Friday, 4 November 2016
Hattie Carries On ... As Matron, Again
Having covered every one of Joan Sims' 24 Carry On roles it now only seems fair that I turn the spotlight onto another great and loyal member of the team. Sticking with the wonderful women, I've decided to focus on all 14 of Hattie Jacques' Carry On appearances. Hattie's contribution to Carry On comedy was immense. Although appearing in far fewer films that Joan, Hattie created some iconic roles, none more so that the infamous Matron, a character which came to dominate her later career.
However there was far more to Jacques than that. She played Matron in all four of the medical films but there were ten other roles to enjoy too, from a budgie obsessed housewife to an angry, aggressive Spanish cook! So sit back and enjoy a run of blogs which looks at Hattie's Carry On contribution from the very first film in 1958 right through to her last supporting role in Carry On Dick 16 years later. So let's continue our journey today with a look back at Hattie's ninth role in the series, as Matron once again in the 1969 film Carry On Again Doctor.
I've always had mixed feelings about Carry On Again Doctor. While it boasts a fine cast of regulars - James, Williams, Dale, Hawtrey, Sims, Jacques and Windsor - with able support from the likes of Patsy Rowlands (in her first Carry On) and Peter Butterworth in a the first of a series of all too brief cameos, it does feel like a retread of past glories. It is very much a film of two halves. The first is a very familiar hospital romp with all the familiar characters on display and the second is a trip into the world of witch doctors and medical missions. It is entertaining and reliably fun but it lacks the freshness of other films the gang made during this era.
What I do like about Again Doctor is the amount of screen time Jim Dale gets as the aptly named Dr Nookey.The film is a showcase for his many talents and he brings his usual delightful brand of physicality to the film while also demonstrating fine comic timing and great chemistry with the likes of Barbara Windsor and Sid James. It's Jim's film which is just as well as it would be the last he'd make with the team until Columbus sailed into view over twenty years later. I also love the self-referential quality of the hospital dance with the band playing music from the classic films Carry On Cabby and Spying. And as a bonus, composer Eric Rogers even makes a cameo as the band leader. Finally, their is great continuity as Again Doctor brings back several familiar faces from the last medical Carry On two years before. The likes of Gwendolyn Watts, Valerie Van Ost, Harry Locke, Pat Coombs and Peter Gilmore all make brief but valuable appearances.
With so much screen time devoted to Jim Dale, the rest of the cast can suffer as a result. While Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey grab plum roles, the female leads take background roles throughout. Barbara Windsor pops in and out of the action while Joan Sims has one of her least interesting characters to play. And dear Hattie is once again carrying on as Matron. This incarnation is a good deal softer than the previous outings in the part although she is given precious little to do. Probably the biggest souvenir Hattie could take away from this film was being featured in the classic scene when Dr Nookey encounters Barbara Windsor and her three strategically placed hearts! That often repeated image has become legendary and Dale and Windsor even recreated it more than 45 years later when Jim came to London to do his one man show in 2015.
Hattie spends much of the early part of the film patrolling the wards with Williams and Hawtrey while mildly disapproving of Dr Nookey's antics. Sadly once the action moves to the remote island populated by Sid's Gladstone Screwer and his many wives, Hattie disappears completely. The middle section of the film is pretty much Matron-less! She does make triumphant return towards the end of the film once Nookey has set up his weight reducing clinic with Sims' character Ellen Moore. By this stage of the film, Matron is firmly on the side of Dr Nookey and the pair work well together as they take on Kenneth's fiendish Dr Carver and Charles Hawtrey, resplendent in drag as Lady Puddleton!
This sequence brings Sid James slap bang into the action with the rest of the gang and features a spirited scene which sees his character chat up Matron and even attempt to marry her! Sid and Hattie are great together as always, it's just a shame their screen time is so limited. Hattie is a dream to watch as usual but her character has well, even less character than even the average Carry On performance. The likes of Hattie and Joan never ever put in a dud performance or turned up on autopilot but Carry On Again Doctor doesn't really do either actress any favours.
Thankfully the next time Hattie would appear in a Carry On as Matron she would take centre stage and it would be a much more rewarding experience. Stay tuned for the next blog in this series which sees Hattie join in with the saucy seventies action in the classic marriage agency comedy, Carry On Loving.
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