Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Carry On Don't Lose Your Head (1966)

The 13th in the venerable series of British comedy films, Carry On Don't Lose Your Head is an often funny but also often unremarkable effort, with good performances undermined by a few slow spots and a script that runs out of steam before the end.

Set in the time of the French Revolution, the plot spoofs the famous story of the Scarlet Pimpernel, with jaded layabout English noblemen, Sir Rodney Ffing (pronounced "Effing") and Lord Darcy Pue (Sid James and Jim Dale respectively), leading double lives saving French aristocrats from beheading at the guillotine, always leaving behind the mocking sign of the The Black Fingernail. But soon they find themselves crossing swords with head revolutionary Citizen Camembert (Kenneth Williams) and his sidekick, Citizen Bidet (Peter Butterworth), two Frenchmen who are so desperate to track down the Fingernail they are even prepared to travel to England.

Carry On films are never noted for their extravagant budgets and lavish sets, but this one looks great, with fancy costumes and country houses helping to recreate the tropes of the swashbuckling genre, in the same way that the previous film in the series, Carry On Screaming, did with Gothic horror.

Script wise, we get the usual wince inducing puns, and running jokes, this time based around lapses into schoolboy level French, and Sir Rodney’s surname. The other gags come thick and fast, and some do not work (there is a talking to camera sketch that goes on too long), but others hit the mark and the cast are more than capable of breathing life into the few other dry spells. 

Sometimes the story takes second place to a more sketch based approach, and there are caricatures rather than characters, with some broad acting to match, perfectly in keeping with the pantomime feel of the film. Almost stealing the show is Charles Hawtrey as sex-crazed aristocrat Duc de Pommfrit, one of those saved at the last minute from Madam Guillotine ("Your grace, there's an urgent letter for you!" "Oh, drop it in the basket, I'll read it later"). Sadly things run out of steam in the climactic sword fight which is not played for as many laughs as it should be and goes on too long.

There are also a few swipes at England, with gags about strikes and unions, not surprising given that it was released in the same year that saw a walkout by the National Union of Seamen lead to Harold Wilson’s government declaring a state of emergency.