of thesping – Kenny’s relationship with his father remained strained until the man’s death (more on that later), but he was devoted to his mother until the very end, and likewise her to him (again, more on that later).

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Wicked wit: Williams was a serial diarist for more than 40 years (left); with his mother Lou (middle) and in ‘animated form’ as the unforgettable ’80s children’s TV character Willo The Wisp (right)

In the early days, however, it seems the father’s will won through. His desire to see Kenny ‘get himself a trade’ led to the young Williams becoming an apprentice draughtsman with a London mapmaker. And then, when he came of age (18 years-old), he was pulled into the action of World War Two – sort of. He was called up into the British Army, but ended up doing pretty much what he had beforehand, working on maps as a sapper in the Engineers Survey section.

Unexpectedly, though, as it too had for Sid James (and for other future British comic luminaries), military service proved a God-send for Kenny’s dramatic ambitions, for come the end of the war, he successfully transferred to the Combined Service Entertainment Unit; not only a much better fit because it was more in the direction he wanted to take his life, but also because the experiences it afforded him no doubt helped prepare him for a future performing career. We know for sure that it was during his CSE days he met and mixed with comic TV star-to-be Stanley Baxter (whom became a lifelong friend) and John Schlesinger, the future Oscar-winning director of classic dramas Darling (1965) and Midnight Cowboy (1969).

It was when Kenny was demobbed in 1948 that things really got going, though. He began, as many used to, in repertory, finally making it to the West End and giving a particularly strong performance as the Dauphin in a 1954 production of George Bernard Shaw’s tragedy Saint Joan. Actually, he would go on to tread the London boards throughout his career; on and off, at least. In 1955 he appeared in the great Orson Welles’ Moby Dick – Rehearsed and, during the ’50s and into the early ’60s, in revues alongside great friend and British acting grand dame Maggie Smith (Share My Lettuce), later Carry On co-star Fenella Fielding (Pieces Of Eight) and another Carry On alumnus Sheila Hancock (One Over The Eight). Having befriended the enfant terrible playwright Joe Orton, he had the role of Inspector Truscott written for him in the latter’s Loot and originated it in the classic play’s 1966 debut. He also played alongside Ingrid Bergman in Shaw’s Captain Brassbound’s Conversion (1971) and Jennie Linden in My Fat Friend (1972); later he directed productions of Loot and Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane (1981).

But it was early on, indeed thanks to his turn in Saint Joan, that his dramatic thesping got sidetracked in favour of more lucrative (i.e. regular) comic work; much to his chagrin, it seems. BBC Light Entertainment bigwig Dennis Main Wilson caught Kenny’s performance as the Dauphin and, so impressed was he, offered him a spot in the line-up of a new radio comedy show, Hancock’s Half Hour (1954-61). For followers of this blog who’ve read my similar tribute to the life and career of Sid James, you’ll know Half Hour wasn’t just an era-defining slice of British entertainment, but also proved the making of that particular Carry On icon. What’s less well known is that, thanks to it giving Kenny a chance to hone his unequalled ability at inventing characters with silly camp voices and make his trademark the phrase ‘Stop messin’ about!’, it arguably made him too. In fact, following star Tony Hancock’s decision to change the show’s format, it led Kenny to join the ensemble of another radio show that made him a household name.

Beyond Our Ken (1958-64) – and its sequel Round The Horne (1965-68) – was a sketch-based comedy focused around popular comedian Kenneth Horne, but Williams was undoubtedly its breakout star. Creating and establishing characters like the folk singer Rambling Syd Rumpo, the telephone heavy-breather J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock and, by far most well recalled, one half of the camp couple Julian and Sandy (the other half being Hugh Paddick) allowed Kenny to indulge not just in voices but one of his greatest joys (at least on the surface), bawdy humour and rampant sexual innuendo. The Julian and Sandy sketches, in particular, were notorious for the latter, often incorporating into the double entendres (or, more specifically, acting as a cypher for them) the homosexual argot of the time, Polari.

Owing to the death of its principal performer, Round The Horne came to an abrupt end in 1968, which allowed Kenny to move on to another BBC Radio show, the comedy panel game Just A Minute, which had started a year before; it would eventually become iconic and Kenny proved such a successful and popular participant that he was a regular feature on it for 20 years. As mentioned above, he also gained regular work from BBC TV, narrating children’s stories on 69 episodes of the legendary Jackanory (1965-96), voicing all the characters of the unforgettable Willo The Wisp (1981), standing in as host of the Wogan chatshow for a fortnight in 1986 (during which he interviewed, among others, fellow Carry On-er Barbara Windsor) and, of course, appearing as a brilliantly colourful guest on Parkinson (1971-2004) on eight separate occasions, regaling the host and millions of viewers with wonderfully witty, sometimes lurid, often caustically candid observations and anecdotes (see video clip below).

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Choice extracts from Kenneth Williams’ diaries:

“I was appalled at the picture it paints of me! I sound like a foulmouthed frustrated queer! I suppose it’s authentic enough”

“Went to the film Sodom & Gomorrah but only the latter bothered to turn up I’m afraid! Still, it was quite fun. I got an invitation to the Savoy for the Evening Standard Drama Awards. I wouldn’t attend this kind of sh*t if they paid me”

“Sid James looked as bad as his acting”

“I am beginning to get famous now, which is about bloody time. However, I still hate everyone and everything, and am constantly racked with pain throughout my body, and a cancerous malevolence in my heart. I wish I had someone who would help me. Some people have offered to help me, but they were so diabolically repulsive that I threw a Toby Jug at them”

“Had Sid, Hattie, Joan, Barbara, Bernard & Charlie around for dinner. They were all perfectly awful except for Barbara whom I love more than anything else in the world, & even she is a stupid c*nt”

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Speaking of which, both his enthusiasts and the casually curious alike received a plethora of the above – if not more caustic candour, nay even outbursts of unexpected spite and bile, thanks to the publishing five years after Williams’ death in 1993 of the diaries he wrote for more than four decades of his adult life. In recent years, this goldmine of a revelation into the private Kenny (sometimes feeling like an intrusion into his innermost emotions) has been the crux of a reappraisal of the man; often not being able to make up its mind to be unsympathetic or nostaligic and understanding – take, for example, the memorable Michael Sheen-starring biopic-of-sorts for BBC4, Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa! (2006).

Either way, both the publication of the diaries and excerpts of private letters Williams wrote (in Christopher Stevens’ 2010 biography Born Brilliant) has shed far more light on the real Kenny; admittedly, it may have opened a hornet’s nest. The diaries reveal that he was almost definitely celibate and for many years lived in a poorly furnished flat next door to his elderly mother, with whom he spent most evenings, while another biography claimed that he may have been denied a visa to work with Orson Welles in the United States because police suspected he poisoned his father in October 1962, causing the latter’s death; the official verdict was accidental death, Charlie Williams having supposedly drunk carbon tetrachloride instead of his usual cough medicine by mistake.

However, the diaries and the letters have nonetheless helped us understand Kenny better, learning of his constant bouts of despair and flirtations with the idea of suicide, seemingly driven by a tragically misplaced sense of career failure and an all-too-real personal isolation. Indeed, who couldn’t be moved by this excerpt from a letter he wrote to, it now seems, two of his only true friends, the couple Tom Waine and Clive Dennis? “Living with someone always means a denial of self in SOME way and I suppose I have always known it was something I couldn’t accomplish. So I’ve always stayed on the sidelines. Getting the pleasure vicariously. It’s not wholly satisfactory, but then of course no lives are, and you know what I think about indiscriminate sex and promiscuous trade. I think it’s the beginning of a long, long road to despair”.

In which case then, fans of Kenny inevitably and understandably always come back to his contributions to the Carry Ons. Here, in seeking solace, if you will, you find the Williams the UK public has always loved – the often fussy, usually prudish, almost always hapless and definitely nostril-flaring, innuendo-spouting (and sometimes innuendo-denying) character par excellence; whether he’s going by the name Dr Kenneth Soaper or Dr Orlando Watt, or Julius Caesar or (my personal favourite) W. C. Boggs.

