Friday, 8 July 2016
Joan Carries On ... as Madame 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 one of Joan's last great roles in the series, as Madame Desiree in Carry On Dick. Dick is the last successful Carry On costume romp and the film really goes for it, all guns blazing! While the cast are all looking a bit older and some of the jokes and set pieces are getting tired, it's a film which still needs to be cherished as it features the last original Carry On appearances from Sid James, Hattie Jacques and Barbara Windsor. The film is a retelling of the classic Dick Turpin story with Sid on fine form in the dual role of lusty highwayman Dick and the more reserved albeit slightly twinkling Reverend Flasher.
As with some of the later Carry Ons, this film cashes in on the obvious chemistry between the lead actors Sid James and Barbara Windsor. Windsor goes as near the knuckle as possible with her performances in this film and for some it is perhaps taken a little too far. Oh for the sweet subtlety of her early performance in Carry On Spying. Dick does boast a pretty full roster of 1970s Carry On regulars and as well as those already mentioned, the film stars Kenneth Williams in a gloriously over the top performance as Captain Desmond Fancey, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth, Kenneth Connor and Jack Douglas. We also get brief supporting turns from the likes of Patsy Rowlands, Marianne Stone, Margaret Nolan and Bill Maynard, so a lot to enjoy!
Anyway, back to Joan. I can imagine Joan enjoying her lusty role as Madame Desiree in Carry On Dick, first of all because she loved acting in period costume. Although Joan had started to shift down the cast list by this stage, billed lower than Windsor, Jacques and Bresslaw in this case, she makes the most of her scenes and delivers her lines with gusto. As with Sid, Joan is almost given a dual role in Dick, as Desiree begins as a rather dubious French lady, given Joan the chance to dabble in her love for accents. However eventually her cover is blown and she lapses into full-blown cockney char! It's a wonderful performance and for me, reinforces Joan as the female equivalent to Kenneth Williams when it comes to vocal range. Nobody else could quite sweep from posh to common and back again in the same sentence!
Madame Desiree is a touring show-woman, who moves from hostelry to hostelry with her rather bawdy and badly behaved "Birds of Paradise". We first come across her when they are held up by Big Dick and his gang on their way to perform at Bill Maynard's beautifully named venue, The Old Cock Inn. Desiree quickly becomes embroiled in the hunt to catch Big Dick, helping Captain Fancey in his schemes, however it all ends up going rather awry.
Desiree eventually puts her lot in with Sir Roger Daley (think about it!) played with fearsome relish by the wonderful Bernard Bresslaw. Sims and Bresslaw make for a delightful pair and really work well together. It's weird to think that the very next year Sims would find herself playing Bresslaw's mother in law in Carry On Behind. I guess that just emphasises both Sims' versatility and the unique places the Carry Ons had as the only rep company of the cinema.
One of the highlights of Carry On Dick for me are the church sequences. These provide one of the funniest moments in the entire film with Bill Maynard's "I remember where I left my hat last night line"! As always, Joan's hooting laughter can be heard throughout in the background of this scene. Nobody could laugh quite like our Joanie! Joan certainly gives the role of Madame Desiree her all and she is a completely natural fit as the hostess of the Birds of Paradise show. She controls both her girls and the rather rowdy Old Cock Inn audience with ease and is given several opportunites for some glorious backchat, most notably with Kenneth Williams and Jack Douglas. She was very believable as a pub entertainer!
So there we have it, Madame Desiree was an excellent role for Joan in one the later Carry Ons. A far cry from her glorious performances in the likes of Carry On Teacher, Don't Lose Your Head or even Carry On Abroad, but for me it's her last truly great performances in the series. The films would continue to go down hill following the departures of several top stars and their long serving writer, Talbot Rothwell. Joan would stay loyal to the films right to the end of the original run and although I wish she had left while they were still top box office, I will review her roles right to the end. So stay tuned for my thoughts on Joan's next Carry On role, coming up soon!