“Infamy, infamy! They’ve all got it in for me.”
The “Carry On” films are well known to aficionados of British comedy. Beginning in 1958 with Carry On Sergeant, 31 films in total were produced. Thirty of these had actually appeared by 1978 with one further title — Carry On Columbus — being made in 1992. Included in this total is one compilation film — That’s Carry On (1977) — containing a number of highlights from the others. The films really have to be seen to be appreciated, but having said that, they will not appeal to everyone. They (at least, most of them) are good examples of the British comedy school of political incorrectness, T&A, double entendre, and sexual innuendo put across by a cast of regulars that included the likes of Sidney James, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor, Barbara Windsor, Charles Hawtrey, and Jim Dale. All the films were produced by Peter Rogers and directed by Gerald Thomas. Probably at the height of their popularity in the 1970s, the films spawned a short-lived television series in 1975 as well as various television specials. Despite the fact that only one film has been made since the late 1970s, the films continue to have many devotees and the former cast members (many now deceased) have maintained a high degree of popularity ever since.
Many of the films have been available on DVD in Britain and just recently it was announced that Carlton Films in Britain has acquired the rights to the later titles in the series (beginning with the 13th film — Carry On…Don’t Lose Your Head ) and will start releasing special edition DVDs of them this winter. (These editions will include commentaries, interviews, documentaries, and so on.) In North America, in the meantime, we are fortunate to have the first twelve films in the series available to us on DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay. The titles are packaged as six double bills (two titles per disc), available either individually or as part of a box set. In the latter format, Anchor Bay has included a seventh disc containing That’s Carry On, not otherwise available.
Carry On Sergeant — An inept platoon of army recruits bumble their way into becoming star soldiers.
Carry On Nurse — Chaos at Haven Hospital includes a fierce matron, a seductive nurse, a one-armed boxer, some drunken bunion surgery, and one very misplaced daffodil.
Carry On Teacher — A school of scheming students conspires to save a popular headmaster using booby traps, itching powder, spiked tea, and some very shaky Shakespeare.
Carry On Constable — A group of bungling police recruits has a rather unorthodox way of enforcing law and order.
Carry On Regardless — The “Helping Hands” employment agency takes on any job, big or small, including positions as chimp-sitters, wine tasters, lingerie models, and house wreckers.
Carry On Cruising — The cruise ship, Happy Wanderer, sets sail with an eager new crew of incompetents including a seasick cook, a lovesick doctor, and some very strange passengers.
Carry On Cabby — A taxi-fleet owner who pays more attention to his cabs than to his wife has to deal with some unusual competition when a rival business of beautiful woman cabbies takes to the streets.
Carry On Spying — Bumbling secret agents Charles Bind, Simpkins, Carstairs, Crump, and Miss Honeybutt go up against the evil villains of STENCH which is seeking world domination.
Carry On Cleo — In ancient Rome, two enslaved Brits tangle with Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Queen Cleopatra while battling cheeky gladiators and some rather odd vestal virgins.
Carry On Jack — Murderous pirates, mutiny, and a very fetching temptress are but some of the obstacles faced by the galleon of the legendary Captain Fearless with its new Midshipman Albert Poop-Decker.
Carry On Cowboy — The peace-loving citizens of Stodge City need a hero to save them from vicious gunfighter The Rumpo Kid. Perhaps new sheriff Marshall P. Knutt is their man.
Carry On Screaming — Scotland Yard detectives Bung and Slowbottom must stop the evil experiments of mad scientist Dr. Watt and an onslaught of mummies, werewolves, a very peculiar butler, and one extremely buxom vampire.
That’s Carry On — Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor host a program of highlights from past “Carry On” films.
With 30-odd titles in the series, the Carry On gang has managed to cover most of the bases. The hospital has been their favourite location, but they’ve been in the army, the police force, and school; they’ve been to sea both on a contemporary cruise ship and in the British navy when pirates were a common menace; they’ve managed to travel through time to the old west, Henry VIII’s England, Cleopatra’s Egypt, and the Khyber Pass; they’ve been camping; they’ve worked for a cab company and an odd-job agency; they’ve worked their way through the spy film genre, the horror film, and the sex film. In short, nothing has been safe from the double entendre, the sexy pun, and the sight of a bare rear-end, a well-turned heel, or a barely (sometimes very barely) concealed breast.
