This blog series is taking much more time than I was expecting BUT, in a way, that’s a good thing because it will feel weird once it’s over! And, we’ve now reached the film #25 in our exploration of these saucy and hilarious films! Carry On Girls, directed by Gerald Thomas and released in 1973, doesn’t have the best reputation. But does it means it’s a boring film? No! I was actually agreeably surprised by it. OF COURSE, it has its problems, and we’ll come back to them later but, overall, it remains good entertainment (a very guilty pleasure of course).
Carry On Girls takes place in the fictional town of Fircombe (exterior scenes filmed in Brighton). (1) The town is unpopular among tourists. During a meeting with the mayor, Frederick Bumble (Kenneth Connor), and other city representatives, councillor Sidney Fiddler (Sid James) proposes to organise a beauty contest to attract people in the city. Bumble is a bit reticent at first but finally agrees while feminist Augusta Prodworthy (June Whitfield) is in total opposition and determined to ruin the event. Fiddler’s girlfriend, Connie Philpotts (Joan Sims), runs the hotel where the contestants are to stay during the event. She’s not too motivated about the idea either, but Sidney convinces her that it would be good for the business. At the hotel, we notice the unimitable Mrs Dukes (Joan Hickson) and the old Admiral (Peter Butterworth) among other customers. Jack Douglas plays William, the doorman. Fiddler’s friend and publicist Peter Potter (Bernard Bresslaw) is to help him with the organization of the contest, at the great despair of his girlfriend Paula (Valerie Leon). Among the contestants, we’ll particularly notice Hope Springs (Barbara Windsor), Dawn Brakes (Margaret Nolan), and Debra (Sally Geeson). Patsy Rowlands plays the mayor’s bored wife, Mildred, Jimmy Logan plays Cecil Gaybody, a journalist, and Robin Askwith plays Mrs Prodworthy’s Brian Jones look-alike son who is a photographer.
On its release, Carry On Girls was a box office flop (2), which, we now know, is not something that often happened to Carry On films as they were generally quite successful, financially speaking. On one side, the film was even more risquée than the previous ones, which was maybe a good thing for the sexual liberation of the 70s but, on another side, it still objectifies actresses a lot as it was the case with previous Carry Ons. At this point, maybe it didn’t work so much among the public anymore. Perhaps it was a message that the franchise was reaching its end. The absence of Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey also marks the film, maybe another thing that could explain its flop. However, I don’t think the film suffers much from it. Barbara Windsor, Bernard Bresslaw, and others are here to save the day.
The subject is, yes, a bit stupid and superficial BUT the film has its moment that make it overall entertaining. Gerald Thomas clearly said in an interview that Carry On films will never be feminist films (3). I don’t necessarily think it was something against feminism, but mostly honesty. Interestingly, however, the film is the first one to introduce openly feminist characters such as the ones played by June Whitfield and Patsy Rowlands. It’s a good thing as it gives a challenge to opposing characters, particularly Sidney Fiddler. Yes, Mrs Prodworthy’s portrayal is very caricatural, the eccentric feminist by excellence but, in the end, it’s pretty much those ladies that have the last word (or is it?). I think in these feminist terms, Patsy Rowlands character worked better for me and was more credible. She’s probably my favourite performer in the whole film! As the mayor’s wife, he expects her to follow him everywhere even if she doesn’t want to. She does it but doesn’t make much effort to please him because she doesn’t care much for it. She’s hilarious, and she’s the first one to laugh at him when she sees a photo of him in the journal, without any pants on (due to a slight incident).
In a way, we understand Mrs Prodworthy and her team’s actions and opposition but, in a more 21st-century spirit, we know it’s not better to shame girls who wear bikinis and sexy clothes. So, for that reason, the film becomes very confusing, and we’re not too sure which conclusion you must draw from it. I’m maybe overthinking this, which was not Carry Ons’s primary objective.
An article by Kim Newman for Empire explains pretty well why the film is problematic. First of all, it doesn’t portray feminists in a favourable light. (4) Second, the ones the feminists punish in the end are the poor girls who decided to participate in the contest while contest organisers should be the ones to receive a good lesson. (5) Girls are clearly not supporting each other in this story, which is kind of sad.
