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What a Carry On: Carry On Spying (1964)/ Carry On Cleo (1964) ~ Reviews

June 22, 2015

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That’s right, like a bad apple or a juicy pair… er, sorry, a juicy pear, the Carry On-athon is back after a break, mes amis. Yes, it’s time to immerse ourselves once more in the innuendo-flushed frolicking of Sid, Kenny, Charlie and co. as they take us into the espionage universe of the mid-’60s and the political machinations of First Century BC Rome. Or at least something like them.

But what will  be the results of George’s Journal reviewing this couple of comedy flicks – how will they be rated and ranked? Read on, peeps, it’s far from top secret…

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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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I’ve always wanted to see Vienna before I die”/
With a bit of luck, you’ll do both!

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Written by: Talbot Rothwell and Sid Colin; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 84 minutes; Released: June 1964; Black & White

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The regulars

Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Barbara Windsor (first film); Jim Dale/ semi-regulars:
Bernard Cribbins; Dilys Laye; Eric Barker; Judith Furse (final film); Renée Houston; Sally Douglas

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The crumpet

Barbara Windsor; Dilys Laye; Sally Douglas; Marian Collins; Jane Lumb

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The setting

The espionage world of the ’60s; sending up the decade’s spy-fi culture

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The plot

A chemical formula is stolen from British Intelligence by its nemesis STENCH (the Society for the Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans), but with all of Blighty’s best operatives tied up around the world, the Chief (Barker) reluctantly turns to an incompetent agent (Williams) to oversee a trio of new recruits (Cribbins, Windsor and Hawtrey). A lead takes the gang to Vienna where, after ineptly connecting with a capable British spy (Dale), they track down the thief, but he’s been fatally wounded by his superiors – after passing on the formula. Moving on to Algiers and although woefully trying to mix in with the locals, the Brits manage to snatch back the intel, only to be immediately captured. Destroying the formula but recording its contents to memory, they’re then transported to STENCH’s top secret HQ…

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Would you like sauce with that?

The fact the series wilfully and wholeheartedly embraces the spy-fi phenomenon here signals that the Swinging Sixties had pretty much arrived, but not quite for the Carry Ons. To wit, despite the ‘sex for dinner, death for breakfast’ norms of the espionage genre, Spying’s perhaps unexpectedly a little coy in its naughtiness. Its redemption here though is Babs Windsor’s debut appearance, the movie making the most of her looks, body and would-be ‘Bow Bells belle’ persona, highlights of which being her belly dancer outfit and her boobs getting in the way of Cribbins helping her on with a shoulder holster.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

Merely three films into his Carry On run and Jim Dale shows true comic versatility in Spying. Often to be used as a mock-matinee idol foil to the other leads, here he’s not just the only competent British spy on show (fittingly 007 handsome as he is), but he also puts on an ever so slightly disturbing drag act when dressed as an Austrian streetwalker in making contact with one of the gang – disturbing because he makes for a rather convincing woman. Later on, Bernard Cribbins is far less convincing, but amusingly so, as a belly-dancing pal for Babs as they try to steal back the formula from a randy enemy operative.

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Catchphrase count

‘Stop messing about!’ (Williams): 3; ‘Oh hello!’ (Hawtrey): 1; ‘Cockney cackle’ (Windsor): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Desmond Simkins/ ‘Red Admiral’ (Williams); Charlie Bind/ ‘Yellow Peril’ (Hawtrey);
Daphne Honeybutt/ ‘Brown Cow’ (Windsor); Harold Crump/ ‘Blue Bottle’ (Cribbins);
The Fat Man (Eric Pohlmann); Milchman (Victor Maddern); Dr Crow (Judith Furse)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Given the film’s pastiching, Eric Rogers is given the opportunity to have some real fun this time out, but that he does an effective job lies in the fact he doesn’t overindulge himself. While the Vienna scenes with their deliberately noir-ish vibe invites him to throw in some Third Man-nodding zither-like cues and the Algiers setting invites North African touches, he wisely avoids lampooning John Barry’s iconic ‘Bond sound’, instead settling for a mock-murky-espionage-suggesting melody for the main theme. There’s also a couple of tunes, Too Late and The Magic Of Love, sung by femme fatale Dilys Laye.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Despite sequences when it does misfire (the gang attempting to gain entry to an Algerian brothel and their inexplicably torturous ride on a conveyor belt in STENCH HQ), Spying does raise a fair number of laughs. Williams is always winning in another of his useless administrator roles (cf. Cruising) – indeed, his bent pistol gag is shameless and ridiculous but tittersome – yet much of the funniest stuff arises from the presence of Babs Windsor and her decolletage, which given how ample it and her comedic talents are maybe isn’t surprising. She makes a fine debut and was quite clearly going to be a Carry On star.

