Carry On Constable (1960)

+++ Britain is in the grip of an influenza pandemic, and with so many people off sick many workplaces are struggling to keep things going. The same is true for the police force who is juggling shifts in order to make ends meet. Luckily, some outside referrals and volunteers fresh from the police academy are ready to help fill in the gaps. But at one particular police station, the sergeant who is running the place is having a hard time with the inexperienced, eccentric, and quite useless volunteers on the one hand, and his equally useless superior on the other. With chaos all around, can our plucky volunteers get their act together and save the day? +++

With the fourth film, the Carry On franchise is now fully established and on its way to churning out at least one film a year. There is very little to say about this black&white film that I have not already said about any of the previous films in the franchise. Structurally, this film lies somewhere between the two heavily segmented franchise-starters, Carry On Sergeant and Carry On Nurse, and the third film (Carry On Teacher), which has a proper plot running through. Carry On Constable tries to establish a thin plot, while returning to the method of stringing up segments one after another in which the various characters run into their own sets of problems. For that reason (and just like in the previous films) each of the main characters has a similar amount of screen-time and each of these characters is merely a two-dimensional stock-figure around whom the sub-plots and set-pieces are draped. These are well-written and well-acted roles, but they are still characters that could be summed up in two or three sentences on the back of a napkin.

Consequently, Kenneth Connor’s character is a police-academy graduate who is crippled by superstitious fears, Lesley Philips’s academy graduate is a toff who is obsessed with women, and Kenneth Horne’s character is a pseudo-intellectual academy graduate who thinks he knows it all, is utterly convinced that all current policing methods are medieval and useless, and has an almost religious belief in modern criminological psychology.

That all of these characters can be easily summarised in this way is quite by design, as the audience will not have the time or the inclination to explore some character’s complicated state of mind. And as the production (and pre-production) of these films were very quick and efficient, there was no point in burdening the actors with complex characters either. If your principal shooting only runs for a few weeks, you do not want your actors to stand around asking “what’s my motivation?”

Apart from the aforementioned Horne, Connor and Philips, the film sees the usual large number of series regulars: Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Charles Hawtrey, Eric Barker, Hattie Jacques, Shirley Eaton, but also Cyril Chamberlain, Terence Longdon, Victor Maddern, and Joan Hicks. There is even an appearance by Irene Handl.
This is also the first Carry On appearance for Sidney James, who will become one of the best-known faces of the franchise. He plays the police sergeant at the centre of the back-story, who has to try to keep the station running while having to deal with all the chaotic “help” he is getting.

As usual, not only the cast are franchise fixtures, but also parts of the crew, including Alan Hume as camera man, Peter Rogers as producer, Gerald Thomas as director, Norman Hudis for the screenplay, and Bruce Montgomery as composer.

I find Carry On Constable rather entertaining, but it is nothing special. However, the film’s even distribution of screen-time between the odd-ball characters made me wonder if there might be some value in watching this as an anachronistic double-feature with the first Police Academy film.

Rating: roughly 6 out of 10.

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