+++ This should be Charlie’s happiest day. He just got married to the beautiful Mary. But due to a mix-up with his papers, Charlie is drafted into national service and has to leave his own wedding reception to travel to the army barracks. Mary follows him in hot pursuit, insisting on a honeymoon. So Charlie will desperately try to get leave from the army, while all around him his fellow servicemen are struggling with their own sets of problems. +++
Carry On Sergeant gave me strong flashbacks to Tommy Trinder’s You Lucky People. Everything seemed to look the same: the courtyard, the rooms, the doors, the bar, etc. If imdb were not telling me otherwise, I would swear that these films have been shot at the same locations. But then, I guess, all barracks do look a bit alike, especially in black & white.
The other very strong resemblance to You Lucky People comes from the premise and the characters. Hapless civilians called up for army training (refresher training in the case of You Lucky People, national service in the case of Carry On Sergeant) – people whose unsuitability for the army and/or general outlook on life clash with the intentions of their commanding officers. A culture clash and a generational clash mashed into one.
For this purpose – and because a group of soldiers comes by definition with a certain size – you have a large-ish amount of characters, all with their own problems, but each representing a “type”. So these films have a wide variety of contrasting characters: the effeminate one, the antiauthoritarian, the hypochondriac, the playboy, etc., etc., all the way to including a teddy boy and/or a beatnik.
Add to this a number of typical officer characters and a number of female employees and you have your army comedy.
This is the first film in what would turn out to become the Carry On franchise. Shot in black and white on a budget that was limited (but not too much) this 1958 film is very light on innuendo and portrays its army characters with a good deal of light-hearted earnestness. This is certainly no romp. Much as one might prefer this to the later, particularly shticky Carry On films, it unfortunately also means that the writing is lacking a certain sting.
There is also a lack of focus: Charlie (Bob Monkhouse), who we rightfully expect to be our main character, gets almost lost in the film. And the immense amount of characters means that none of them get the attention they deserve. The sole exception is Horace, the hypochondriac (played by Kenneth Connor). And a good deal of the extra screen time that is devoted to him is wasted on a physical examination by six doctors in a scene that is not only pointless, but also unfunny.
Some of the actors that will return in other Carry On films include Hattie Jacques, Shirley Eaton (Goldfinger; The Naked Truth), Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, and Eric Barker, who all play “types” similar to those that they will play in the later films. There is also a small part for Norman Rossington (Simon Simon; Carry On Nurse); and apart from Barker the prominent officer roles are filled by Bill Owen and William Hartnell (Doctor Who).
And it is not just the actors who will return for several other films in the future franchise. Norman Hudis who wrote the screenplay (based on material by English novelist R. F. Delderfield) will return, as will contributing writer John Antrobus, director Gerald Thomas, composer Bruce Montgomery, producer Peter Rogers, and cameraman Alan Hume (who would go on to be the DP on many of the future films, but also worked on a few James Bond films as well).
As I said, this film lacks substance and focus, as well as sharp humour. But it is a good-natured and mildly entertaining comedy, which I would rate at 5.5 to 6.0 out of 10. That being said, there is probably very little reason to see this unless you are interested in a particular actor or in the history of the franchise.