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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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