Believe it or not, this is the 30th entry of this blog series meaning that it’s the before-last one (well, not considering the eventual recap)! It feels quite weird that this fun blogging task is about to come to an end. More importantly, the film I am reviewing today, Carry On Emmannuelle (Gerald Thomas, 1978) was the last Carry On made for 14 years before the released of Carry On Columbus in 1992. That is the last time you will see Kenneth Williams in the series (he sadly died only ten years after), as well as Joan Sims, Peter Butterwork, Kenneth Connor, and Jack Douglas. Suzanne Danielle, in the title role, marked the film with her only appearance in the series. Interestingly, it also allowed a brief return for Victor Maddern, who had lastly appeared in Carry On Cleo and for Eric Barker, who was lastly seen in Carry On Spying. Emmannuelle also gave a more significant role to Larry Dann. It wasn’t the first appearance in the series (it was his fourth one) but, so far, the roles he had played were generally minor. Fun fact: his first appearance was in Carry On Teacher in which he played one of the kids in an uncredited performance!
Carry On Emmannuelle is a direct parody of the French erotic film Emmanuelle (Just Jaeckin, 1974) starring Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel in the title role. A film released at a time where erotism on screen was more and more popular among a mainstream audience, which makes it not so surprising that the Carry On team decided to parody it. I remember seeing some clips from that film in my class on the sexual representation in cinema, and I must admit it’s the type of film that is a perfect candidate for parody. After the success of 1974’s Emmanuelle, it was eventually turned into a series of seven films. Don’t worry; I won’t turn that into a blog series! You might have noticed that the Carry On title spells the name Emmannuelle with an extra “n”. That was for copyrights reasons (1). But, to be honest, this exaggeration (a name with too many letters) fits the spirit of the Carry Ons quite well. So, at first, I thought it was an intentional gag.
The story of Carry On Emmannuelle is simple to follow: Emmannuelle Prévert (Suzanne Danielle) is going back home in London to join her French ambassador husband Émile Prévert (Kenneth Williams) from whom she has been separated for a long time. Aboard the Concord that is taking her there, she seduces 34-years-old mamma’s boy Theodore Valentine (Larry Dann) and has sex with him in the plane’s toilets. Back home, Emmannuelle makes the acquaintance of Emile’s butler, Lyons (Jack Douglas), who was, so far, not aware of her existence. She makes quite an impression when she removes her coat and realises she wears nothing under it. Other domestics are portrayed by Joan Sims as Mrs Dangle; Kenneth Connor as Leyland, the chauffeur, and Peter Butterworth as Richmond. Émile is happy to see his wife again but is reluctant to make love with her. He is more obsessed with his bodybuilding training. Eventually, Emmannuelle, driven by her passions starts a series of affairs with pretty much every man within her husband’s entourage, including the American ambassador (Bruce Boa), Lyons, a football team, and Émile bodybuilding coach (Howard Nelson). But, she loves Émile and is not completely ready to abandon him. On his side, Theodore Valentine has fallen in love with the beautiful French lady during their quick escapade in the Concord’s toilet and has in mind to conquer her to the opposition of his overprotective mother (Beryl Reid).
The last Carry Ons are often labelled as the worst of the series, and Carry On Emmannuelle doesn’t make an exception to the rule. It was another box-office failure which definitely closed the series (at least, for a long time). It’s disappointing that things ended up that way. We would have liked to see a beautiful finale, no? If you remember well, in my article on Carry On Doctor, I explained that many thought it would be the last one since it included so many of the regulars, a sort of grandiose farewell. Luckily it wasn’t the case (far from it, Carry On Camping and Carry On Up the Khyber weren’t even released yet!) but it would have been nice if the same pattern would have been repeated for the true ending of that popular series. However, Carry On Emmannuelle luckily features many of the regulars, so there is a certain sense of nostalgia.
For the critics, it wasn’t much of a success either. For example, an article from The Guardian entitled The worst movie ever? briefly discusses this film (among others). The text quotes film critic Philip French saying “This relentless sequence of badly-written, badly-timed dirty jokes is surely one of the most morally and aesthetically offensive pictures to emerge from a British studio”. (2)
But then, let’s admit that the series pretty much started to drop out and lose its quality after the departure of Talbot Rothwell.