If Sid James was arguably the leader, the hero, of the Carry Ons, then just as arguably Kenny was their heart. Kicking-off in the very first Carry On Sergeant (1958) and concluding with the very last of the original series Carry On Emmanuelle (1978), he appeared in 26 of them, missing just three of the entire series. Nowadays, Kenny’s Carry On persona, real or not, is revered as a sort of camp demi-god, the go-to highly clichéd but much admired caricature of British homosexual humour. There’s nothing wrong with that, there’s maybe nothing necessarily right with it either, but it is what it is; very funny and utterly adorable in – or out – of context of the movies themselves and the sterling work of the equally as iconic members of the ensemble with which he shared the screen. Sometimes, despite the fascination with, and seductive melancholia and truth of the real Kenneth Williams, it’s irresistible and necessary to wallow in the Carry On Kenny; to forget about the unhappy clown and experience the clown. Even if ultimately it’s just messin’ about – and the real Kenny may have denounced us for doing so and demanded we stop it.

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What a Carry On: Carry On Cowboy (1965)/ Carry On Screaming! (1966) ~ Reviews

July 13, 2015

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Believe it or not, but this, George’s Journal’s Carry On-athon (itself the centrepiece of the blog’s ‘Carry on Summer Season’), has reached the mid-’60s. But don’t be fooled. There’s no mini-skirts, beehive hairdos or Mini Coopers in sight; nopes, instead we’re going west (er, young man) and doing the monster mash. For, yes, that’s right, it’s time to relive, review, rate and rank both Carry On Cowboy and Carry On Screaming!. But what’ll be the verdict on these two fairly legendary firmaments of Blighty’s funny heritage? Will it be fangs for the memory or a horse backfiring? Read on and find out, peeps…

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How it works:

  1. The ‘Carry On-athon’ takes in all 29 cinematically released Carry On films, chronologically from Carry On Sergeant (1958) right through to Carry On Emmannuelle (1978), excluding the compilation-clip-comprising That’s Carry On! (1977) and Carry On Columbus (1992), whose inclusion in the original series might be said to be a bit tenuous
  2. The reviews consist of 10 categories or movie facets, the inclusion of which tend to define a Carry On film as a Carry On film (‘the regulars’; ‘the crumpet’; ‘the setting’; ‘the plot’; ‘sauciness’; ‘cross-dressing’; ‘catchphrases’; ‘character names’; ‘music’ and ‘overall amusement’), each of which are rated out of 10, thus giving the film in question a rating out of 100, which ensures all 29 films can be properly ranked – the ratings are made up of ‘Boggles’, after Sid Boggle, Sid James’s utterly iconic character from Carry On Camping (1969)
  3. There’s also an ‘Adjuster for each film’s rating (up to plus or minus 10 ‘Boggles’) to give as fair as possible a score according to its overall quality as a film.

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Once talked peace with the Sioux, but you can’t trust ’em – one minute it was peace on, the next peace off

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 91 minutes; Released: November 1965

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Joan Sims; Jim Dale;
Bernard Bresslaw (first film); Peter Butterworth (first film)/ semi-regulars: Angela Douglas (first film);
Jon Pertwee; Percy Herbert (final film); Peter Gilmore; Margaret Nolan (first film)

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The crumpet

Angela Douglas; Edina Ronay; Margaret Nolan; Sally Douglas; Andrea Allan

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The setting

The Wild West; pastiching the Hollywood Western

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The plot

The arrival of gunslinger The Rumpo Kid (James) turns Stodge City upside down. Not only does he take over the saloon – much to its owner Belle’s (Joan Sims) amorous agreement – but he also kills people willy-nilly, including the useless sheriff (Pertwee). In desperation, the mayor Judge Burke (Williams) calls on the Washington authorities for a replacement marshal and, in a mix up, is sent Marshall P. Knutt (Dale), a British sewage engineer. In spite of his lack of credentials, Marshall gives the job a go and somehow survives Rumpo’s attempts on his life – one involving the local Native American tribe led by Chief Big Heap (Hawtrey). Although, the girl with whom he arrived in town (Douglas) seems far more competent, having sworn vengeance on whomever it was that shot dead her father – the former sheriff…

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Would you like sauce with that?

Despite offering fewer innuendos than its direct predecessor, Cowboy barely witnesses a fall on the sauce-o-meter. James’s outlaw may be the bad-dude-in-black Western archetype but he’s still a randy bugger, looking to ditch Sims for newcomer Douglas. And the movie takes little time to, well, sexualise the latter’s beauty, plonking her in a bath so he and we might ogle her and set up farcical unrequited lust for our Sid. Plus, despite the drop in double entendres, they still shoot from the hip: “So you’re Belle?”/ “Yeah, my intimate friends call me ‘Ding Dong’”/ “I’d like to give you a clang some time”. Fantastic.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

To be fair, when you have the plummy and effete-as-anything Charles Hawtrey dressed up as a Native American (and Bernard Bresslaw making his series debut similarly attired), not to mention the excellent Western clobber that the rest of the cast dons (who could forget James’s black-clad villain or Sims’ dazzling dresses making the most of her decolletage?), you’d think you wouldn’t miss the complete lack of drag action in this Carry On entry. And, quite frankly, you don’t. Nonetheless, a low score here is unavoidable, I’m afraid.