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Adjuster: -2

The final black-and-white effort, Spying benefits from its monochrome film noir moments, but a splash of bold colour may have lent considerable oomph to the villain’s lair finale. Nonetheless, although a little demure compared to the Carry Ons just around the corner, it holds up decently – not least alongside those other ‘British’ Bond spoofs, the Austin PowersJohnny Englishes and 1967’s Casino Royale.

Total Boggles:

62/ 100

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The best bit

Williams meets and briefs the trainee agents who’ll be under his command (Cribbins, Windsor and Hawtrey), leaving the audience – if not him – with deep misgivings about Britain’s security in its hour of need; includes the pearler of the line to be read below

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The best line

Hawtrey: “Agent Bind”/ Williams: “James?”/ Hawtrey: “No, Charlie”/
Williams: “Number?”/ Hawtrey: “Double-0… Ohh”/ Williams: “0-what?”/
Hawtrey: “Well, I’ve no idea. They looked at me and said ‘Uh-oh… ohh”/ Williams: “I see what you mean”

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Trivia

Hawtrey’s character was originally going to be called ‘Charlie Bond, Agent 001½’ until Bond producers Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman threatened to sue Peter Rogers; the film’s original poster had to be altered as well, owing to it bearing too much of a resemblance to that of the previous year’s From Russia With Love

Co-screenwriter Sid Colin was most famous for working on the sitcoms The Army Game (1957-59), in which both Carry On alumni William Hartnell and Bernard Bresslaw were cast regulars (Hartnell’s character proving very similar to his in Sergeant) and Up Pompeii (1969-70), on which he also collaborated with Talbot Rothwell

This would be Eric Barker’s last Carry On for 18 years – he’d finally return for Carry On Emmanuelle; Bernard Cribbins completed his two-movie-only stint in the series with Spying – that is, if you discount his appearance in the execrable Carry On Columbus, which was released a full 38 years later

Eric Pohlmann provided the voice of Bond nemesis and SPECTRE chief Blofeld in both From Russia With Love and Thunderball (1965), and played a waiter in The Third Man. He went on to appear in The Return Of The Pink Panther (1975), in which he also played a character called The Fat Man.

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Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 88 minutes; Released: November 1964

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Kenneth Connor; Joan Sims; Jim Dale/
semi-regulars: Amanda Barrie (final film); Jon Pertwee (first film); Peter Gilmore; Sally Douglas

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The crumpet

Amanda Barrie; Julie Stevens; Tanya Binning; Sally Douglas; Wanda Ventham

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The setting

Ancient Rome and Egypt; sending up 1963’s Cleopatra and ‘sword-and-sandal’ epics in general

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The plot:

Sick of the wet weather, Julius Caesar (Williams) and Marc Antony (James) return home early from their British campaign, taking with them captured slaves including the cowardly Hengist (Connor) and the brave Horsa (Dale). Back in Rome, Caesar is reunited with his battleaxe wife Calpurnia (Sims) and her dotty, randy second-sighted father Seneca (Hawtrey). Saved from an attempt on his life by Hengist – although actually inadvertently due to Horsa’s derring-do – Caesar appoints the former his personal bodyguard as he travels to Egypt to seal an alliance with the delectable queen Cleopatra (Barrie), on the recommendation of Antony, who’s already sampled her ample delights. However, lusting after power as well as his lover, Antony in fact aims to bump off Caesar there and seize Rome – and Cleo – for himself.

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Would you like sauce with that?

After toying with its audience for years, the series finally delivers in the sauce stakes here – the bold  colour, costumes and sets of this Carry On are complemented by brasher, fruitier and franker comedy. Taking its cues from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony And Cleopatra, Rothwell’s script invites James to finally fully develop his lothario persona, Williams to enter full fuss-pot bureaucrat mode and Hawtrey to twist his persona into his familiar, irreverent semi-sexual deviant; all accompanied by Barrie’s air-head sex-pot empress. There’s only one way this flick’ll end – as a good old bedroom farce.

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Cross-dressing to impress?

