Sunday, 1 January 2017
In Praise of Carry On Cruising
I have just watched Carry On Cruising all the way through for the first time in a while. Cruising is one of those films that is always worth a watch when it comes on but it has never really been top ten material for me. As a child I loved the usual slapstick elements and childlike performances of the likes of Kenneths Williams and Connor but for me it missed the presence of Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims and Hattie Jacques far too much.
However, I now see Carry On Cruising through a more mature eye and I think it is delightful. Yes it has less of a team that previous films at that point in time and it is a much more static film that the film it followed, Carry On Regardless. Regardless was a much more ambitious entry, boasting a truly impressive and wide ranging supporting cast of familiar comedy faces and countless set ups and situations. It also still starred that recognisable band that began the series back with Sergeant in 1958. Cruising sees a lot of that stripped away, with original players Bill Owen and Terence Longdon gone and regular actors Jacques, Hawtrey and Sims missing in action.
As it turned out, both Charles and Joan were originally meant to appear in Cruising, with Hawtrey billed as the chef, Wilfred Haines and Sims due to grab the main female role of Flo Castle. However Joan was taken ill less that a week before production commenced, leading to a last minute recasting of her close friend Dilys Laye, making her Carry On debut. Dilys had been a friend of Joan's from revue days and already had a lot of experience under her belt, with many stage appearances (including a spell on Broadway) as well as film outings in the likes of Doctor At Large, Upstairs and Downstairs, Blue Murder at St Trinians and the Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas film, Please Turn Over. In many ways a Carry On was a natural progression for her.
Charles Hawtrey's exit from proceedings was a little more tricky as a dispute over billing led Peter Rogers to dump him, promoting Lance Percival to the role of chef in the film and giving him a starring credit. Lance had already worked for Rogers and Thomas in the 1961 music school comedy Raising The Wind and would return to Pinewood for further films Twice Round The Daffodils and The Big Job. While any film without Charles and Joan misses them keenly, I think one of the subsequent strengths of Cruising is the fresh approach it takes with casting new faces or promoting existing ones to bigger roles. it may not have been the original plan but I think it works out quite nicely. Most of the action revolves around the three male leads - Sid, Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Connor and they excel, the smaller cast allowing them much more screen time together. Cruising is also important for billing Kenneth Williams directly against Sid for the first time and this was a trend that would continue in many future films, the contrast in their performances being exploited to the full.
Kenneth Connor is once again fantastic in this film. He never gave a bad performance but the role of bumbling ship doctor is perfect for him. He works really well with Dilys Laye and the pair have delicious chemistry throughout the film as she attempts to fend off his clumsy advances before eventually seeing the light towards the end of the film. While it would have been Carry On gold to see Joan and Liz Fraser pal up for Cruising, Dilys and Liz do an equally impressive job as best friends on holiday together and while Dilys grabs the majority of the action, Liz is a brilliant foil throughout and looks stunning as always. A special mention also for the gorgeous Esma Cannon as Bridget Madderley, the pixie-like older woman traveling alone. Esma gets her biggest role in the series here and it must have been a challenging one has she acts in most of her scenes by herself, no mean feat really. She is delightful and her comedy timing is second to none.
As I've already mentioned, there is a much smaller cast for Carry On Cruising and that's no bad thing. While it allows Sid and the Kenneths more creative space in the film, it also gives some familiar supporting players more to do - namely Cyril Chamberlain, Jimmy Thompson and Brian Rawlinson. All three actors appeared in several Rogers and Thomas comedies around this time but Cruising provided them with their best opportunities. Chamberlain in particular has a lot more screen time than I ever remembered; he was a loyal returning actor in the first seven Carry Ons but Cruising sees his most satisfying part as steward Tom Tree.
I also think the decision to make Carry On Cruising in colour really helps the film. It's such a frothy, lightweight, frivolous piece, with everyone off on holiday that the colour film makes it a joy to watch. Dilys and Liz in particular look stunning and enjoy a seemingly endless array of costume changes. Don't get me wrong, I love the classic black and white era of Carry On and I think these films show real quality, but the shift to colour is a major step forward.
Cruising is not the funniest or most classic of all the Carry Ons but the script is littered with clever little Norman Hudis moments, the cast really do deliver and the whole thing fairly jumps along with great spirit and relish. It's a joyful early 1960s, all's right with the world British comedy and echos the Betty Box Doctor films more than probably any other Carry On. I think it's time to reappraise Carry On Cruising and enjoy it for the early classic it is.
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