Most people who enjoy the Carry On Films point to the familiar faces that recur in many of the films as the main reason. There’s no doubt that Sid James (basically an affectionate rascal with a face full of character but little beauty) was considered the king of the troupe, appearing in 21 of the films beginning with Carry On Constable. As synonymous, but perhaps not quite as universally liked by fans, was Kenneth Williams (he of the flared nostrils, the disdainful sniff, and the snobbish look down the nose) who appeared in 25 titles. Among the women, Joan Sims was the most active with appearances in 24 titles. Perhaps held in highest affection, however, was the formidable Hattie Jacques who appeared in 14 films. Bouncy Barbara Windsor, who often seemed to have difficulty holding onto her bra, was a familiar and welcome figure in nine of the later films. Many of the Carry Ons also featured other well-known British players and the odd American or European from time to time, such as Shirley Eaton, Bob Monkhouse, Wilfred Hyde White, Phil Silvers, Beryl Reid, and Elka Sommer.
For many fans, the early black and white films are the favourites before the formula grew too stale. I know I had fond memories of having seen Carry On Constable many years ago, and I was not disappointed when seeing it again in this set. Yet, there’s no doubt that some of the colour outings are among the best efforts. Anchor Bay’s DVD collection of the first twelve films in the series is an excellent place to start because it includes all the black and white efforts as well as two of the best colour ones — Carry On Cleo and Carry On Screaming. Admittedly, a box set containing 13 films can be a little daunting, but for starters, you can’t go wrong with the two colour films mentioned above and from the black and whites, Carry On Nurse, Carry On Constable, and Carry On Cabby.
The 13th film included in the box set (and only available to box-set purchasers) is a compilation effort made in 1977 called That’s Carry On. It’s actually the worst film in the set. I imagine the idea seemed like a good one at the time, but taken out of their context, highlights from the various films strung together like so many sausages quickly become tedious. Even worse, however, is the outrageous mugging of hosts Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor. It was probably a wise decision on Anchor Bay’s part to include the film only in the box set. I can’t imagine anyone other than a completist buying it on its own.
Anchor Bay’s DVD transfers for the 13 films are all 1.66:1 anamorphic and quite consistently good. Seven of the titles are in black and white with the rest in colour (including Carry On Cruising, which is listed erroneously as being in black and white on the case). The black and white films are all generally crisp and clear-looking with minimal speckling and debris evident. The sharpest are the ones on the first disc in the series (Carry On Sergeant, Carry On Nurse). The only black-and-white film noticeably weaker than the others is Carry On Cabby, which exhibits a softer image with somewhat poorer contrast. Edge effects range from minimal to nonexistent. The six colour films are similarly consistent, displaying sharp, colourful images for the most part. Carry On Screaming is a little softer-looking than the others, and edge effects are most noticeable (though not distractingly so) on Carry On Jack.
All 13 films are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The sound is clear and virtually free of crackling or distortion, with minimal age-related hiss in evidence. Overall, it is more than adequate for the task at hand. Unfortunately there is no subtitling offered to assist the hearing impaired.
Supplements are restricted to the original theatrical trailer for each film, and in a typically nice Anchor Bay touch, cardboard case inserts that contain poster reproductions for each film contained on that particular disc.
The “Carry On” films are very much an acquired taste. During their heyday from the late 1950s to late 1970s, a lot of people acquired that taste. They possess a very British sense of humour that owes something to both the British music hall tradition and the British preoccupation with toilet humour and not-so-subtle sexual innuendo. Anyone in North America who has fallen prey to these films will welcome a new box set containing 12 of the earliest titles (and one later compilation effort). Anchor Bay has done its usual fine job of delivering quality anamorphic transfers, although one could have hoped for some background information on the series and players particularly for people who are not that familiar with the films. This will be an easy purchase for “Carry On” fans. Others may want to rent an individual title first to gauge their reaction to these types of films before committing to the box set.