I wasn’t expecting much from Don’t Lose Your Head (Gerald Thomas, 1967). To me, it felt as if it was going to be one of these nice but somehow forgettable Carry Ons. That was mostly because the film is not necessarily the most famous or the most talked-about of the series, just one among many. So, I watched it… And I LOVED IT! I can positively add it to the reasons why 1967 is my favourite year in films. Honestly, it felt great to have such an agreeable surprise. The film had the same effect on me than good old Carry On Sergeant: if I was not laughing, at least, I was smiling. There are so many things I loved about it, so I hope this text won’t be too deconstructed!
This time, the series parodies The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy and the swashbuckling genre. The story takes place in France and England during the French Revolution. Every day, tons of noble French people are losing their heads at the guillotine under the frenetic eye of revolution leader Citizen Camembert (Kenneth Williams) and Citizen Bidet (Peter Butterworth). Two English noblemen, Sir Rodney Ffing (Sidney James) and Lord Darcy Pue (Jim Dale), who have, so far, lived a leisurely life, decide to leave their country to save the French nobless from the guillotine. The two acolytes are successfully accomplishing their mission in France, especially when they save the Duke de Pommefrite (Charles Hawtrey). Ffing is a master of disguise. He becomes known as The Black Fingernail since he always leaves this little drawing of two fingers, one with a black nail after his accomplishments. Citizen Camembert, frustrated, has only one wish: to unmask this terrible Black Fingernail who’s spoiling the faith of France! During one of his missions, Ffing falls in love with a French girl, Jacqueline (Dany Robin), who might become a good way for Camembert to trap him. However, his sister, Desiree (Joan Sims), is also interested in the mysterious English man, and has for ambition to marry a man with a title! This adventure won’t be a boring one.
Interestingly, Don’t Lose Your Head and the next one, Follow That Camel, were the only films of the popular British series not to use the “Carry On” prefix. The film was also the first one to be produced by The Rank Organisation, as I explained in my article on Carry On Screaming. Rank didn’t want to use the prefix for legal reasons, but especially because it had initially been used by a rival production company. However, Peter Rogers and the co-production team managed for the film to become part of the series even if the “Carry On” prefix wasn’t used. (1) Maybe that’s another reason why it’s the most well-known Carry On!
Don’t Lose Your Head is much more than swords and big dresses. First of all, it includes many names referring to the French vocabulary: Citizen Bidet (a bidet is used in French bathrooms for washing bottoms); The Duke de Pommefrite; Château Neuf (Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a commune in France better known for its wine production), and Citizen Camembert refers to the famous cheese. I also believe it’s a humoristic allusion to Citizen Kane!
Citizen Camembert vs. Citizen Kane!
The film also includes a bit of British culture, and one that particularly stands out is that the one to The Beatles! Jacqueline is imprisoned in Citizen Camembert’s Château Neuf. When this one comes back to see how things are going, the French lady is singing and playing the harp in the large living room. The guards accompany her, singing “yeah yeah yeah.” It immediately makes us think of The Beatles’ song She Loves You, with its chorus “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!” You should see Kenneth Williams’s face! But, hey, one doesn’t expect to do such time travel in 1789. 😉 I’m not sure if this was intentionally a reference to the world-famous band, but it’s difficult not to make a parallel. Moreover, it isn’t the only Beatles inclusion in the film as the mansion used for Sir Rodney Ffing’s English house, Cliveden House (Berkshire, England), was also seen in Help! (Richard Lester, 1967), the second film to star The Beatles! (2)
“Yeah, yeah, yeah!”
Don’t Lose Your Head has soooo many memorable and funny moments. For me, it immediately starts at the beginning when heads are being chopped one after another. Each time it happens, there’s a silence, and then, the crowd cheers as if it was a football game, and someone had marked a goal! Camembert closes that opening scene with a typically Carry On line “Carry on chopping!” Citizen Camembert is way too amused by the guillotine and that hilarious. Of course, Kenneth Williams uses the proper facial expressions.
The whole head-chopping business was a rather barbarian one, and the film brilliantly makes fun of it. We can also think of that scene where the two English heroes save the Duke de Pommefrite. As this one is placed on the guillotine, a lady arrives with an important message for him, to what he answers: “Drop it in the basket- I’ll read it later”. That was one of the most memorable and deliciously absurd lines of the film, and it was Sid James and Jim Dale’s idea! (3). Well, we’re glad it was taken into consideration.
Sid James and Jim Dale also provide lots of fun with their terrific duo and the way they manage to save the poor convicts. I loved the absurdity of their signature, the two fingers, one with a black fingernail! The two-fingered salute a British was to express disgust towards someone and pretty much a way to tell them to “piss off”, which works quite well in this context. This symbol refers to what Pue and Ffing say before leaving England to save their counterparts:
Sir Rodney Ffing: Did you hear that Darcy, my dear? They’re actually chopping their heads off over there.
Lord Darcy Pue: And no one lifting a finger to help them.
Sir Rodney Ffing: Disgraceful!
Lord Darcy Pue: Damned!
Sir Rodney Ffing: I say, Darcy, my dear, you think that you and I might…
Lord Darcy Pue: Lift a finger?
Sir Rodney Ffin: Or two…
They do carry on with their idea!
Oh, but there are so many other quotable moments:
Camembert wants to show his importance by exclaiming: “I am Camembert! I am the big cheese!” in the public place.
His assistant, Citizen Bidet, reminds us of the character played by Peter Butterworth in Carry On Screaming with perfectly idiotic but amusing dialogues:
Citizen Camembert: Remember, you must be circumspect.
Citizen Bidet: I was Sir when I was a baby.
Ah, Carry Ons and their famous double-entendres!