Tom Cole, in an article for RadioTime, says of Suzanne Danielle that she is “unintentionally creepy” in the role of Emmannuelle (3). Is she? Perhaps the creepiest thing is that she was only 21 when she made that film (opposing much older leading actors). She doesn’t do her age at all so that information came as a complete surprise to me. Her performance was convincing enough for the type of character she was portraying and the type of film in which she was. Yes, it’s very caricatural but so are the Carry Ons. Her on-screen presence is quite noticeable, not only for her physic but also for her mannerisms. The way you perceive the character she portrays, Emmannuelle Prévert, varies on your perspective. Some could see her a sexually liberated woman that breaks the codes and the taboos. This scene where she asks to the house domestics about their most unusual love story is seen as a joke, on a side, but, on another one, I’m sure many can relate to that. It somehow illustrates the fact that people shouldn’t be afraid of having these conversations, especially since Emmannuelle is never judging them. BUT from a pure Carry On perspective, we hardly believe that was the intended message. I think it’s a film that was racy just for the sake of it.
The sex scenes, as a matter of fact, remain pretty “innocent”. Yes, it’s very suggestive but, overall, they remain suggested. If you compare to some of the previous 70s Carry Ons, the amount of skin shown isn’t necessarily more important: Kenneth William’s bare butt here and there, a few breasts, but that’s about it.
The rest of the casting is decent enough in their interpretations. I want to give credit to Jack Douglas, whom, for once, didn’t annoy me. He lost his weird spasms and played a more “normal” person, which, for me, worked better than his eccentricities. I also loved Kenneth Connor’s chosen accent.
When discussing the screenplay of Carry On Emmannuelle, Tom Cole informs us that being unsatisfied with Lance Peter’s script, Peter Rogers hired Vince Powell to make modifications. (4) Powell was apparently the author of some bad TV sitcoms. (5) So, the film probably suffered from it.
Nevertheless, speaking from my point of view, the humour of this film worked better than the slapstick humour of Carry On England, going back more dialogue-oriented gags.
Here are a few examples:
1- Immigration officer: Could you be more explicit, please?
Emmannuelle Prévert : Oh, oui monsieur. I can be very explicit.
2- Emmannuelle Prévert: I am your wife! You shouldn’t hide anything from me!
Émile Prévert [tragic]: There’s not much to hide.
3- Mrs Valentine: Doctor Jones said to me: “Mrs Valentine, your son, Theodore, is very delicate”.
Theodore Valentine: With respect, mother, when he said it, I was six months old!
4- Theodore Valentine: I’ve met this girl! This wonderful girl!
Mrs Valentine: Don’t be silly. There’s no such thing!
Theodore Valentine: I think I’m in love!
Mrs Valentine [amused]: Oh! Nonsense! You’re far too young!
Theodore Valentine [offended]: I’m 34! And a half!
So, it’s not only sex jokes. There’s a lot of stupidity in these dialogues, it’s not brilliant and thoughtful words, but it did make me laugh on a few occasions. So, I guess it depends on each person.
Going back at Tom Cole’s article, he advances a very relevant point when he says that Carry On Emmannuelle “doesn’t know what it wants to be”. (6) Indeed, he develops on the fact that sexploitation films were popular precisely for depicting sex on screen, which is not something Carry On Emmannuelle quite do (none of the content is truly shocking). (7) So, it didn’t work because people didn’t really know what to make out of it. Moreover, the critic arguments that it doesn’t look like and feel like a Carry On film. We are reminded it is one for its casting and Gerald Thomas being at the direction, but Carry On films, indeed, were going far away from what they were initially. It started with Carry On Behind I would say. However, it is not the first time a Carry On film doesn’t fit perfectly. Carry On Jack would be another good example, also with a non-regular in a leading role (Juliet Mills). Except, Carry On Jack was of better quality.
Another weird thing about it was the theme song. Super catchy but not very Carry On-esque. It sticks in the head tho.
Overall, I was entertained by Carry On Emmannuelle, and I wouldn’t even label it as my least favourite Carry On! Objectively, it’s not very good but, subjectively, it’s added to a long list of guilty pleasures. It’s that type of film that is “so bad it’s good”.
I will see you next with the last review of this series: Carry On Columbus! I know I’m repeating myself, but I can’t believe it’s almost over!
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) “Carry On Emmannuelle: Trivia.” IMDb. Accessed January 24, 2020. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077300/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv
(2) “The Worst Movie Ever Made?” The Guardian, April 26, 2001. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2001/apr/26/artsfeatures2
(3) Cole, Tom. “Attack of the Killer Bs: Carry On Emmannuelle (1978).” RadioTime, n.d. https://www.radiotimes.com/news/2011-08-11/attack-of-the-killer-bs-carry-on-emmannuelle-1978/.