I welcome you back with another review written for the Carry On blog series! This time, we’ll explore Carry On Spying (1964), which was the last film of the franchise to be shot in black and white. Furthermore, it also introduced Barbara Windsor to the series. She eventually became a Carry On regular. Bernard Cribbins from Carry On Jack was back and, of course, some regulars like Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Jim Dale, and Eric Barker who had previously appeared in Carry On Sergeant and Carry On Constable. More interestingly, I had the agreeable surprise to see that Richard Wattis was part of the casting! This actor! That was the only time he was part of the series, but I think he would have been a perfect Carry On regular.
Carry On Spying is considered to be more a quality film than its predecessor Carry On Jack, probably due to the fact that we felt we were back to a good old traditional Carry On (despite the absence of Sid James and Kenneth Connor). It uses brilliant tricks and the story might be one of the most thrilling of the franchise so far. If we think about previous Carry Ons, most of them take place in restricted places (school, military base, hospital, etc.) but this one embodies more a feeling of adventure since the characters explore different places. Well, it also was the case for Carry On Jack, but we feel, most of the time, action takes place on the boat.
Carry On Spying parodies spy movies like James Bond. The poster is known to be a parody of the one for From Russia With Love, which was the second James Bond film to be released. (1) The story begins when Milchmann (Victor Maddern) disguised as a milkman steals a top secret chemical formula in a laboratory. Milchman works for STENCH (the Society for the Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans). Being told of Milchman’s actions by the head of STENCH, the chief of the Secret Services (Eric Barker) sends four agents on a mission to try to find the formula to avoid further catastrophes. The agents are Desmond Simkins/code name Red Admiral (Kenneth Williams), Daphne Honeybutt/code name Brown Cow (Barbara Windsor), Charlie Bind/code name Yellow Peril (Charles Hawtrey), and Harold Crump/code name Blue Bottle (Bernard Cribbins).
The four agents are rather silly and inexperienced but The Chief and Cobley (Richard Wattis) come to the conclusion that they are the only resources available for this mission. Their adventures will lead them from Vienna– where they will make contact with Carstairs (Jim Dale)–to Algiers. They will develop many tricks to get the formula AND, moreover, not to get killed!
The reference to James Bond within this story is pretty obvious, but, more interestingly, we could point out the part of Vienna which is a clear allusion to Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949). First of all, most of the action in this city takes place at Café Mozart, which was also one of the locations of The Third Man. Then, the sitar music we hear at one point makes an allusion to the music composed by Anton Karas for the British Noir. There’s also this scene where Charles Hawtrey bikes in those small paved and wet streets which reminds us of those where Joseph Cotten wanders in The Third Man (where he meets Harry Lime). Harold (Cribbins) comes out of a sewer drain before continuing to Café Mozart. It easily reminds us of The Third Man’s climax. Finally, one of the actors of the film, Eric Pohlmann, also had an uncredited role in Reed’s film (2)!
Then, the scene taking place on the train can easily make us think of those thrillers taking place in such a mode of transportation like The Lady Vanishes, Night Train to Munich, Sleeping Car To Trieste, North by Northwest, etc. The references are multiple.
In a way, Barbara Windsor was included in the series as a replacement to Liz Fraser in the role of the dumb blonde. She was initially spotted by Gerald Thomas and Peter Rogers as she was walking in the studio’s dining room. At the time, she was part of the successful TV show The Rag Trade (3). With her large eyes and her big smile, Windsor was definitely a significant addition to the series. She embodies perfectly its silly humour and presents a great teamwork with the rest of the actors. We can easily say that she passed the Carry On test. I also loved the photographic memory skills her character has! The way she blinks her eyes to memorize something as if they were cameras, with that click sound effect is a much perfect Carry On gag. Windsor’s character is also part of one of the funniest brainstorming scenes you’ll probably see. A moment where the villain is completely ridiculized and destabilized!
The quartet formed by her, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, and Bernard Cribbins definitely is one of the best teams of the Carry On series. We love the gags they create together (Windsor and Cribbins dressed as belly dancers as a way to steal the formula is one of my favourites) and how they manage to accomplish the mission despite their non-professionalism. But this lack of experience actually works! We could easily say that Kenneth Williams plays the main character in Carry On Spying and the best about him is how motivated and devoted he is. Of course, Williams always has the right facial expressions to support that. One of the things that made me laugh the most about his character is how he always point at the enemy with this twisted gun, which makes him look even more ridiculous. Charles Hawtrey was back with a role better than the one in Carry On Jack and more typical to his Carry On style. Bernard Cribbins was surprisingly funny and is one we would have liked to see in more films of the series but that didn’t happen until Carry On Coulumbus. Jim Dale yet had to wait for Carry On Cleo to have a more important part, but his presence as Carstrais surely is among the humoristic highlights of the film. Finally, it would be important to mention the return of Dilys Laye that we had previously seen in Carry On Cruising. In the spy movie parody, she plays the seducing Lila.
Jim Dale, the master of disguise!
And, of course, I still took way too many screenshots of Kenneth Williams
We don’t often talk of the more “technical” aspects of Carry On films, but I think the black and white cinematography of Carry On Spying deserves some recognition. In the scene taking place in Vienna, cinematographer Alam Hume managed to create a very noirish visual ambiance, once again highlighting the Third Man’s inspiration. This was effectively executed as much in the exterior scenes than it was inside the smoky and classy Café Mozart where the four fellows first confront the dangerous enemies.
Carry On Spying marked the return of the great Carry Ons after the less popular Carry On Jack. On its release, The Time wrote that it was ‘very British, very much a bank Holiday film and, yes, when all is said and done, very funny!” (4) The reviews were positive and mostly praised the film for its “fast pace, satirical intent, and Kenneth Williams’s performance.” (5) We do feel that, despite being a Carry On, Spying has an undeniable quality and, as the Time said, it was indeed very British which should please those like me who are obsessed with British cinema.
It’s without a doubt a film that is easy to like, so I hope this review will make you want to see it!
Tomorrow, I’ll already be reviewing the 10th Carry On film (!) with Carry On Cleo! Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor, and Sid James will be back for this zany Roman Empire comedy!
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) “Carry On Spying.” IMDB, n.d., https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057920/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv. Accessed Oct. 9, 2019.
(4) Ross, Robert. The Carry On Companion. London: Batsford, 1998. p. 44.
(5) “Carry On Spying.” Wikipedia, 17 September 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carry_On_Spying. Accessed Oct 9, 2019.