And the twos proves their silliness even further when Citizen Bidet finds a bra and shows it to his superior:
Citizen Bidet: Look Citizen, earmuffs!
Citizen Camembert: You idiot! They’re knee pads!
A bit of sexy, typically Carry On fun is made when Desiree visits one of the bedrooms in Château Neuf:
Desiree: Oh! Isn’t it lovely! [looking at a mirror on the ceiling, just over the bed!] What’s that mirror here for?
Camembert: Oh! As I was telling you, the prince was a great collector, you know.
Of course, he was. 😉
The only thing I would reproach to the narrativity of Don’t Lose Your Head is the sword fighting scene in Château Neuf that is a bit too long. Of course, this is just a matter of taste. The action and fighting choreography are beautifully executed; I won’t deny that. There’s also a lot of humour in it. However, I would have liked it a bit better if it lasted shorter. I’m talking for myself as sword fighting isn’t necessarily my favourite type of scene, but those who are fans will be pleased and delighted by it!
About the sword fighting scene, Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, was used for Château Neuf. That was because it was what was closer to a french château in England. (4) The film locations of Don’t Lose Your Head is something that deserves to be mentioned as they are set in architecturally beautiful buildings, highly fancy and noble. There’s also Cliveden House that we’ve mentioned before. And let’s not forget the ball scene, which was filmed in the Marble Hall of Clandon Hall (West Clandon, Surrey). (5) Carry On films perfectly knew how to fool us with their low budget!
If you’d visit these places, you’ll never dare touching anything, or would simply wander around looking at the magnificently detailed ceiling. On their side, the Carry On team managed to truffled tons of comedic moments in them! One notorious scene is when Lord Darcie Pue and Ffing want to make sure if the new French guest is Citizen Camembert despite wearing a white nobble man wig. Of course, it is! One doesn’t need to be a genius to see it. Anyway, to remove the wig, Pue manages to sneeze, which results in Camenbert’s wig to fly away. The funniest part is that it also creates a chain reaction, and a row of sitten people lose their wig as well! I wonder if this sometimes really happened during the 18th century!
The sword fighting scene in Château Neuf gives place to another narrative absurdity. A desperate Citizen Camembert sees his house and the pricy furniture being destroyed. It’s funny because, now, the only thing that matters for him is the house, so he orders his soldiers not to use any guns. In this optic, the faith of his palace becomes more crucial than his mission to vanquish Rodney Ffing and Darcy Pue! But he was so determined!
Some sources say that Carry On Screaming was the second and last Carry On film to have a theme song in its opening titles before Carry On Emmanuelle. That is not true, because there is a song in Don’t Lose Your Head! It’s an uplifting one with amusing lyrics and a lot of black humour in connection to head-chopping: “Don’t lose your head, get a hold of your wig!” It was composed by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter and sang by The Michael Sammes Singers.
Don’t Lose Your Head‘s casting includes French actress Dany Robin. I had already seen her in the not very good Hitchcock film, Topaz (1969). Topaz was actually her last film, and Don’t Lose Your Head was one of her latest. Robin is absolutely lovely as Jacqueline, Ffing’s love interest. Her character is proud, fierce, courageous, and simply awesome. Impossible not to like her! We were glad to find Sid James back after his absence from Carry On Screaming, and this is one of his most amusing performances. He and Jim Dale make an intrepid team, first as British noblemen and then, as dynamic heroes! I love how they move from people living a simple life, to two men jumping off roofs and fighting with swords to save the French aristocracy. Their enemies, Citizen Camembert and Citizen Bidet, are perfectly played by Kenneth Williams and Peter Butterworth. Williams is memorable as always, with his facial expressions but also with the way he carries the villain role with such conviction. Peter Butterworth provides the comedic side of this duo. As a matter of fact, both men are undeniably funny but each in their own way. Joan Sims is back with a glamorous role after being the grumpy wife in Carry On Screaming. Her character is highly interesting and might have one of the best developments. Sims was always great and, if we look at her earlier roles, the one in Carry On Screaming, this one, and the one in Carry On Doctor, she was probably one of the most versatile actresses of the series. Charles Hawtrey couldn’t have been more perfectly cast as the Duke de Pommefrite. That name only seems to fit someone like Charles Hawtrey perfectly! He has some of the best quotes, and we love that he’s always wearing his iconic glasses. He also embodies a lot of the Carry On naughty humour. Finally, Peter Gilmore plays Maximilien Robespierre, Citizen Camembert’s superior, and one of the real-life figures of the French Revolution. Starting with Carry On Cabby in which he played on of the thieves, Gilmore appeared in 11 Carry On films in various types of roles.
Sadly, the film dropped at the British box office, (6) but Carry On: Don’t Lose Your Head deserves our attention. These facts about its unpopularity shouldn’t prevent you from watching it and having a good time. Therefore, I hope my review convinced you to see it if you haven’t yet!
Tomorrow, I’ll be reviewing Follow that Camel, which was…”*sigh*… NOT the best.
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) “Don’t Lose Your Head: Trivia.” IMDb, n.d. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060330/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv. Accessed Oct 16, 2019.
(2) “Carry On-Don’t Lose Your Head/1967.” Movie-Locations.com, n.d. https://www.movie-locations.com/movies/c/Carry-On-Dont-Lose-Your-Head.php. Accessed Oct 16, 2019
(3) Ross, Robert. The Carry On Companion. London: Batsford, 1998. p. 64.
(4) Ibid. note 2
(5) Ibid. note 2
(6) Angelini, Sergio. “Carry On Doctor (1968).” BFI Screen Online, n.d. http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/466237/index.html. Accessed Oct 16, 2019.