Even if Carry On Up the Jungle (Gerald Thomas, 1970) isn’t remembered as one of the best Carry Ons, I was looking forward to watching it as it marked the return of Kenneth Connor, now a huge favourite of mine, after an absence of six years. My reaction to Up the Jungle was similar to the one I had for Carry On Jack in the way that I wasn’t expecting much from it, but turned out quite liking it. No, it’s the most memorable Carry On, but it’s fairly enjoyable. The film was also the second and last one of the series in which Frankie Howerd appeared, after having had a starring role in Carry On Doctor. Up the Jungle was the first of four Carry On films featuring Jacki Piper and one of the rare not to star Kenneth Williams. The reason for his absence was justified by the creation of his new show, The Kenneth William Show, that he co-wrote with John Law. (1) But Kenneth didn’t miss the film as a spectator and gave his thought it one of his diary entries, “It was quite funny and at one point I was laughing aloud. I was staggered to see what they got away with!” (April 3, 1976). (2)
The film, parodying Tarzan films, and Hammer Film Productions’ “Cavegirl” series, takes place right in the middle of the African jungle, Pinewood studios having been drastically transformed for the occasion.
Set in 1900, the story is about those five people who go on a jungle expedition. One of them is Professor Inigo Tinkle (Frankie Howerd), and ornithologist searching for the rare Oozlum bird (which is, in reality, a mythical creature). He is accompanied by his assistant Claude Chumley (Kenneth Connor). Leading the theme is Bill Boosey (Sid James) and his African guide Upsidasi (Bernard Bresslaw). Lady Evelyn Bagley (Joan Sims), who finances the expedition, is also part of the team with her maidservant June (Jacki Pier). The adventure won’t be an ordinary one as they will have to deal with a shameless gorilla, angry cannibals, and lots of surprises. June will fall in love with Tarzan-like man, Ugg (Terry Scott), who turns out to be more than just a jungle boy.
Carry On Up the Jungle might have some of my favourite alternative titles, which are presented in the opening credits. These are The African Queens, Stop Beating About the Bush, and Show Me Your Waterhole and I’ll Show You Mine. These are completely silly, but they fit perfectly with the silliness of the film. And one can’t say they aren’t original!
Kenneth Williams saying of the film that they got away with a lot of things might refer to the usual typical Carry On-sexual jokes and innuendos, which are as present as ever (with Ugg learning more about the many functions of the “civilized” human being, the three British fellows sexual attraction for Lady Bagley, and their trip to Aphrodisia, a place where the main activity is procreation). The sort of things that we sort of expect from a Carry On. However, on another level, an element that the film presents that could have been problematic (and that can’t be) is Bernard Bresslaw’s black up for the role of Upsidasi. On my side, I’m not sure how to interpret that. I know that, in 1970, it would have been a bit pushy and provocative to use a white man in the role of a black man. However, Carry On films are so not to be taken seriously. It does create confusion. In my opinion, it’s a bit similar to the situation of Charles Hawtrey playing the Amerindian chief in Carry On Cowboy. Robert Ross comment on the subject in his book The Carry On Companion, and I thought what he had to say was quite interesting:
“Bresslaw’s performance is so beyond the realm of belief that it fails to ring racist alarm bells. He wanders through the film highlighting the stupidity of the Brits while delighting in donning part of a butler’s attire when serving dinner, thus highlighting the ethos of the traditional British society.” (3)
Honestly, I think it depends on how you interpret all this. If you have seen this film, please tell me in the comments what you thought of the choice of casting Bernard Bresslaw as an African.
The return of Kenneth Connor among the Carry On regulars gives an atmosphere of nostalgia to the film, a bit like it was the case with Hattie Jacque’s come back in Carry On Doctor. His role and interpretation can remind us of the past ones, in the way that he plays the frenetic little man (particularly driven by his sexual pulsions in this case), but, in a way, we feel something has changed. It’s hard to explain why, but we feel that, by working on other acting projects during his absence in the franchise, Connor might have gained another type of acting experience and expanded his horizons. Needless to say that his presence is always extremely appreciated and fits perfectly with the rest of the casting. We could feel that, on some occasions, Kenneth Connor could be overshadowed by the larger than life presence of Sid James, Joan Sims, and Frankie Howerd, but, in a way, his performance and character is far different from the others, so it’s hard to forget him. Claude Chumley is maybe not as memorable as Horace Strong, but if you love Kenneth Connor enough, you’ll welcome his return in the series with open arms.
