After a very short break from reviewing Carry On films, I’m back with this western movie parody: Carry On Cowboy (Gerald Thomas, 1965)! The film marked Angela Douglas, Peter Butterworth, and Bernard Bresslaw’s first appearances in the franchise. I must admit that Carry On Cowboy is among my least favourite Carry Ons so far, but it still remains one with many interesting aspects. It deserves to be watched with a thoughtful mind. Curiously, this was Sid James’s favourite Carry On and it also was Joan Sims favourite role among those she did for the series. (1) Moreover, Jim Dale said it “Carry On Cowboy was one of the best films I did in the series – I did enjoy it. I loved the fact that there were moments I could capture that were a little different.”(2) So, it was surprisingly high in the esteem of some Carry On regulars!
Carry On Cowboy takes place in Stodge City (A spoof od Dodge City, Kansas). An outlaw, Johnny Finger (Sid James), better known as The Rumpo Kid, arrives in the small town where he kills three people (for no reason) and then orders alchohol in a saloon where they normally don’t send any. The bartender, Charlie (Percy Herbert), will eventually become one of Rumpo’s allies. Judge Burke (Kenneth Williams) doesn’t approve of this stranger disturbing the peace of Stodge City, especially not after this one kills the sheriff, Albert Earp (Jon Pertwee). Rumpo also meets the seducing Bell Armitage (Joan Sims).
Meanwhile in Washington, Marshal P. Knutt –Peanut, haha!– (Jim Dale), an English gentleman and sanitation engineer first class, is looking for a job. The office commissioners are looking for a new Peace Marshall to be sent to Stodge City to clean the city. Knutt gets into the office, thinking it’s the Public Work Department and, due to a misunderstanding, obtains the marshall job. The thing is, he still thinks he’s going there to clean the city the way a sanitation engineer would do, not the way a marshal would! One must admit that his first name, Marshal, is also something that leads to confusion.
Knutt goes to Stodge city in a stagecoach that he shares with Annie Oakley (Angela Douglas). Annie wants to find the man who killed her father, Albert Earp, and to get revenge. The coach is attacked by the “Indians” led by their chief Big Heap (Charles Hawtrey– yes, Charles Hawtrey). These made a bargain with Rumpo who doesn’t want to see someone intrude the city and put him back to his place. Luckily, Annie is a master at shooting and saves the situation. In Stodge, Rumpo is still creating chaos and thinking he’s all permitted. This situation won’t be easy to solve especially when the judge realizes a sanitation engineer was sent to him instead of a real marshal.
Carry On Cowboy parodies the Western genre on so many levels and there really is an attention to detail. The film was the first Carry On to feature a team song, which was composed by Eric Rogers and Alan Rogers and sang by Jim Dale during the opening credits. The style of the song and Dale’s voice style fit perfectly the atmosphere that is usually felt in many westerns where a lone cowboy is seen riding on a plain or a desert to some unknown destiny. Even the rythm of the song is a perfect reflection. Here, I think of examples like Gunfight at the O.k. Corral (John Sturges, 1957) with the theme song composed by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington and sang by Frankie Laine, or Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darling also composed by Tiomkin and Washington and sang by Tex Ritter in the film High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952). Angela Douglas also embodies the saloon girl spirit in the likes of Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again (George Marshall, 1939) or Marilyn Monroe in River of No Return (Otto Preminger, 1954) when she sings This Is the Night for Love. She proves to be a great seductress!
Carry On Cowboy
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (Fun fact: this is actually one of my all time favourite songs!)
Marilyn Monroe sings in River of No Return
Angela Douglas sings in Carry On Cowboy
Please forgive me for the poor quality of the Carry On clips!
What’s also noticeable at the beginning of the film, except for that team song, is the scene where the Rumpo Kid shoots three men very rapidly without giving them a chance to pronounce a word. Does it make you think of something? If you’re thinking of the opening scene in Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968), you probably are not the only one. However, this couldn’t have been an inspiration since Leone’s famous western was actually released three years after Carry On Cowboy! But it’s indeed difficult not to make a parallel. I think this scene was mostly a way to show how people kill first and think second in many Westerns.
