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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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don't_lose_your_head_title

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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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follow_that_camel_title

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follow_that_camel

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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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