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Catchphrase count

Aroused growl (James): 5/ ‘Yak-yak-yak’ (James): 4/ ‘Oh, hello!’: (Hawtrey): 2

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Marvellous monikers

The Rumpo Kid/ Johnny Finger (James); Judge Burke (Williams); Big Heap (Hawtrey);
Marshall P. Knutt (Dale); Little Heap (Bresslaw); Annie Oakley (Douglas); Sheriff Albert Earp (Pertwee)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

An excellent effort from Eric Rogers. The Carry On scorer extraordinaire plays a significant role in making the viewer feel like they’ve been thrown slap-bang into the Old West – and occasionally exaggerates things to remind us this is a loving parody poking fun at the Western, not the real thing. Of particular note is the fact that Cowboy contains two songs, both written by Rogers. The first, Carry On Cowboy, is an opening title theme (a perfect home-on-the-range sort of wistful ballad); the second, This Is The Night For Love, is performed onscreen by Douglas in an attempt to seduce Sid’s Rumpo.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Fair dos, Cowboy is sometimes guilty of substituting the funnies for faithfulness to genre parody, but it also features some unforgettable Carry On characters and moments. There’s Dale’s loveable, slapstick-tastic semi-lead; Williams’ prudish, hopeless ‘Wright-Burke’ of a mayor; Davy Kaye’s shameless coffin maker gleefully taking advantage of his town’s high body count; and, best of all, Hawtrey’s ludicrous be-headdressed lush (his introduction emerging from a ‘tepee toilet’, complete with flushing sound effect, is priceless). When it’s on song, Cowboy certainly hits the high notes.

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Adjuster: +8

The best Western parody you’ll see this side of Hollywood. Containing seaside postcard humour. And Brits putting on Yank accents. And Charles Hawtrey as a Native American chief. Cowboy is so good that at times you forget you’re not watching a real Western. For a few seconds at least. Yes, it could be funnier, but for me it’s every bit as good as that other Western pastiche that came out in its year, Cat Ballou – and that won Lee Marvin an Oscar. Where was Sid James’s BAFTA? All right, don’t answer that…

Total Boggles:

80/ 100

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The best bit

The high-noon showdown between Rumpo and Knutt – a rare instance of a real climax in a Carry On and when the film’s affectionate parody crosses over into genuine genre homage; the twist of Dale’s would-be-hero besting Sid’s villain via the drains is marvellous (so long as you overlook the fact such a Western town would surely never possess an underground sewage system)

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The best line

Williams: “My great-grandfather came over here on the Mayflower – he was the original Burke.
He married into the Wright family and became a Wright-Burke”/
Butterworth:  “The whole family are Wright-Burkes, Marshal”/ Dale: “Charming”

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Trivia

Perhaps making its fine realisation of Stodge City even more impressive, Cowboy contains no sets previously built for a Western movie (unlike Carry On Cleo’s use of sets originally constructed for 1963’s Cleopatra); its Western town was entirely created on the Pinewood Studios backlot – although the main street features a turn at both ends to disguise the fact it’s not surrounded by open country

New to major cinema roles as she was at the time, Angela Douglas claims she was so frightened prior to performing her saloon tune (in her skimpy showgirl costume) that she had to down two brandies beforehand and be practically pushed on camera by Joan Sims

Composer Eric Rogers makes a rare onscreen cameo as the pianist in Belle’s/ Rumpo’s saloon band

Believe it or not, Cowboy marks the film debut – as a stunt rider – of Richard O’Brien, whom would later conceive and star in the iconic cult movie musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and much later host the just as cult British activity-gameshow The Crystal Maze (1990-95).

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Frying tonight!

