Friday, 11 March 2016
Joan carries on .... as Desiree
This blog is part of a new regular series on Carry On Blogging. I'm going to attempt to blog about each of Joan Sims' wonderful roles in the Carry On films. Joan was the most prolific of all the actresses involved in the series, clocking up 24 films. Indeed, only Kenneth Williams made more Carry Ons.
Today I am going to write about Joan's role in the 1966 costume romp Carry On Don't Lose Your Head. Don't Lose Your Head is a significant film in the series as it was the first one to be released by the Rank Organisation, following the decision to move the franchise from Anglo Amalgamated. It was originally released without the Carry On moniker however this was hastily replaced after initial box office returns were down on the usual. It was the thirteenth film in the series and the eighth appearance for Joan.
Don't Lose Your Head is one of my favourite Carry Ons and Joan delivers a superb performance as the delightfully high pitched, dotty Madame Desiree. She spends the first part of the film as part of Citizen Camembert's nasty gang of French republicans trying to catch Sid James' Black Fingernail. She then switches sides when the lure of becoming Lady Rodney Ffing (Sid's alternative persona) becomes too much. The whole thing is another parody by Rothwell, this time sending up the Scarlett Pimpernel with Sid and Jim Dale playing foppish English gents who rescue French aristocrats from the guillotine.
Joan is given a really prominent, eye catching role in Don't Lose Your Head and looks fantastic throughout in a series of stunning period gowns. She really looks the part and obviously adores acting in period costume. She works so well with Kenneth Williams and Peter Butterworth, playing a Carry On bumbling Laurel and Hardy duo. She also frequently uses that rare vocal gift also possessed by Kenneth Williams of being able to swoop from posh to common and back again in the blink of an eye. It's tremendous.
One of my favourite scenes in the entire film sees Joan attempt to seduce Charles Hawtrey's character the Duc de Pommfrit in the rose arbour. The whole scene is delicious tongue in cheek with both Sims and Hawtrey on eye twinklingly devious form! They constantly look to be on the brink of giggles and complete melt down. Joan also ad libs one of the most infamous Carry On lines of all time - "my brother, the count". Not much written down, but with Joan's change of delivery and look away from camera, it becomes abundantly clear what she really means!
I also love all the scenes shot at Sir Rodney's ball. They are pretty impressive for a low budget film. Joan revels in all the dancing scenes as her character attempts to trap the Fingernail with the use of the locket containing his dead mother's teeth (don't worry, it's a long story). It's all deftly handled by Joan and she really does seem to be in her element. There is also that hilarious moment with Kenneth Williams when she hiccups whilst drinking champagne: "It's the bubbles, they get lodged in me chest" to which Williams replies "Room for a few lodgers there!" They just don't write them like that anymore!
In the end, Madame Desiree sees the light and falls in with James, Dale and Hawtrey. The climatic confrontation scene between James and Williams goes on far too long and sadly gives Sims little to do but that is my only negative comment on a great Carry On and a great part for Joan. Sadly, Desiree doesn't end the film on the arm of Sir Rodney, instead being married off to Hawtrey's Duc! Can't win em all!