Carry On Jack (1964) is not necessarily known as the best film of the franchise. BFI didn’t list it among its list of five Carry On films to forget, but it’s not the one people will remember the best as it mostly seemed to be “a film among others”. With that in mind, I didn’t have a lot of expectations before watching it but, the thing is, I liked it! No, it’s not the best one, that I would agree, but it’s entertaining enough and surely deserves to be watched. In my opinion, the reason why it didn’t work for some is probably because it’s one of the less “carry on-esque” of the Carry Ons. As a matter of fact, just like Carry On Cabby that we discussed yesterday, the film was initially not meant to be part of the franchise. First named Up the Armada, a few modifications were made for it to fit into the franchise (1). But then, maybe these changes weren’t enough for us to fully appreciate it as a typical Carry On. Also, only two of the original Carry On cast members were part of it: Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey. Jim Dale also had a minor role. Bernard Cribbin, who also appeared in the next Carry On; Carry On Spying and, years later, in Carry On Columbus, played the title role. But if we forget these aspects, the film itself worked pretty well for me. Of course, some flaws have to be pointed out, but I’ll come back to them later.
Carry On Jack takes place in 1805. Albert Poop-Decker (Bernard Cribbins) has been promoted midshipman by First Sea Lord (Cecil Parker) even though he’s not entirely qualified for it, but England needs more men for its army. Afterwards, he is taken to the ship Venus by two idiotic carriers (Jim Dale and Ian Wilson). The ship is to leave the following morning so, as he still has a bit of free time for pleasures, he is taken by the two carriers at Dirty Dick’s Tavern (yes, that’s really the name). Albert is invaded by a bunch of crazy women and saved by maid Sally (Juliet Mills). However, this one has one idea in mind, to go on the Venus. So, she knocks him out and steals his clothes. Meanwhile, Walter Sweetly (Charles Hawtrey) is kidnapped by a press-gang headed by Venus’ First Officer Lieutenant Jonathan Howett (Donald Houston). The same happens to Albert when he gets out of Sally’s bedroom wearing her dress (as his clothes have been stolen).
Walter and Albert are now aboard the Venus as regular ship workers, more like slaves. Of course, nobody believes Albert when he claims that he is Albert Poop-Decker. Walter and Albert meet Captain Fearless (Kenneth Williams) and the imposter Poop-Decker who is, in reality, Sally in men’s clothes. Sally finally reveals her true identity to Albert when the two are alone. She explains that she had to do it so she could join her lover, who is in Spain. The only way Albert can help her is by continuing to play the game and not denounce her. He accepts as she is, after all, not a bad person.
Later, when Captain Fearless decides to run away from an enemy ship instead of attacking it, Officer Howett and his assistant, Mr Angel (Percy Herbert), decide it’s time to get rid of the Captain, his right arm Poop-Decker, Albert, and Walter. Their plan of making them believe that everybody has been killed on the ship works quite well, and the four people run away with one of the safety boats. That is just a part of their adventures which will continue to get exciting as the story progresses.
A lot happens in Carry On Jack so, I must admit, it’s hard to summarize the story without revealing too much!
Although the film didn’t feature many Carry On regulars, I’m still glad I watched it for the main reason that it finally allowed me to see a film with Juliet Mills (I know, I know). I don’t think her acting is typical Carry On-style, but I think she was a highly appreciable actress and I loved her dynamism and self-assurance in this film. However, one thing that didn’t work with me in connection with Juliet Mill (and that’s not her fault at all) is the fact that, because she wears men’s clothes at one point, everybody thinks she’s Poop-Decker and, moreover, that she’s a man. One really has to be idiotic not to see that she’s a woman because she doesn’t even modify her voice to sound more like a man. And, in 1808, people weren’t that open-minded. So, either it’s part of Carry On’s ironic humour or it’s just to show the character’s complete idiocy. Obviously, when her hat is removed by accident and her beautiful long blonde hair is revealed, the people (men) aboard the ship are shocked: “Omg! It’s a woman!” No, way?!
Another thing that people might have regretted about this film is Charles Hawtrey’s role. We loved seeing him, but the thing is; he wasn’t typical-Hawtrey enough. To me, his character isn’t as memorable as the ones he previously played. I mean, we’re glad he’s here, but I believe his character deserved a better development. However, I did think that he and Bernard Cribbins made a good team and gave a bit more depth into each other’s characters.
It’s not surprising that Kenneth Williams and his over the top, but perfect acting were the best things about the film. In a way, he kind of saved it and I don’t think I would have appreciated the film as much as I did if it hadn’t been for him. I loved Captain Fearless! He never wanted to be a seaman, would have preferred to have a desk job, so that makes his character pretty amusing. And he’s far from being fearless.
Despite the film not being the most successful one of the franchise, actor Bernard Cribbins kept a good souvenir of shooting it as it is shown in The Carry On Companion: “The first Carry On I did, Carry On Jack, was my favourite. We worked on the lot, on the ship-we had days on location-the weather was beautiful and the laughs went on from morning till eve. Great fun”! (2)
I have no doubts that this must have been a fun film to shoot. Well, I think it’s the kind of film that could have been, either tiring and painful to make, or great fun if you’re not worried too much about its outcome. The film is also beautifully shot in colour and presents some visually impressive action scenes that would please many. It also has its great share of humour, maybe not as naughty as it usually is in Carry On films, but it’s there alright. The most typical-Carry On gag of them all, apart from Kenneth Williams’s facial expressions, is probably that little cabin used by the carriers, which has no floor. It forces Albert to run along with the two men when they are “transporting” him from one place to another. It is completely absurd, but its the kind of absurdity that provokes the charm of Carry On films.
I also liked that effect at the beginning, where what seems to be a painting becomes reality. The staging and cinematography are quite well executed at this moment.
No, Carry On Jack is not the best film of the franchise, but I can testify that it’s far from being bad and it remains a good entertainment. So, don’t hesitate to watch it and see it for yourself!
Tomorrow, we’ll be back with Carry On Spying, which introduced Carry On regular Barbara Windsor to the franchise!
Want to follow that series closely? Make sure to take a look at my other reviews!
(1) “Carry On Jack.” Wikipedia, 18 August 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carry_On_Jack. Accessed Oct 8, 2019.
(2) Bernard Cribbins cited in Ross, Robert. The Carry On Companion. London: Batsford, 1998. p. 41.