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 93 minutes; Released: August 1966

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The regulars

Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Joan Sims; Jim Dale; Bernard Bresslaw; Peter Butterworth/
semi-regulars: Angela Douglas; Jon Pertwee (final film); Tom Clegg; Sally Douglas

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The crumpet

Fenella Fielding; Angela Douglas; Sally Douglas

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The setting

Edwardian England; pastiching Hammer horror films and gothic horror in general

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The plot

 Young, attractive Doris (Douglas) is kidnapped in a forest one night by a neanderthal man. Her boyfriend Albert (Dale) accompanies local police detective Sidney Bung (Harry H. Corbett) and his underling (Butterworth) as they investigate the scene. While there, they come across a mansion. Shown in by a tall, malevolent butler (Bresslaw), they meet the owner Dr Watt (Williams), whom tries to dampen their suspicions despite almost giving away the fact he’s ‘undead’ and powered by electricity. In fact, he’s an evil scientist whom, with his seductive sister (Fielding), is responsible for Douglas’s and many other women’s disappearances (via the neanderthal aide) in order to vitrify their bodies and sell them on as shop mannequins. Can Bung and co. crack the case and defeat the spooky duo?

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Would you like sauce with that?

While London was swinging in the summer of ’66 (and England winning the World Cup, of course), the Carry On team were recreating a haunted Edwardian England, but Screaming! certainly doesn’t restrict itself to the social mores of that era. In keeping with the times, it’s possibly the most permissive entry in the series thus far; the sitting-chair chat between Corbett and Fielding bristling with sexual frisson thanks to clever-clever and subtle-as-a-sledge-hammer innuendo, while later on the former forces Butterworth to check out both cheeks of a dummy’s posterior to make sure it’s not that of Angela Douglas. It makes sense in the movie. More or less.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

Following the total lack of a drag act in Carry On Cowboy, the gang deliver the goods here thanks to a good 15 or so minutes’ worth of cross-dressing from Peter Butterworth as he’s ordered to impersonate a woman by Corbett’s detective in a desperate attempt to lure and catch red-handed the neanderthal believed to have kidnapped Douglas. The plan backfires – but of course – yet, because it leads into the film’s climax, we get an extended period of the very masculine-shaped Butterworth crashing about pursued by monsters while decked out in a period dress and petticoat et al. Not bad at all.

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Catchphrase count

‘Oh, hello!’ (Hawtrey): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Detective Sergeant Sidney Bung (Corbett); Dr Orlando Watt (Williams);
Valeria Watt (Fielding); Dan Dann (Hawtrey); Sockett (Bresslaw);
Detective Constable Slobotham (Butterworth); Oddbod (Tom Clegg)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

It’s hard to fault Eric Rogers’ work on Screaming!. The movie’s music is best recalled for arguably the most satisfying and most memorable eponymous Carry On title song. Combining with the jolly opening credits (which pleasingly wobble whenever the screams erupt in the song), it sets the tone for the film to come perfectly. However, Rogers’ score is just as good, if not better, featuring his usual sonorous flourishes to make prominent gags even funnier and finely pastiching the whole history of horror cinema’s reliance on sinister notes and dissonance to help evoke terror.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

To do film parody well you have to strike a balance between recreating the genre you’re taking the p*ss out of and being funny. Screaming! gets this balance practically spot on. While the look, feel and atmos (mockingly so, the latter, of course) is always reminiscent of turn-of-the-century-set Hammer horror, there’s a constant stream of solid comedy; the cracking Corbett henpicked by Sims’ brilliant battlexe wife and Williams’ effetely insane, pun-making villain, just for starters. But, at its best, Screaming! gets quality humour precisely out of the horror pastiche – Bresslaw’s Lurch-esque butler and the fantastic Fielding turning on Corbett by literally letting off smoke when she asks if he minds her smoking.

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Adjuster: +8

Easily one of the very best of the series’ many genre parodies and historical romps,
Screaming! runs everything including Hammer horror, Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde,
House Of Wax, Frankenstein and The Addams Family through the Carry On circuit,
resulting in an electrifyingly satisfying and often very funny (far from ghoulish) delight.

