That’s it, folks! We have finally reached the LAST review for the Carry On blog series! I must now get used to the fact that I will soon have to move to something else. Unfortunately, among the few bad Carry Ons, Carry On Columbus is, in my humble opinion, probably the worst. What a sad way to end things! While I did enjoy Carry On England and Carry On Emmannuelle, despite their many flaws, I must admit that I lost the focus a little bit during my viewing of Carry On Columbus. There are a few good things about it (we’ll come back to them later), but, generally, the negative aspects take the lead.
Carry On Columbus tells the (fictionalized) story of Christopher Columbus (Jim Dale)’s quest to reach the Indies to seek great richness, particularly gold. He asks finances to King Ferdinand (Leslie Phillips) and Queen Isabella (June Whitfield) of Spain. On his side, the Sultan of Turkey (Rik Mayall) doesn’t see this project with a good eye since it might affect his business. So, he sends two spies, Achmed (Alexei Sayle) and Fatima (Sara Crowe) to stop Columbus and his crew. Mordecai Mendoza (Bernard Cribbins), Don Juan Diego (Julia Clary), his artist brother Bart Columbus (Peter Richardson), and a bunch of convicts, including Pepi the Poisoner (Keith Allen) and Marco the Cereal Killer (Jack Douglas), accompany the notorious explorer in this important adventure.
Carry On Columbus marked the (short-lasting) comeback of the popular franchise. Indeed, it was released 14 years after Carry On Emmannuelle and reflects a strong feeling nostalgia with the inclusion of actors that hadn’t be seen in the series since a long time such as Jim Dale, Bernard Cribbins, Leslie Phillips, Jon Pertwee, and Peter Gilmore. That, however, wasn’t the first attempt to put the series back on track. Indeed, a Carry On Again Nurse project with a script by Norman Hudis was planned for 1988 but, unfortunately, it never saw the day. (1) “Unfortunately” because I feel it would have been better than Columbus. Interestingly, the last Carry On was released to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival on the new continent. (2) Funny enough, two other films revolving around this event were released the same year but, while these twos along with the Carry On were all box office flops, Gerald Thomas’s comedy is the one that made most money due to its small budget. (3)
I rarely had anything bad to say about Carry On actors because they were generally what made this series so appreciable, even if the film itself was so-so. Actually, the last time I pointed out a performance that I didn’t like was in my review of Follow That Camel where I explained being disappointed by Phil Silvers. But, this time, the bad performances are more numerous. Not surprisingly, these aren’t embodied by the regulars but by newcomers whom, luckily, were never seen again in a Carry On. The first character to be introduced to us is the Sultan, a role that could have fitted Kenneth Williams quite well, and it seems that Rik Mayall was attempting to imitate his mimics, but he badly fails and is highly unfunny. It’s a good thing we only see him at the beginning of the film, and then better actors take his place. In the same vein of bad performances, Sara Crowe, who plays Fatima, delivers a questionable performance. The whole thing is marked by a profoundly annoying voice. She DID make me laugh at some point, but her acting wasn’t very good. Carry Ons have used a lot of pretty faces, but these pretty faces were the ones of capable actresses.
Unsurprisingly, the regulars somehow save the film a little and make it a bit better than it could have been without them. Jim Dale’s energy and the illusion of motivation are quite surprising for the poor material he was given, and he’s generally one of the best things about the film. But then, he knew how Carry Ons worked even if he hadn’t be seen in any of them since Carry On Again Doctor. It was a real pleasure to see Bernard Cribbins again. He had previously proved himself in Carry On Jack and Carry On Spying. Finally, Leslie Phillips and June Whitfield are the ones that truly steal the show, and we regret not seeing more of them.
If I could give another positive aspect about this film that worked with me (aside from the performance by the regulars), it would be the few moments where real-life people or places are talked about in a comical way. For example, at one point, Bart Columbus refers to his painter friends Leonardo DaVinci and Michaelangelo as Lenny and Mick. Or, when Jewish Mordecai Mendoza warns the crew against the dangers of the Bar Mitzvah Triangle (a clear reference to the Bermuda Triangle).
Otherwise, I also immensely enjoyed the music played during the opening credits. It almost made me hope for a good film! This one was composed by John Du Prez. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an excerpt.
Carry On Columbus feels like a bad TV movie. The rushed script by Dave Freeman and John Antrobus is highly felt, but then, Freeman hated the final product (4). He also wrote the script for Carry On Behind which, despite not being the best Carry On, is much better than Columbus. Moreover, that mediocre script contains a lot of bad clichés, a failed attempt of British humour, and innuendos that are not discreet enough to be good innuendos.
Unsurprisingly, on its release, Carry On Columbus was, not only a box office flop, but it was also unsuccessful among the critics. Consequently, it was voted the ‘Worst British Film Ever Made’ in a 2004 poll conducted among people from the British film industry. (4) But then, it probably deserved it.
Carry On Columbus could have been much better with a proper script and better newcomers. It’s that type of film that you feel could be good enough if made in a totally different way. It is not a completely hopeless case.
Well, this series is already over! And, although it ends with what is now probably my least favourite Carry On, it has been a real pleasure to share my thoughts with you! I’m not quite done as I’ll see you soon for the big re-cap! I mean, it would be sad to end up things with a review of this mediocre film!
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) Webber, Richard. Fifty Years of Carry On. United Kingdom: Arrow Books, 2008. 186.
(2) “Carry On Columbus.” Wikipedia. Accessed January 30, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carry_On_Columbus.
(4) “Carry On Columbus: Trivia.” IMDb. Accessed January 30, 2019. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103927/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv.