Tuesday, 15 November 2016
Kenneth Connor's Finest Hour
This new series of blogs is my personal take on the scenes that show our Carry On favourites at their very best. It's purely to my own taste and you'll all have your own suggestions on this subject, but for me these are the best comedy actors at their very best. They are their finest hours.
Today I am starting off with fan favourite, the multi-talented leading man in the early years of Carry On, Kenneth Connor. Before his move towards character parts in the 1970s series entries, Kenneth was very much the leading man in the charming, black and white films. Even with the arrival of Sid James in 1960, Kenneth still stole many of the funniest moments in films like Constable, Regardless and Cruising. Probably my favourite performance is his role as the bumbling Sam Twist in the 1961 release, Carry On Regardless. Regardless sees Sid James and Esma Cannon set up the Helping Hands Agency and recruit a number of misfits to carry out a range of bizarre tasks for the general public.
Connor steals the majority of the best scenes in this film, in a cast bulging with fan favourites and a phenomenal group of guest actors, including such talents as Joan Hickson, Fenella Fielding, Jerry Desmonde, Molly Weir, Stanley Unwin and Terence Alexander. Kenneth is at his comedic, bumbling best as Sam Twist, whether trying to escape the amorous advances of Fenella's Penny Panting, attempting to stay quiet in a reading room full of old fossils or grappling with the Bed of the Century, it's classic, innocent stuff! My favourite scene and what I think is Kenneth's finest hour is Sam's adventure up to Scotland after a mysterious phone call from a very sinister Eric Polhmann, three years before that actor would play the infamous Fat Man in Carry On Spying.
After taking a bonkers phone message from Pohlmann, a fluttery Esma Cannon sends Kenneth off on a 39 Steps like adventure. This sequence, lasting for nearly 10 minutes, is probably Gerald Thomas' homage to the great Buchan story, which was still fresh in the nation's consciousness thanks to his brother Ralph's colour adaptation starring Kenneth More, made at Pinewood just a year earlier. This sequence in Regardless is full of delightful little touches and a range of cameos from well known faces. Twist encounters a pair of dodgy geezers on the train in the form of Victor Maddern and Denis Shaw.
In the buffet car he meets Betty Marsden's Mata Hari character, complete with husky voice, blinking eye and dramatic turban. It's a delightful comedy of misunderstandings and farcical fake espionage and is accompanied by Kenneth's wonderful American-accented voice over. This provides a terrific contrast to the real character of Sam Twist, Kenneth's little man persona at its finest. Gerald even throws Brief Encounter actor Cyril Raymond into the train sequence. It's lovely little touches like that that raise the bar in these otherwise low budget, knock about comedies.
Of course the whole things ends disastrously as Connor jumps from the train at the Fourth Bridge only to end up in a big puddle of dirty water. And What Pohlmann had requested was a "fourth at bridge" not a spy to meet a contact on a secret mission. It's a delightful comedy of misunderstandings and allows Kenneth room to shine in a self-contained story of his own within such a big, rambling old film.
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