Total Boggles:

83/100

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The best bit

There’s many to choose from (Williams’ climatic demise and ‘Frying tonight!’, Corbett and Sims’ vitriolic exchanges and the former’s amorous encounter with Fielding), but I’m going to go for the superb scene in which our intrepid heroes first meet Williams and the following dialogue occurs…

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The best line

Corbett: “A young lady has disappeared and we’re anxious to trace her whereabouts”/ Williams: “Oh? Whereabouts?”/ Corbett: “’Ereabouts”/ Dale: “At 10 o’clock”/ Corbett: “Or thereabouts”/ Butterworth: “In this vicinity”/ Corbett: “Or roundabouts”/ Butterworth: “We’re police officers”/ Dale: “Or layabouts”

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Trivia

Surprisingly, producer Peter Rogers didn’t cast Harry H. Corbett as Sidney Bung in place of de facto company lead Sid James because the latter was tied up with other work, but because he’d always wanted to feature Corbett in one of his movies and felt he’d be the perfect fit for Screaming!’s starring role

To lure his services away from the biggest sitcom of the age Steptoe And Son, Corbett was paid £12,000 – a then record fee for a Carry On; speaking of the aforementioned jewel in the BBC’s comedy crown, a few notes from its unmistakeable theme can be heard when, in his monster-transformed state, Corbett rides on the horse-drawn trap to the clothes shop in order to retrieve the Douglas ‘dummy’

Charles Hawtrey was cast as the lavatory attendant Dan Dann at the last minute (the role was originally to be played by Sydney Bromley, whom had portrayed farmer Sam Houston in Cowboy), possibly because American distributors pointed out how popular Hawtrey’s appearances in the series were over the pond; the reason for his original dropping for this movie has never been gleaned

In the opening titles, the performance of the theme song is credited to ‘Anon’; for many years Carry On fans speculated the singer was Screaming! star and former pop heart-throb Jim Dale, but it was actually performed by Ray Pilgrim – although the version that was released as a single was sung by Boz Burrell (later to become bassist for the legendary rock bands King Crimson and Bad Company).

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Carry On Ranking

(All out of 100; new entries in blue)

1. Carry On Cabby (1963) ~ 85

2. Carry On Screaming! (1966) ~ 83

3. Carry On Cowboy (1965) ~ 80

4. Carry On Cleo (1964) ~ 68

5.  Carry On Nurse (1959) ~ 65

6. Carry On Constable (1960) ~ 63

7. Carry On Spying (1964) ~ 62

8. Carry On Jack (1963) ~ 61

9. Carry On Cruising (1962) ~ 60

10. Carry On Sergeant (1958) ~ 58

11. Carry On Teacher (1959) ~ 56

12. Carry On Regardless (1961) ~ 55

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Keep calm,
the Carry On reviews
will, yes, carry on

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Playlist: Listen, my friends! ~ July 2015

July 1, 2015

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In the words of Moby Grape… listen, my friends! Yes, it’s the (hopefully) monthly playlist presented by George’s Journal just for you good people.

There may be one or two classics to be found here dotted in among different tunes you’re unfamiliar with or have never heard before – or, of course, you may’ve heard them all before. All the same, why not sit back, listen away and enjoy…

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CLICK on the song titles to hear them

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Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye ~
The Ballad Of Cat Ballou/ They Can’t Make Her Cry (1965)¹

Dusty Springfield ~ (They Long To Be) Close To You (1967)

Richard Attenborough and Rex Harrison ~ I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It (1967)²

Creedence Clearwater Revival ~ Run Through The Jungle (1970)

The Free Design ~ Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street? (1970)

John Kongos ~ He’s Gonna Step On You Again (1971)³

Can ~ Vitamin C (1972)

Uriah Heep ~ Circle Of Hands (1972)

Maureen McGovern ~ We May Never Love Like This Again (1974)4

Paul Nicholas ~ Just Good Friends (1983)5

Sylvester Levay ~ Theme from Airwolf (1984)

Fairground Attraction ~ Find My Love (1988)

Transvision Vamp ~ Baby I Don’t Care (1989)

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¹ As featured – and sung by its performers – in the Jane Fonda/ Lee Marvin comedy Western Cat Ballou (1965)

² From the soundtrack of the notorious Hollywood musical box-office bomb Doctor Dolittle (1967)

³ The original version of the tune that The Happy Mondays, in the late ’80s/ early ’90s Acid House era, covered and made their own as the re-titled Step On (1990)

4 The chart hit that served as the romantic theme for ’70s disaster movie deluxe The Towering Inferno (1974)

5 A synth-tastic full version of the theme tune to the popular BBC sitcom of the same name (1983-86)

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