Carry On Nurse (1959)

Carry On Nurse is regarded by some fans as the quintessential Carry On film. One reason might be that, as the second film in this future franchise, it is the actually one that established that there could and would be a franchise, especially with the film adapting the name of the previous film, Carry On Sergeant, and especially with the Carry On Nurse’s considerable box office success in the UK and in the US. Another reason that establishes this film as the nucleus of Carry On is the fact that the team behind these films did recruit a large number of the cast and crew from Carry On Sergeant to work on Carry On Nurse as well, and so established the franchise’s ensemble nature. Lastly, Carry On Nurse is much more daring in its innuendo than Carry On Sergeant and is thus setting the tone for the brand.

Over the course of a few days, Carry On Nurse follows the trials and tribulations of patients and staff at a particular ward at a rural NHS hospital. This results in a large set of equally weighted characters, confined to one location. So in the way the story is constructed the film is similar to Carry On Sergeant.

The large set of characters also means that there are too many actors to mention them all. The same was the case with Carry On Sergeant, but since most of the patients in this hospital get visits from their wives or girlfriends the list of actors is even longer. Smaller “visiting” parts are played by household names such as Jill Ireland, Irene Handl, and June Whitfield. Much more prominent roles went to Joan Hickson and Joan Sims as nurses and Wilfrid Hyde-White as a patient. Returning actors from Carry On Sergeant who play substantial roles in this film include Kenneth Connor, Kenneth Williams, Terence Longdon, Hattie Jacques, Shirley Eaton, Bill Owen, and Charles Hawtrey. Norman Rossington also returns for a small but funny role. Continuity is also ensured by keeping on the same director (Gerald Thomas) and the same screenplay writer (Norman Hudis).

As with Carry On Sergeant, the multi-character-structure means that there is no real through-line here. There is no single character to follow, no real character arcs, etc., even though Hudis made sure that certain characters changed over the course of the film. For example, there are two romantic subplots, none of which are convincing or given any amount of time to develop. They basically exist merely pro forma.

While there is some earnestness and heart in the story and in the characters, the humour is much more pronounced than in Carry On Sergeant, and at times more anarchic. And, as stated above, the innuendo is much more daring, and there is also some cross-dressing. And whether you like this kind of humour or not, there is no denying the fact that this film is more lively and more fast-paced than its predecessor.

All involved deliver good performances, especially Shirley Eaton whose character has to lead us through the film; but I feel that the roles of Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey give them less opportunity to showcase their particular strengths in this film, even though they seem to have more screen-time than in Carry On Sergeant.

Like its predecessor, this film has no story as such, but is an assembly of smaller stories packed into one shared situation. But compared to Carry On Sergeant it is funnier and it passes by faster. It is an entertaining watch and I would rate it at 6.0 out of 10.

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