Carry On Cowboy opening scene
Once Upon a Time in the West opening scene
Johnny Finger’s nickname, the Rumpo Kid, reminds us of The Ringo Kid, the much more sympathetic “outlaw” embodied by John Wayne in Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939). It’s not the only “name” reference this film presents. There’s also Annie Oakley who was a real-life sharpshooter and exhibition shooter. She was also portrayed on-screen by Barbara Stanwyck in Annie Oakley (George Stevens, 1935), or by Betty Hutton in the musical Annie Get Your Gun (George Sidney, 1950). However, the film doesn’t focus that much on this aspect of her life and Angela Douglas is presented more like a sexy saloon girl so we kind of forget that she’s Annie Oakley. Finally, the name of the killed marshal Albert Earp refers to Wyatt Earp, the lawman and gambler who was one of those to take part in the famous Gunfight at O.K Corrall. However, Albert Earp is that marshal who is deaf and almost blind and probably not the kind of person you would have sent to such a gunfight!
The Ringo Kid vs. The Rumpo Kid!
Barbara Stanwyck, Betty Hutto, and Angela Douglas, all as Annie Oakley
Wyatt Earp vs. Albert Earp!
Finally, while there would be many Western references to spot, one that particularly attracted our attention is the reference to High Noon. After discovering Knott’s real identity, The Rumpo Kid decides to come back at high noon to get revenge. This is announced by the judge with these memorable lines:
Judge Burke [to Knutt]: Rumpo and his men, they’re coming to get you
Marshal P. Knutt: Who, me?
Judge Burke: Yeah, they know you’re not a real marshal. They’re gonna be here at 12 O’Clock high noon.
Marshal P. Knutt: High noon? Why high noon?
Judge Burke: I know! I told them it was the most unoriginal time for that kind of thing but they wouldn’t listen!
And, obviously, when Marshal seeks help to defy those bad men, nobody is willing to help and people leave before he even has the time to finish his speech. This refers to Will Kane (Gary Cooper)’s situation in Zinnemann’s film. Of course, this time, it’s executed comically. Annie insisting that he should get out of time while it’s still time reminds us of Grace Kelly’s character, Amy Kane. However, because she’s Annie Oakley she finally helps him to be a better shooter so he can be ready for this dangerous armed confrontation!
Will Kane vs. Marshal P. Knutt!
Carry On Cowboy includes some particularly noticeable performances in the way that they really create a distance between the actor and the character. As it is indicated in The Carry On Companion, if Sid James was still Sid James behind is Mark Anthony mask in Carry On Cleo, this time, he totally transforms himself into a villain and a pretty convincing one at that (3). On his side, Kenneth Williams completely abandoned his signature voice to build the character of Judge Burke, the caricatural western movie judge who is a bit grumpy, talks a lot but actually doesn’t do much. Williams based his voice for the film on the one of Hollywood comedy producer Hal Roach. (note carry on companion). Angela Douglas feels like a breath of fresh air in the film and truly is charming. Her acting reminds us of Juliet Mills’s in Carry On Jack. Joan Sims also has her moments and both her character and Douglas’s are involved in some unforgettable scenes of female rivalry. Jim Dale is probably the most Carry On-esque and British thing of this film taking place in the United States with his style, manners, and voice. I just love his voice tone and the way he says his name, Marshall P. Knutt, when he introduces himself. While I love Carry On’s first-generation actors such as James, Sims, Kenneth, and Hawtrey, I think Jim Dale, this time, was really given full potential and easily steals the show. Finally, Charles Hawtrey becomes full irony by playing this “Indian” chief with his iconic round glasses and by always talking with his distinct British accent. Of course, if you take this too seriously, we won’t be out of the woods. But I see this as a way to express how many (every?) western movies used white men to portray native Americans, which was a real problem.
While Carry On Cowboy isn’t the best of the series, it remains one that has its share of noticeable aspects. I just think it lacks a bit of joke in opposition to some better Carry Ons (there are still a lot of typical Carry On innuendos). I the end, just like Carry On Jack, it doesn’t feel that much like a Carry On. However, I’ll let you watch it to form your own judgment!
Be back tomorrow as I’ll be reviewing Carry On Screaming, a perfect film for Halloween season!
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) “Carry On Cowboy: Trivia.” IMDB, n.d. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059014/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv. Accessed Oct 13, 2019
(2) Jim Dale cited in Ross, Robert. The Carry On Companion. London: Batsford, 1998. p. 56.