On a funnier note, Barbara Windsor gets sweet revenge in the elevator scene: Peter Butterworth pinches her butt in the elevator, and she gets revenge by doing the same. Eye for an eye!
If we concentrate more on the film itself rather than on its message, one thing that didn’t work for me so well was Jack Douglas’s performance. Was that suppose to be funny?? His character has these weird unexplained spasms (it was also the case in Carry On Abroad). If it was supposed to be some physical gag, I’m sorry, but it’s more annoying than anything. That was another total mystery. As much as I LOVE him, Kenneth Connor was not at his best either. Of course, he finds himself in some pretty hilarious situations, but I thought that pinched voice he uses was more irritating than anything. I felt sorry about this because he’s usually a favourite!
The rest of the cast, however, was convincing as usual. I especially want to give a shout out to Robin Askwith in his only Carry On appearance, a secondary but appreciated supporting role. And the guy does look like Brian Jones! I’m not the only one to see that resemblance as he himself shared this funny anecdote on Twitter:
And kudos to Barbara Windsor and Bernard Bresslaw who are just perfect together in one of the best scenes from the film:
Hope and Sidney have decided that Peter Potter (Bresslaw) should get dressed as a girl and participate in the contest to create a scandal and, therefore, a good publicity stunt to attract more people. Peter is reticent but has finally no choice but to accept. The dialogues during the dressing up scene are hilarious, going from Barbara Windsor criticizing Bresslaw’s kneecaps, to Bresslaw looking at himself and making coquettish faces in the mirror wearing a wig and some makeup and saying “You know, it may sound kinky but… I could fancy myself!” And then, he keeps on practising his feminine faces which amuses Barbara Windsor. This actress had the cutest laugh!
We can notice other memorable dialogues created by Talbot Rothwell such as:
1- Augusta Prodworthy [talking to Mayor Bumble who is in his bath]: And as far as you can see, you are as poorly equipped to carry out your civic duties as your domestic ones…
2- [Peter Potter and others enter in the hotel with a donkey]
Connie Philpotts: Ah! What’s that!?
Sidney Fiddler: It’s alright Connie, it’s only a donkey.
As if it was super normal. Notice that the donkey is called Cleopatra. I think Carry On films had a thing for the Queen of the Nile!
3- There’s also this moment where Patsy Rowlands is pretty much my animal spirit:
Mayor Bumble: Isn’t time you start thinking about getting dressed?
Mildred Bumble: What for?
4- Sidney Fiddler [to Hope Springs]: With your brain and my beauty, we could go places!
5- Hope Springs [Bumping into the mayor]: Oh! It’s you your worship! I didn’t recognize you with your trousers on!
There’s also a famous catfight between Hope Springs and Dawn Breaks at one point in the film where Hope completely rips of Dawn’s clothes. (We later learnt that this was Hope’s brilliant idea for a publicity stunt). While there aren’t a lot of dialogues exchanged (mostly screams) during that scene, I couldn’t help screenshotting some priceless facial expressions, which were, of course, the key of Carry On films!
Carry On Girls is, of course, far from being the best one of the series. It has its many flaws, but it also has its moments which doesn’t make it a total failure. I did like it. It’s worth the detour. It is to be seen with a critical eye or not at all depending on your mood and your interpretation of it.
Next, we’ll review Carry On Dick, which was the last one to be scripted by Talbott Rothwell.
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) “Carry On Girls: Trivia.” IMDb, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069848/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv. Accessed Dec. 2, 2019.
(3) “Carry On Nursing interview-Bernard Bresslaw, Jack Douglas, Gerald Thomas.” YouTube, uploaded by Andy Davidson, June 13, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwzFM20Ky-M.
(4) Newman, Kim. “Carry On Girls Review.” Empire, Jan 1, 2000. https://www.empireonline.com/movies/reviews/carry-girls-review/. Accessed Dec 2, 2019.