Carry On Teacher (1959)

+++ The school term is nearing its end, and the vice-principal of Maudlin Street School (who is currently in charge of the school as the headmaster is ill) is hoping to be promoted to be the headmaster at a brand-new school in the next term. However, an ill-timed school-inspection is threatening to extinguish that flame of hope. And as the pupils suddenly embark onto an unprecedented campaign against their teachers, the school descends into chaos. +++

The black&white comedy Carry On Teacher (1959) is the third instalment in the British juggernaut franchise. It is a bit difficult to write reviews for films from a franchise which often recycles ideas, situations and archetypes. There is just very little to say that I have not said in previous reviews.

Carry On Teacher mainly deviates from the previous two films in that it has more of a “real” narrative, whereas Carry On Sergeant and Carry On Nurse simply had a frame environment in which each character was given their own slice-of-life vignette. The narrative in Carry On Teacher is still a bit thin, but this is a story that progresses, that is going somewhere. So it feels like you can see the franchise moving away from the vignettes of Carry On Sergeant and Carry On Nurse and towards a “real” plot as it can be seen in Carry On Spying.

The film sees the return of a cast and crew that quickly became the backbone of the franchise, with Gerald Thomas directing once again, and Norman Hudis writing the screenplay.

Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Kenneth Williams, and Hattie Jacques play the teachers. Ted Ray was cast as the headmaster, and he is a great addition to the cast. But his first appearance in the franchise would also be his last, as he was contracted to another studio that objected to him being in these films. Rosalind Knight plays the school inspector and Leslie Phillips (of Navy Lark fame) joins the franchise in the role of a psychology researcher.

It goes without saying that all of the cast do an excellent job, but there is a lot of room given to the very young actors playing the “saboteur” pupils, and since these characters are not established through exposition in the way the adult characters are, they have no personality – which becomes more irritating the longer they are on screen. As far as I can see, this is the only major flaw in the writing.

The humour works, but there is a lot of emphasis on the pupils’ pranks which are, by nature, showy rather than funny. Since these pranks are almost entirely a physical type of humour, the room that is given to them means that the screenplay feels short on funny dialogue at times.

A phrase that seems to turn up often in reviews this day is “you mileage may vary”. And that is probably true for Carry On Teacher. Comparing it with Carry On Sergeant and Carry On Nurse, I don’t think you can objectively say that Carry On Teacher is better, but I prefer the fact that it has a narrative, however skeletal it may be. On the other hand, I regret that funny lines of dialogue seem to have been pushed back a bit in favour of the depiction of physical pranks, as just mentioned. Still, I think I’ll rate Carry On Teacher at 6 out of 10.

PS: You might well regard this type of school-centric comedy as its own subgenre (even though Carry On Teacher does not take place at a boarding school as most other entries into that subgenre do), so I should add that I have little to no knowledge of that genre and hence cannot make any comparison between this film and similar comedies that came before it (including The Happiest Days of Your Life as well as two St Trinian’s films).

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