Saturday 12 March 2016

A change of tack about Carry On Jack

Last year I wrote a blog where I questioned whether Carry On Jack really deserved a place in the Carry On cannon. I had never been a fan of this naval comedy. It lacked a full roster of regular team favourites, it wasn't loaded with typical Carry On innuendos or familiar situations. It was definitely towards the bottom of the pile.

However, I have since revisited this film and I was pleasantly surprised. It stands up remarkably well given it was made over fifty years ago. As with other period costume Carry Ons, it is pretty timeless and I actually really enjoyed it. It may lack the likes of Sid James, Joan Sims and Hattie Jacques, but the actors who do appear are terrific. They also look like they are having a wonderful time acting out various fantasies on the high seas.

The regulars who do appear are brilliant. Kenneth Williams is perfectly cast as Captain Fearless, the wimp of the Royal Navy. Charles Hawtrey plays more of a character than usual as cesspit cleaner Walter Sweetly. Hawtrey has one of his largest roles in Jack and delights throughout. Jim Dale meanwhile, although only appearing in a brief cameo as a sedan chair carrier, really shines. Going on this performance alone, you can see why Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas signed him up for many more Carry Ons, with his parts getting significantly bigger before too long. His interplay with Bernard Cribbins and the diminutive Ian Wilson is superbly timed. 

What I have come to realise is that Carry On Jack is packed full of superb actors. Not comedians or regular Carry On supporting players, but just actors with a flair for comedy. Percy Herbert and Donald Houston are wonderful as the sailors who serve under Captain Fearless but plot and scheme to take control. They are the pantomime villains of the piece and while they are comedy foils, they never lose the truth of the parts they play. Peter Gilmore, a supporting actor in eleven Carry Ons, bags one of his most significant roles as a pirate loaded with cliches. His second in command is brought deliciously to life by the Australian character actor Ed Devereux. 

In addition to these wonderful performances, you also get delightful supporting turns from legendary actors such as George Woodbridge, Cecil Parker, Marianne Stone and Patrick Cargill. You can't go wrong with a supporting cast like this.

The two leads in Carry On Jack also do well. Bernard Cribbins, in the first of three Carry On roles, is superb as the bumbling romantic lead. Cribbins is surprisingly athletic, climbing the sails, romping around and milking all the gags that come his way. His romantic lead is Juliet Mills and the pair have lovely chemistry. Apparently the part of Sally was originally offered to Liz Fraser and while I adore Liz, I can't see anyone but Juliet in this role. While she starred in two other films for Rogers and Thomas (Nurse On Wheels and Twice Round the Daffodils), this would sadly be the only Carry On film for Mills. What a shame she didn't do more.

Another thing I have realised about Jack is that it fairly shifts along. It is edited with lightening speed and the action flits along in a very pleasing manner. The ship used in the film was no doubt borrowed from another production but it really doesn't matter. It looks authentic, the costumes are great and it works as a comedy film. 

Perhaps not a traditional Carry On as we've come to understand them, but I think Carry On Jack really does deserve a second look. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan

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