Not much to report here really. Apart from the bit when escaped Brit slaves Connor and Dale hide from their pursuers among the comely Vestal Virgins in their sacred temple, forcing them for a few seconds to don, yes, virginal white robes and for the former to put on his desperate drag act (cf. Carry On Cabby). Mind you, one might suggest that’s made up for by all the togas, tunics, swords, sandals, Egyptian head-pieces and flimsy dresses on display.

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Catchphrase count

‘Yak yak yak!’ (James): 3; ‘Oh hello!’ (Hawtrey): 2; ‘Corrr!’ (Connor): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Hengist Pod (Connor); Senna Pod (Sheila Hancock); Marcus and Spencius
(Gertan Klauber and Warren Mitchell); Sosages (Tom Clegg)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Surely Cleo’s least showy tenet, Rogers’ score does the job fine, but there’s barely a memorable melody to be heard. Fair dues, though, in contributing to the onscreen pastiche, the moments nodding to epic cinema are soundtracked by suitable mock orchestral bombast, full of swelling brass. Plus, there’s a decent would-be love theme in there for the first meeting of Antony and Cleo.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Contrasted with Carry On Jack (the first period effort), Cleo has a good, ahem, stab at balancing the ancient epic plot norms and production values with the comedy; although, contrasted with some series entries to come, one’s left feeling it could be funnier. Having said that, it nattily takes the p*ss out of not just Shakespeare and Cleopatra, but also 1959’s Ben-Hur and 1960’s Spartacus (check out the galley scene and the slave revolts), while Rothwell’s finding his groove and the leads their much loved personas. Plus, Jon Pertwee, Sheila Hancock and Warren Mitchell all make cracking cameos.

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Adjuster: +3

Iconic and highly popular, Cleo’s a watershed Carry On – the first in which Sid and Kenny properly share lead characters of equal standing, the first in an unbroken string of five period parodies and the first with that trademark brasher, franker tone. It’s littered with historical inaccuracies (it happily admits to ‘taking liberties with Cleopatra’), but it’s also a Roman romp that rarely rests on its laurels.

Total Boggles:

68/100

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The best bit

Cleo presents Sid (Antony) with her poisonous asp, suggesting its use to assassinate Williams’ Caesar, only for the misunderstanding Sid to take it and bite off its head – complete with a marvellously gratuitous sound effect

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The best line

Sims: “Seneca is known throughout Rome as a truly great sage”/ Hawtrey: “Yes, and I know my onions”/ Williams: “I wish you’d been in Britain – they know what to do with sage and onions there!”

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Trivia

Clearly inspired by the success and notoriety of the 1963 Cleopatra epic, Cleo was able to make good use of the sets built at Pinewood Studios for the former film but abandoned when its production upped sticks for Rome’s Cinecittà Studios

Speaking of Cleopatra, in an echo of the controversy generated by Spying’s original poster, Twentieth Century Fox filed for copyright infringement against Cleo’s production over its original artwork blatantly copying that of the Burton-Taylor opus – to be fair, Fox had more than a point

It’s no wonder Cleo set something of a template for the next few Carry Ons, for in a year jam-packed with Hollywood blockbusters (The Sound Of Music, Doctor Zhivago and Thunderball among them), it finished 12th on the list of UK box-office hits

Returning to the Carry On company  after a four-film break (following a rap on the knuckles for an affair with a Pinewood technician during former movies), Joan Sims would now go on to appear in every one of the series until its conclusion with Carry On Emmannuelle (1978)

Kenneth Williams’ notorious and wonderful ‘Infamy! Infamy!’ line (see opening of review) wasn’t actually the work of Talbot Rothwell; remembering it from the radio series Take It From Here, the scribe sought the permission of that show’s writers Frank Muir and Dennis Nordern (whom would later become forever recalled for hosting ITV’s gag-real favourite It’ll Be All Right On The Night) in order to feature it.

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Carry On Ranking

(All out of 100; new entries in blue)

1. Carry On Cabby (1963) ~ 85

2. Carry On Cleo (1964) ~ 68

3.  Carry On Nurse (1959) ~ 65

4. Carry On Constable (1960) ~ 63

5. Carry On Spying (1964) ~ 62

6. Carry On Jack (1963) ~ 61

7. Carry On Cruising (1962) ~ 60

8. Carry On Sergeant (1958) ~ 58

9. Carry On Teacher (1959) ~ 56

10. Carry On Regardless (1961) ~ 55

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

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