I’m looking forward to seeing more Carry Ons with Jacki Piper because I loved discovering her lovely talent in Carry On Up the Jungle. It’s an acting style the remains humble and that “agrees’ with the other performances. I also think the development of her character is one of the most interesting, in the way that it has a lot of surprises in reserve for us and the different layers of June’s personality are shown gradually. Honestly, at first, I just thought she was going to be only a very secondary character, Joan Sim’s obedient maid, pronouncing a few words here and there. But, as soon as she meets Ugg, June’s true colours are revealed but, most of all, a detailed storyline is developed for her, which gives importance to her character. If she had previously appeared in television shows, Carry On Up the Jungle was Jacki’s second feature film and her first credited role for the big screen. She would appear later in the series in Carry On Loving, Carry On At Your Convenience, and Carry On Matron.
Even if Carry On Up the Jungle was perhaps not as funny as previous Carry Ons, some of the gags worked quite well with me and made it a much better film if the way that they were faithful to Carry On‘s humoristic style and tradition. One of the best is perhaps the snake gag. This is a situation where the spectator knows more than the characters. Lady Bagley is having dinner with the three men, Tinkle, Boosey, and Chumley. The camera shows us a snake that moves toward Lady Bagley’s foot and slowly slides and climbs up on her leg, finally disappearing somewhere under her dress. The focus is then back on poor Lady Bagley’s face, who realises that something is not normal. The comedic effect is produced when she thinks that the men, one at the time, are getting intimate with her. And with their attitude, what they say to her, anybody could have been fooled if they hadn’t seen the snake!
Talbot Rothwell also provided some funny lines that make this film very much Carry On-esque indeed:
1- Prof. Tinkle: I’m flabbergasted! My gast has never been so flabbered!
2-Lady Bagley: [flirtatiously] One would feel so much safer with a strong, fearless man beside one.
Prof. Tinkle: Oh, I agree. But where could we find one out here?
3- [June is teaching Ugg how to count]
Ugg: One… two… three… four… five…
Ugg: … sex.
June: [as Ugg picks her up] I wonder if we’ll ever get to seven?
Yes, these are silly, but it’s that silliness that makes Carry On charm!
But what’s even sillier and incredible in its own way is perhaps the few technical difficulties that Terry Scott had to face during the shooting, not being allowed to wear underwear under his very minimal costume. As he explained, this presented some anecdotic situations:
” First day of filming on Carry On Up the Jungle – first take, first scene, actors inevitably shy and nervous. I, in leather loin cloth as “Tarzan” being lifted from lying to sitting position beside the lagoon by “Jane”. Camera rehearsal (no sound). Much laughter from the technicians, which puzzled me, as I didn’t think the dialogue was that funny. Only at the end of the scene did I realize that the leather loin cloth was revealing a part of me that was not supposed to be in the scene!” (4)
At the end of the day, I can confirm that I quite liked Carry On Up the Jungle, withouth thinking that it was the most memorable film of the franchise either. However, they hadn’t completely lost their touch, and it’s perhaps one of the Carry Ons with the most surprising moment! Well, that my opinion. I would recommend it, but maybe not as a way to be introduced to the series if you haven’t seen any of the Carry Ons yet.
Before leaving you, I thought you might like to see this rare little interview that happened during the filming of Up the Jungle!
I love their sense of friendship!
We’re already about to review the 20th Carry On film, Carry On Loving! However, due to school duties, I will have to take a little blogging break, but I’ll be back as soon as possible with more discussions on these unforgettable Carry Ons!
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) Ross, Robert. The Carry On Companion. London: Batsford, 1998. p. 86.
(3) Ibid note 1, p. 85.
(4) Terry Scott cited in The Carry On Companion (p. 87)