Watching Carry On Screaming this afternoon has made me realise just how much I love this film. It's one of those Carry Ons for which the superlatives tend to overflow. Even people who claim to dislike the series or prefer a more intellectual form of comedy, bow to the mastery of Screaming. However as a blogger of all things Carry On, I've realised that I don't often watch the actual films that much any more.
Screaming for me is the series at its peak. It's right up there with the likes of Cleo, Khyber and Camping. It has a cast of firm Carry On favourites with some excellent additions, it has a brilliant script by a writer with an exceptional grasp of what was required, a superb premise and better than normal production values. So here, in no particular order are five reasons why I love Carry On Screaming.
1. Fenella Fielding owns this film. While the main cast is dominated by male comedy actors, with Williams, Dale, Corbett and Butterworth excelling, this is Fenella's film. So much so that her career since has been totally dominated by this one performance as the buxom, alluring Valeria Watt. Fenella being the legend she is, doesn't seem to mind and indeed relishes the success of Screaming. Although Joan Sims and Angela Douglas also star, Fenella gets the most screen time and makes a lasting impression on the audience, exuding charm, sex appeal and all with amazing comedy timing. It's a sublime, iconic Carry On performance.
2. The whole idea of a comedy horror is just inspired. It's not that it hasn't been done before or since but this one is just bang on. As with the very best Carry Ons, the send up involved is affectionate and never cruel. The choice of Hammer Horror is a real pleasure as Hammer were similarly low budget, popular with the regular cinema going public and an ongoing series of films featuring familiar actors. There is so much scope for humour with the spoof of all things Hammer and no opportunities are missed by the team and their excellent scribe, Talbot Rothwell.
3. Harry H Corbett makes for a superb guest star. In fact Harry is so good the film doesn't really miss the absent Sid James. Although the role of Sidney Bung was written with Sid in mind, the strength of Corbett's performance means I now cannot envisage James in that role or indeed in the film at all. I only wish Harry H had returned to the series again. Corbett had big shoes to fill but he is excellent and works exceedingly well with Peter Butterworth as his police colleague, Joan Sims as his nagging shrew of a wife and with Fenella Fielding as his delicious love interest. It's a terrific starring role. Eric Rogers celebrates this by including a quick snatch of the Steptoe and Son theme music in the film. It's wonderful stuff.
4. I love a Carry On in period costume. It always adds an extra dimension to the film and gives the actors and the script writer something more to play with. It also adds an extra luxury to the film, maximising the budget and giving both the costume people and the set dressers more to work with. I also think they last longer and don't date nearly as much as the present day films. The costumes in Screaming are a joy, with the likes of Joan Sims and Angela Douglas (not to mention Peter Butterworth) getting to appear in some stunning gowns. And of course there's Fenella's cracking, seductive red dress, which has gone down in film history. The gothic quality of the film is also spot on, with the Victorian set of Kenneth Williams' mansion house, all velvet, panelled walls and cobwebs. The setting in the local woods, complete with shadows and mist is always wonderful and beautifully atmospheric.
5. Finally, a special mention to the legendary supporting player Peter Butterworth. Always a supporting actor, he is known to many fans as an irresistible scene stealer and there are no better examples than this film. He has a lot more screen time in Screaming than in many of the other films and he really makes the most of it. A tireless farceur and a master of physical comedy, he mugs likes crazy in the background and it always pays off. His comedic gifts are on full display and Screaming provides so many examples of why he was always in demand as a pantomime dame. He acts his role with relish and it's a real joy.
So there you go, five reasons why I adore Carry On Screaming. Fifty years on from his original release, it's still fresh, funny and in some places, yes, I admit it, genuinely scary. When I first watched it as a child it did scare me. So it's a Carry On that works on many levels and appeals across two of the biggest and longest lasting film franchises British cinema has ever produced. What's not to love?
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