Ouch. How could I put this into simple words? Let say that Follow That Camel (Gerald Thomas, 1967) is not excellent. It’s not completely bad either, and it remains enjoyable. But it’s weak if you compare it to many of the other Carry On films and a disappointment after watching Don’t Lose Your Head, which was a fun and truly underrated film. Follow That Camel wasn’t a box office success (1) but, this time, it’s more understandable. Because of my lack of enthusiasm for the film, this might be a shorter review. However, I’ll try to make it as interesting as possible! Camel has its qualities, but let’s say that Carry On Doctor that follows next was a good consolation prize.
Luckily, there was some cool on the set photos!
Follow that Camel, a parody of Beau Geste, begins its story in England during the early 20th century. After losing his reputation because of Captain Bagshaw (Peter Gilmore) during a cricket game, Bertram Oliphant “Bo” West (Jim Dale) is banned from the house of his beloved Lady Jane Ponsonby (Angela Douglas) by the father of this one, Sir Cyril Ponsonby (William Mervyn). Bo, therefore, decides to join the French Foreign legion in Algeria, accompanied by his faithful manservant, Simpson (Peter Butterworth). Before enlisting, Simpson and Bo discover that their patrol Sergeant, Ernie Nocker (Phil Silvers), spends his time living la dolce vita at a local café with Zig Zig (Joan Sims), the owner. Sergeant Nocker takes special care of them during training, by fear perhaps that they might reveal his secret to his superiors, the eccentric Commandant Burger (Kenneth Williams) and the devoted Captain Le Pice (Charles Hawtrey).
This becomes of lesser importance when they eventually need to face their enemy Sheik Abdul Abulbul (Bernard Bresslaw). On her side, Lady Jane has decided to cross the ocean to join his beloved Bo West after understanding that the whole business at the cricket game was a huge mistake. Things won’t turn out as expected.
Follow That Camel has the particularity to feature an American actor, Phil Silvers, in one of the main roles. This was the comedian’s first appearance in the series and, luckily, the last. I don’t want to sound nasty by saying “luckily” but, the thing is, I found him very unfunny in this. Fortunately, some of the Carry On regulars were here as well to save the game. Phil Silvers wasn’t the first choice. He replaced Sid James for whom the role had been written. It was given to him due to Sid James’s commitment to the TV series George and The Dragon (1966). (2) James also suffered from a little heart attack, which would have made him invalid for the shooting of Follow that Camel. (3). What annoys me mainly about Phil Silver, apart from the fact that he doesn’t fit quite well into the Carry On spirit, is the fact that he was paid far higher than his British colleagues for the role. (4) Was it because he was a bigger star? Was it a way to attract American audiences? Probably. This reflects perfectly what Kenneth Williams said on receiving a better pay with a tv commercial than with any of the Carry On films. Considering some of them had been there since the beginning of the franchise, I believe they deserved better treatment by producer Peter Rogers.
The best performances are undeniably held by Jim Dale (who looks adorable with his tan and green eyes) and Peter Butterworth. If Butterworth was previously Kenneth Williams’s teammate in Don’t Lose Your Head and Harry H. Corbett’s in Carry On Screaming, he is as much appreciated as Jim Dale’s friend and manservant. This time, he plays a more clever character with an interesting humbleness. His acting, somehow, reminded me of the one of Edmund Gwenn. I can’t really explain how! With his high society attitude, Jim Dale makes a total contrast with the rest of the characters who have been established in North Africa for a much longer time than him. And he’s even more endearing in those scenes where he is seduced by the sexy dancer Corktip, played by Anita Harris.
Harris made her first of two appearances in the Carry On franchise. Her part in Follow That Camel is small but efficient and noticeable. Joan Sims also has a minor role, as Zig Zig. Honestly, that not the best she did, and her supposedly Arabic accent was pretty bad. I feel she was added to the film just for the sake of it, but her character isn’t that useful. Angela Douglas is sort of amusing in the way that, just like Jim Dale and Peter Butterworth, she is in contrast with the rest of the characters with her manners, education, where she comes from, etc. She is also super naive, which is something that you could find either funny or not. Angela Douglas was a lovely actress, but I don’t think she was the most memorable cast member of the Carry On films, not as much as Barbara Windsor, Joan Sims, or Shirley Eaton, who was less eccentric than Sims or Windsor, but who mold herself perfectly into the series.
Kenneth Williams, with his monocle and brush cut, had his look modeled on Erich Von Stroheim. (5) Williams wasn’t necessarily at his best in this film. Nevertheless, his presence is always appreciated. I quite liked his scenes with Angela Douglas and that hilarious moment where he picks up a skull in the desert thinking it’s hers. “Alas, I knew her well!” Hilarious! I also liked how he pretends to be a serious commandant but is caught up looking drawings of nude ladies. Charles Hawtrey, on his side, executed perfectly the “oui, oui!” which was one of the comedic aspects of the film that worked well with me. Finally, Bernard Bresslaw is quite convincing as the villain and proves his versatility if we also look at his roles in Carry On Screaming and Carry On Doctor, which are very different.
Even if the film was not perfect, there are a few positive elements that still make it enjoyable and funny. Of course, like many Carry Ons, the film parodies and refers to some existing work. We just talked of Bernard Bresslaw as Sheik Abdul Abulbul. The way he executes his performance and the way his character is constructed easily makes us think of Anthony Quinn in Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962). If he would have said a comedic alternative to “I am a river to my people!” it would have worked. This reference is supported by Robert Ross in The Carry On Companion: “Bernard Bresslaw, all flowing robes and sinister snarls, is a direct parody of Anthony Quinn in Lawrence of Arabia.” (p 67)
Bernard Bresslaw vs. Anthony Quinn
I also thought of that historical film when Sergeant Nocker, Bo West, Simpson, Commandant Burger, and a few other soldiers are walking through the desert on their way to Fort Zuassantneuf (suggestively referring to 69). Those shots of the sun shining with a very strong and strident “ray of light” sound effect immediately made me think of this scene where T.E Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) goes to the rescue of Gasim (I. S. Johar).
Lawrence of Arabia sun vs. Follow That Camel sun
There’s also a camera shot seen during that long journey through the desert that seems to be a direct reference to the iconic final dance macabre shot of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957).
The Seventh Seal vs. Follow That Camel
Finally, a scene that I thought was hilarious is when Captain Le Pice (Hawtrey) organizes a sandcastle contest to give moral to the troops! This is something that only a character portrayed by Hawtrey could think of.
If you have never seen a Carry On film, don’t start with this one. It’s far from being the most representative of the series, and many are much better. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t watch it at all! If you do, you might form your own opinion and might even like it! On my side, I didn’t hate it, but let’s say I was less enthusiastic about it than some of the other Carry Ons.
Tomorrow, we’ll be back with something much more Carry On-esque with Carry On Doctor, which marked the return of the most appreciated Hattie Jacques!
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) Angelini, Sergio. “Carry On Doctor.” BFI Screen Online, n.d. http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/466237/index.html. Accessed Oct. 17, 2019.
(2) “Follow That Camel: Trivia.” IMDb, n.d. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061680/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv. Accessed Oct. 17, 2019.
(3) Ross, Robert. The Carry On Companion. London: Batsford, 1998. p. 65.
(4) Ibid. note 2
(5) Ibid. note 3, page 67