Saturday, 26 September 2015

My Top Ten Carry On Films: Number 6!

I'm going to attempt to figure out what my absolute favourite Carry On films of all time are and I will be publishing the results on this blog. This is going to be a hard task for me as I love so many of these films that my favourites change on a regular basis. There will be a few I can immediately discount, none of which will be much of a surprise I'm sure. Others will be more difficult to choose between.

What I intend to do is come up with my top ten Carry Ons and reveal them blog by blog until I get to my all time number one. I'll make it clear that this is just down to my own personal choice and mainly due to personal feelings or memories attached to particular films. It should be an interesting project and I hope that as I go through them you will all feel free to comment and agree/disagree as you see fit! 

In at number 6 in my all time favourites is Carry On Cleo!

Carry On Cleo is a joyous costume romp and a famous send up of the big budget, sprawling dud that was Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. When filming shut down on the epic at Pinewood, Peter Rogers seized the opportunity to commandeer the expensive sets and costumes left behind. Add in a sharp, innuendo strewn script from Talbot Rothwell and some glorious performances and not only do you have a Carry On classic, you have a classic of British film too.

At the heart of Cleo is Cleo herself. Back from a smaller, supporting role in Cabby the year before, Amanda Barrie shines as Cleopatra. Forming a wonderful double act with Sid James, Barrie demonstrates superb comic timing, portraying Cleo as dim-witted and very child-like. So many of Barrie's scenes have gone into Carry On legend, so it is no surprise it is perhaps the role she is still best and most fondly remembered for. Amanda has said in interviews that the Carry On producers wanted her to appear in more of the series. What a shame for us fans that she was taken off to the Bristol Old Vic instead! She is a natural.

Sid James comes into his own in Cleo. Until this performance Sid had played it straight, the man in authority in the Hudis era. Here though, much more of his Hancock wide-boy chancer persona comes through, allbeit it in Roman costume. It is a highly effective performance, steam-rollering through the scenery. His Mark Anthony has been there, seen it all and bought the toga! 

Cleo also see the first time in the series that James and Kenneth Williams really share the spotlight and provide that delicious counterpoint - Sid's macho man's man versus Kenneth in full mincing mode. 

Kenneth Williams excels as Julius Caesar. He camps and minces through a glorious performance culminating in that wonderful, wonderful line: "Infamy, Infamy..." you know the rest. He is blessed with a harridan of a wife in Calpurnia, beautifully brought to life by Joan Sims. He has a lovely, bickering relationship with his father in law, Senica, played by the legendary Charles Hawtrey. 

Hawtrey's Seneca is a ripe old letch, making inappropriate advances to young servant girls including Gloria (Julie Stevens). Typically seen indulging in a few wines, Hawtrey is seen here in a supporting role but it certainly makes an impact. 

Kenneth Connor and Jim Dale (in his first real starring role) form a superb, athletic double act as two captured Britons desperately trying to escape their Roman captors. Connor's Hengist Pod is mistakenly assumed to be a fearless killer and is taken on as Caesar's personal bodyguard, much to Mark Anthony's dismay. Connor and James are excellent together and provide a terrific contrast. James is all masculine force while Connor portrays his usual bumbling, accident prone little man. 

The costumes and sets are most definitely a cut above the norm but it is both the script and the acting talent on screen that make this a Carry On classic. There are some wonderful supporting turns to enjoy too. Sheila Hancock, then famous for The Rag Trade and now famous for oh so much more, appears at the beginning and the end of the film as Hengist's nagging wife Senna Pod (!) 

Warren Mitchell, the future Alf Garnett, plays one half of Marcus and Spencius, the slave auctioneers. Victor Maddern, the supporting actor in countless British films of the era and several other Carry Ons, pops up in several scenes as Sid's second in command. Finally, who can forget the first of three delicious cameo appearances from future Dr Who and Worzel Gummidge, Jon Pertwee. Pertwee's cockney soothsayer ("Well gather round and 'ave a butchers!") is beautifully outlandish and laugh out loud funny.

Carry On Cleo was the first of the historical Carry On films to really make a name for itself. Loved by both diehard fans and casual viewers alike, it captures a collection of highly skilled, professional comic actors at the peak of their powers and is a must see for all fans of British comedy. It has become part of our cultural heritage and no matter how many times I watch it, it never gets old.

So that's number 6 in my top ten favourite Carry Ons of all time. Do you agree with my latest choice?

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