Wednesday 28 June 2017

Carrying On with The Iron Maiden


Spurred on by my recent conversations with the wonderful Noel Purcell's son Patrick (more on that soon) I settled down today to watch one of the few Peter Rogers Productions I have still not seen. Thanks to the brilliant Talking Pictures TV, which I can now finally access, I caught a rare screening of the 1962 film The Iron Maiden.

The Iron Maiden is a charming film, very typical of Peter and Gerald's output in the late 1950s and early 1960s. A rare colour film from the duo at this stage, Maiden is very far removed from the innuendo-encrusted delights to come from later Carry On series entries. Instead this film is much more reminiscent of the classic Ealing comedies, showing the little man railing against adversity in the glorious post-war British countryside. The film is fairly innocent with gentle humour and some rather twee romantic interludes, however the cast is chock full of superb character actors and it's a joyous diversion from the modern world, perfect for a lazy afternoon in front of the television.


The Iron Maiden of the title is a vintage traction engine which is a labour of love for leading man Michael Craig. In many ways this film is Peter Rogers' attempt to provide a follow up to the hugely successful Genevieve released almost a decade earlier. While the John Gregson and Dinah Sheridan film focussed on vintage cars, this 1962 picture takes on the world of old engines. It's a curio looking at it from 2017 but it gets full marks on the nostalgia front! Michael Craig is perfect in the lead role. As Jack Hopkins he is in full on romantic hero mode. Craig had previous with the Rogers/Thomas family, having worked twice for Peter's wife Betty Box, first of all in 1959's Upstairs and Downstairs and then the year later starring opposite Leslie Phillips in Betty's Doctor in Love. Michael is a great actor and definitely has the looks and charm to carry the film. Just a shame he didn't work more for the dynamic Pinewood duo as he would have been great in some of the 1960s Carry Ons. Thankfully Michael is very much still alive and well and living in Australia.

An interesting aspect of this film is the number of American actors who form part of the principal cast. Michael Craig's love interest is played by the delightful Anne Helm while her parents are brought to life with considerable charm by Alan Hale Jr and Jeff Donnell. It provides a diversion and these very American characters add interest with their reactions to some rather quirky, curious British eccentrics. 

The film follows the burgeoning romance between Craig and Helm and it's very much opposites attract. There are several lightly comic set pieces involving a headstrong Kathy (Helm) and an equally dogmatic Jack, mostly involving various scrapes with the traction engine. It's all very frothy and light and apart from one unfortunate scene which Craig puts Helm over his knee and gives her a spank, it's all enjoyable stuff. 

However, as with many other films Peter and Gerald produced at this time (Watch Your Stern, Raising The Wind, Nurse On Wheels spring to mind) the main joy of The Iron Maiden is spotting a whole host of familiar faces in supporting roles. The Carry On flag is kept flying by Joan Sims (barely a Peter Rogers film without her at this time) and a young, pre-Carry On Jim Dale in a minor supporting role. Other familiar Carry On supporting players also feature: the charming Brian Rawlinson turns up as a country policeman who has various accidents on his bike; Judith Furse and Ian Wilson play an oddly matched pair of traction engine enthusiasts while that lovely actor Brian Oulton gets a fairly substantial role as the local Vicar. There are also blink and you'll miss 'em appearances from the likes of Michael Nightingale, Anton Rodgers and Cyril Chamberlain.

There are other notable non-Carry On actors present too. I've recently been hearing memories from Noel Purcell's son Patrick on his father's role in the film as Admiral Sir Digby Trevelyan and Patrick was even present on set to see some of the scenes filmed. Cecil Parker, a year before filming his Carry On Jack cameo, appears as Hopkins' boss Sir Giles Thompson. George Woodbridge, another familiar face has a lovely cameo role as Mr Ludge while future Emmerdale legend Richard Thorp (Alan Turner) also turns up as Harry Markham. 

The Iron Maiden has all the hallmarks of classic, confident Rogers and Thomas. The cinematography is by Alan Hume, co-producer is Frank Bevis and Eric Rogers does the music. Interestingly, the film is written by neither Norman Hudis or the soon to emerge Talbot Rothwell. Instead, legendary lyricist and composer Leslie Bricusse is behind this film and it's a decent effort on his part. Eric Rogers was soon to join the Carry On team as their full time music director following the departure of Bruce Montgomery. Some of the music in The Iron Maiden is very familiar indeed, a test run for Carry On Cabby perhaps and a rather stately little number which would turn up six years later in Up The Khyber. You can see all the elements gelling already.


All in all, The Iron Maiden isn't the best film Peter and Gerald turned out at the peak of their powers but it does feature some of the very best British character actors around. It's a diverting little yarn which survives on the quality of the cast and the willingness of the audience to indulge in some delightful nostalgia. 

As an aside, it's definitely worth checking out Talking Pictures TV. They very often show some rare and classic gems from the world of British cinema, the kind of films you used to watch on BBC Two on a rainy afternoon. There are some absolutely lovely titles to be seen so do check that channel out. You can follow them on Twitter here and there website is here

And stay tuned for my interview with Patrick Purcell, son of the great Noel Purcell, coming soon!

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