Carry On Regardless (1961)

According to the trivia notes of the DVD-box-set, by 1961 the Carry On franchise was in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. Rival British studios, as well as American producers, were all trying to get a piece of the action, actively contemplating launching rival franchises that copied the format. And if push had come to shove, even the words “Carry On” might have been difficult to protect in a legal battle.

Given this environment, it might be more than a mere coincidence then that Hudis, Thomas, and Rogers came up with the name Carry on Regardless for the next film in their franchise.

The premise of this black&white comedy is paper-thin, with Sidney James employing a ragtag team of eager weirdos (comprising the usual Carry On cast) for his newly founded temp agency “Helping Hands, Ltd.”

This premise is the pretext for writer Norman Hudis to write unconnected scenes where our characters (usually just one of them at a time) find themselves in a wide variety of odd situations. From supporting a boxer in the ring to taking someone’s pet chimpanzee for a walk.

Later in the film, Hudis sets up a situation in which a mix-up in job allocations occurs, giving him the excuse to write some scenes in which the characters are even more unsuited for their task than usual.
Apart from the beginning and the end of the film, there are a number of scenes around the agency’s offices that show several of the characters together and that thus serve to keep the frame narrative together and to avoid everything feeling even more disconnected. Of importance in this regard is also one sequence in which most of the characters work at the same venue (an “ideal home” industrial exhibition) – while these characters still have their own scenes at that venue, some of these scenes then interconnect.

Of all the other segments in this film, two of the longer ones stand out in particular. One sees Kenneth Connor on a train in a sequence that emulates the popular noir-spy-thriller theme (and is in a way foreshadowing the train sequence in Carry On Spying). The other segment is one in which Sidney James is taking on one of the agency’s odd-jobs, at a hospital. It gives James the opportunity to have one of these scenes as well – his character, as the boss, is otherwise mostly found around the office. Choosing a hospital scene is a deliberate call-back to Carry On Nurse, the franchise’s most successful film up to this point. In particular the inclusion of Joan Hickson and Hattie Jacques in this scene serves this purpose. Hattie Jacques was originally meant to take on a different, larger role in the film, but could not commit to that role due to health reasons. Including her in this very minor role was therefore also a nod to the fans; as well as gesture towards her as she was on the one hand included but on the other had to show up only briefly for shooting.

As always the cast members do an excellent job. But due to the fact that the film seems even more episodic than the previous films, with most of the scenes featuring only one member of the main cast, it feels like some of them are not nearly used enough.
The core cast is comprised of Carry On regulars – apart from James, Connor, Hickson, and Jacques, they are Charles Hawtrey, Terence Longdon, Joan Sims, Kenneth Williams, and Bill Owen. The only newcomer is Liz Fraser.

As I said, some of them are not getting enough screen time for my taste, but many of them get at least a chance to shine in one or two particular scenes. I mentioned Connor’s train scene, then there is Joan Sims getting drunk and Kenneth Williams dealing with the chimpanzee. Not to mention Charles Hawtrey’s stint in the boxing ring. And the fact that most of these scenes feature only one member from the core cast also means that this film has a very large number of rather small supporting roles, which are all filled with excellent character actors (some of whom have more than one Carry On appearance under their belt), making this film a bit of a who-is-who of British acting. There are far too many to list them all, but Esma Cannon (A Touch of the Sun; Carry On Constable) and Stanley Unwin should be mentioned, not least because their roles are rather extended ones. Other actors include Terence Alexander, Betty Marsden, Nicholas Parsons, Norman Rossington (Simon, Simon), Fenella Fielding, Ed Devereaux, Victor Maddern, and Denis Shaw. There are also short appearances by Eric Pohlmann and Judith Furse, who both appear in Carry On Spying. But as I said, this list could be even longer.

In his brief appearance, Terence Alexander plays a husband berated by his distraught wife. That wife is played by Julia Arnall (born Julia Ilse Hendrika von Stein Liebenstein zu Bachfeld), who got the opportunity in this scene to rant and rage in her native German, comfortably slipping into her southern accent.

As the Carry On productions always liked to employ the same people and a lot of it was organised via Pinewood Studios, the main cast members are not the only regulars, but also some of the supporting cast (as mentioned) and some of the extras, as well as many crew members (such as Bruce Montgomery for the music, John Shirley as editor, and Lionel Couch as art director). Alan Hume, who had worked as a cameraman on the previous four films, has now taken over as director of photography, a role he would keep from hereon out.

The veteran crew is as important in this franchise as the veteran cast, as the films were meant to be shot fast and efficiently in order to keep the budget down. People who know what they are doing and what this particular franchise required, and who can work with each other like fist in glove, those people are real time and money savers while keeping the quality on par.

Looking back at my previous Carry On reviews, I don’t think that I made a big secret out of my preference for “real” plots as opposed to frame stories that merely offer an excuse to string a long a series of sketches. And from that point of view, Carry On Regardless feels like a really poor construct. I know that these films were produced cheap and fast, but I still prefer to see a bit of effort with regard to the plot, like in Carry On Teacher. Carry On Regardless is basically the filmmakers shamelessly repeating their formula while making sure that they only need to put in an absolute minimum of effort.

So I am not really impressed with Carry On Regardless. There are some nice individual scenes, and some great performances, but with the exception of things like Kenneth Connor’s spy-on-train sequence, most of it feels like rather low-effort writing and film-making.

Overall, I would rate this film at 4.5 out of 10.

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