Carry On Spying
"Oh, Mr Simpkins, I hope I can get my draws off as fast as you can!"
The Carry On series began in
1958 and released regular films until 1978. It was resurrected in 1992
but that venture (Carry On Columbus) proved that the series belonged to
the fifties and - especially - the sixties and seventies and should
probably remain there. The films, produced by Peter Rogers on very
modest budgets and directed by the unflappable Gerald Thomas (who often
managed to get scenes done with one take to save time and money), span
out of the British tradition of saucy seaside postcards and music hall.
Double entendres and innuendo.
Though critics were sniffy,
audiences loved the films and they often featured in the top ten
domestic box-office hits of the year. The Carry Ons were a uniquely
British institution (Peter Rogers was proud of the fact that they
didn't use any foreign money to fund them).
One of the secrets of the
success behind the series was the stock company that formed around
them. Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Hattie
Jacques, Peter Butterworth, Kenneth Connor etc. These were not out and
out comedians but rather actors who had the ability to play comedy. It
was an important difference and the reason why they were chosen.
Only the James Bond series can
really claim to trump the Carry Ons when it comes to longevity. One can
still find the Carry Ons on television to this day, winning new
generations of fans. Some of the films are better than others but the
Carry Ons are fascinating to explore as they move from Ealingesque
black and white to colourful historical parodies to the more risque
1964's Carry On Spying was
naturally inspired by the incredible success of the Cubby
Broccoli/Harry Saltzman produced James Bond films with Sean Connery.
The James Bond series gave 1960s audiences an irresistible cocktail of
glamour, exotic locales, humour, suspense, stunts and scantily clad
women. Bond spawned countless imitators and parodies in what rapidly
became a spy mad decade.
What is the plot of Carry On
Spying? The British Secret Service need to get a formula back that has
been stolen by STENCH (the Society for the Total Extinction of
Non-Conforming Humans). Agent Simpkins (Kenneth Williams) has the task
of getting the formula back along with a handful of trainee Agents.
Carry On Spying is an enjoyable
romp that has fun lampooning the gadget festooned nature of the Bond
films with the team a bunch of often incompetent spies. There are also
riffs on The Third Man in addition to Ian Fleming's superspy. Midnight
assignations. Vienna. Eric Pohlmann, a Viennese theatre, film and
television character actor who worked mostly in Britain, plays the 'Fat
Man' here and was actually in The Third Man.
Kenneth Williams deploys his
Hancock 'snide' character/voice to good effect as Desmond Simpkins
while Bernard Cribbins is good value - this time as Bernard Crump. I
think this was the last Carry On Cribbens was in. He only made two or
Barbara Windsor joins the team
as Agent Daphne Honeybutt and proves to be a great piece of casting -
adding real zest and charm to the gang. She would of course become one
of the most famous and recurring of the Carry On performers. Babs has a
photographic memory in the film.
Charlie Hawtrey (as ever in a
bizarre world of his own) is on good form as the accident prone Charlie
Bind. Peter Rogers later recalled how he was badgered by Harry
Saltzman's lawyer after rumours that Charles Hawtrey was going to be
called 001½ in the film. Rogers claims that he dumped the prefix but
stood his ground when EON even objected to the name "Bind" being used
in the film.
Jim Dale, although not yet a
leading player in the franchise, makes a welcome return for a slightly
larger role than he had in his earlier Carry On appearance. Dale is a
very likeable presence onscreen and it's no surprise that he became the
stock young leading man for the series.
The film breezes along at a good
pace and with the shortish running time of these early pictures never
threatens to outstay its welcome. Giving the team a specific genre to
spoof proves to be a successful idea here and other film genres &
historical periods (Western, Horror, Foreign Legion, Roman Empire,
French Revolution, British Empire, Tarzan etc) would soon get the Carry
Carry On Spying was the last of
the black and white Carry Ons and it's a shame I think that it just
missed out on being a colour entry. Although the budget was obviously
modest it works as a decent spoof of Bond with its black cat suit clad
female guards and gadget jokes aplenty.
The climax is a roller-coaster
ride on a factory train and a lot of fun. There would be better Carry
Ons (like, for example, the forthcoming Carry On Cleo - which was able
to use abandoned sets and props from the doomed Elizabeth Taylor
Cleopatra epic) but Carry On Spying is an enjoyable slice of vintage
fun from the spy crazed sixties.