The Carry On team were a much-loved bunch of tragic comedians, now mostly no longer with us. They brought a brazen vigour and commitment to desperate double-entendres and mucky slapstick that was completely beyond the call of duty, and we must admire them for that.
The miserable lives so many of them lead cast a web of melancholy over the weaker films of the series, which the mugging and suggestiveness enhance rather than dispel. CARRY ON HENRY, CARRY ON GIRLS and CARRY ON ENGLAND have all the bleakness of an English seaside resort in the off-season, with the addition perhaps of the odd rat-gnawed corpse strewn along the promenade. Not many comedies have this bracing memento mori effect, you have to admit.
A morbid miscellany:
Kenneth Williams: suicide. (Last diary entry: “Oh, what’s the bloody use?”)
Sid James: heart attack on opening night of play.
Frankie Howerd: heart failure on same day as Benny Hill’s death (the low comedy equivalent of the Bergman-/Antonioni double-header. Hill on Antonionioni: “I know how to say it, I just don’t know when to stop.”).
Peter Butterworth: heart attack while entertaining at a children’s party.
Charles Hawtrey: cardiovascular illness after refusing a double leg amputation.
Joan Sims: alcohol-related illness.
Is everybody happy?
“Of all the people who have ever lived on this earth, not one of them ever had a happy ending.” — Dorothy Parker.
Now that festive cheer has been well and truly administered, here are a few stories the Carry On team of director Peter Rogers and producer Gerald Thomas* never got around to…
But first I have to acknowledge that while I was preparing this nonsense I was pipped to the post (ouch!) by Mssrs Ehrenstein and Williams at the Yahoo group a_film_by, with D.E. suggesting and T.W. elaborating the following scenario:
D.E. ‘Maybe they should have called it “Carry On Lucrezia”‘
T.W. ‘One could imagine a great line up: Hattie Jacques as Lucrezia, Sid James as Cesare Borgia, Charles Hawtrey as “Il Pop” and Kenneth Williams as Dante, not forgetting Barbara Windsor as Beatrice.’
Not sure I can better that eye-popper, but here’s my tuppence-worth:
CARRY ON THE RIVER KWAI
Phil Silvers as Cmdr. Shears (William Holden) — Holden IS Bilko.
Kenneth Williams as Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) — The role he was born for, I feel.
Leslie Phillips as Maj. Warden (Jack Hawkins)
Charles Hawtrey as Maj. Clipton (James Donald) “Madness! Madness!”
Frankie Howerd as Col. Sato (Sessue Hayakawa)
Now, I know there’s already a CARRY ON SPYING, but I see no reason why they shouldn’t also have attempted:
CARRY ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE
Kenneth Williams as James Bond (see how dashing he looks in Carry On spying, and remember Russ Meyer’s ambition to out Mr. Bond as gay).
Barbara Windsor as Miss Moneypenny. No arguments there, I trust.
Hattie Jacques as M (M for Matron, and she’s a better actress than Dame Judi Dench)
Charles Hawtrey as Q (“Do pay attention, 007″)
Mollie Sugden as Ernst Slocombe Blofeld (I know she’s from ARE YOU BEING SERVED? and was never in a Carry On film and is the wrong gender, but imagine the fun: “Awful weather out there, Mr. Bond, my pussy’s soaking wet!”)
The Carry Ons and the James Bonds definitely intersect: names like Pussy Galore and Plenty O’Toole wouldn’t be out of place in a Carry On — at all— and Bond girl Angela Scoular is married to dapper Carry On legend Leslie Phillips, who can get more seduction into the word “hello” than any screen Bond could muster with a complete recitation of Andrew Marvell’s “To his Coy Mistress”.
The one I’d most like to see is probably –
CARRY ON HAMLET
Kenneth Williams plays the Dane. I just want to admire his form in black tights, I guess.
Sid James plays Claudius, which will give Hamlet plenty to be upset about.
Hattie Jacques as Gertrude. “You can be as Gertrude as you like with me!”
Babs as Ophelia, the daffy blonde. Name is good for smutty puns.
Frankie Howerd would sincerely be a sublime Polonius, here probably called Baloneyus. Michael Powell intended to cast Howerd as the drunken jester in his THE TEMPEST with James Mason as Prospero (see Greatest Movies Never Made Part 1).
Peter Butterworth and Bernard Bresslaw, eternal stooges, one little, one large, as Rosenpants and Watchyourstern. Olivier’s HAMLET seems to be the first film to feature Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and Bresslaw nearly got Lee’s role in CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.
(Tom Stoppard admits he didn’t move the camera much in his only film as director, ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, because he forgot you COULD move the camera. And then when he was reminded, he had a go, but found it “quite difficult”. Which begs the question, did nobody at any stage ask him how he intended to approach the visual side of his directing debut? Only in the U.K…)
Charles Hawtrey as Daniel Dann the Gravedigging Man. Hawtrey is perhaps the most abnormal of all the gang, an emaciated gay schoolboy of advancing years, not suitable for family viewing in any civilized nation. Actually, he could double as Yorick too.
Jim Dale would be an excellent Horatio as he’s very good at hanging on his fellow actors’ words, and while we’re on the subject of actors, Harry H. Corbett could be the Player King. He was touted as the British Brando in his youth, and what did it lead to? 18 years of STEPTOE AND SON and one Carry On.
Laertes is the only character in the play with no quotable lines, which makes me want to give the part to somebody rather good to compensate… Bernard Cribbins (still very much alive) is a splendid actor, rated as one of the very finest by no less a personage than Val Guest. He can be my Laertes anyday.
Actually, CARRY ON HAMLET isn’t quite stupid enough, it should be called CARRY ON SOMETHING ROTTEN.
Next Up: HITLER: THE LAST TEN DAYS performed by the Police Academy team.
*Uncle of THIS MAN: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0859016/