Saturday 4 November 2017

Five Reasons why I love Don't Lose Your Head


There has been recent discussion on Twitter about what an underrated gem Don't Lose Your Head is. The historical French Revolution romp was produced at a time when the Carry On series was in transition. It was the first in the series to be released by the Rank Organisation, Peter Rogers having parted company with Anglo Amalgamated after the release of Carry On Screaming earlier in 1966.

Rank were concerned that using the title Carry On would be too close a link to their rivals so they insisted that both Don't Lose Your Head and the film that followed, Follow That Camel, were released without the Carry On title. While this may have affected their popularity on initial release, I do think Don't Lose Your Head in particular is a top quality Carry On which sees a tight knit unit of prime Carry On actors shine at the peak of their powers. So in no particular order, here are five reasons why I love Don't Lose Your Head.

1. It's a film of wonderful Double Acts


Carry On Don't Lose Your Head provides us fans with several of the key Carry On players at their very best. As with many of the films, Sid is the hero we root for while Kenneth Williams plays the fiendish, camp baddy. This arrangement probably reaches its zenith in this film however for me it's the double acts that make the film. Sid works really well with Jim Dale as Ffing and Darcy, the two handsome English rogues who go undercover to rescue French gentry from Madame la Guillotine. They have a delicious chemistry and their shared sense of humour and obvious fondness for each other in real life provides such a solid base for the action. Likewise, Kenneth Williams and Peter Butterworth are positively Laurel and Hardy-esque as Citizens Camembert and Bidet. The bumbling fools are a joy to watch and Bidet's impoverished, downtrodden ways act as a brilliant balance to the toffee-nosed stuck up Camembert.

Kenneth also has a superb bickering sibling relationship with the frightfully common, shrieking Madame Desiree, played by none other than Joan Sims. Joan, for me, was the female equivalent of Kenneth Williams as both could swoop from posh to camp and back again within the same sentence! Joan is also in delicious form opposite both Sid James and Charles Hawtrey as two rather unlikely love interests. So yes, for me, Carry On Don't Lose Your Head is all about the performances and the double acts.


2. The Brilliance of a dual role for Sidney

Sid James is at the peak of his powers in Don't Lose Your Head. He pulls off that rare feat of convincing in a dual role. The audience may have worried at the start of the film as Sid appeared quite differently - the powdered, bewigged, foppish Sir Rodney. People were so used to see the Hancock version of Sid, the cockney wheeler dealer with an eye for the ladies that this must have caused some upset. Fortunately it doesn't last long and that Sid laugh and the wandering eye are soon back as he takes on the role of The Black Fingernail! Sid is simply on barnstorming form and devours the scenery throughout the film, barely off screen as the ultimate man's man. He takes on Citizen Camembert with boyish relish, he flirts with Joan's Desiree, is bamboozled by Hawtrey's lusty Duc and falls in love with Dany Robin's delicious heroine. Yet again, it's Sid, the friendly chap you could easily meet in the bus queue, the grocers or over the garden fence. That was his appeal and that's why his galloping, scene-chewing role as the handsome hero in Don't Lose Your Head is just so superb.


3. My Brother, the Count...

Don't Lose Your Head provides Joan Sims with an iconic Carry On moment which rivals her "I'm a little plastered" adlib in the masterclass that is Up The Khyber. Sharing a joyous, tongue in cheek flirtation with Charles Hawtrey in the rose arbor, Joan delivers one of the finest ever Carry On lines when she looks at Charles and says "My brother, the Count..." it's so cheeky, playful and rude the way it is delivered. Joan's change of tone and her look away leaves the audience in no uncertain terms as to what she's implying!


It's a testament to the sheer brilliance of Joan that she actually slipped this one in unnoticed. In their ever so brief rehearsal, Joan apparently did the line completely straight. Therefore her take version raised more than a few eyebrows on set but successfully stayed in the film and got past the censor's beady eye! You can tell her delivery was completely unexpected if you watch the scene closely. Not only does Joan start to laugh before the cut away, you can also see Charles Hawtrey start to break up! It's total class and I couldn't love her more for that moment.

4. It's Action Packed

A criticism of some of the later Carry Ons (Dick in particular) is that they are relatively slow moving and static. As the cast of Carry On legends began to age, youthful antics and comedy stunts became few and far between and this was a shame. A Carry On needs to move at a pace to keep the action fresh and the humour alive. Don't Lose Your Head is one of the finest examples of this. It moves along at a hell of a lick, bouncing about from England to France (OK the Pinewood Studios back lot) and back with ease. There are impressive scenes of dancing at Sir Rodney's ball, fruity crowd scenes around the guillotine, horse riding stunts a-plenty, chases, duels and of course, the finale which sees Sid and Kenneth battle in out to the death!

I'm sure stunt doubles were used throughout but the look of the film alone is superb. It just romps along in every sense of the word and once again leaves the audience wondering just how Gerald and Peter managed to achieve all of this action on such a meagre budget. Surely that's a whole lot of film making skill right there?

5. Superb Visuals and a real feeling of Quality 


The costume Carry Ons really do age better than some of the modern day films in the series. They just don't date the same way. There is an undoubted richness to the historical Carry Ons and they display a quality both in performance and the way they look that you would expect from a much bigger budget. The costumes are superb, as are the sets, from Marianne Stone's public house to the grand interior of Sir Rodney's country house, it feels like all the money is most definitely on screen. 

The film also benefits from some truly wonderful locations which really set the scene and add to this feeling of depth and quality, which you wouldn't normally expect. Waddesdon Manor near Aylesbury is used to represent the Chateau Neuf at the end of the film, Sid Rodney's manor is Cliveden House and the ballroom sequence was shot at Clandon Park. Wonderful attention to detail for a low budget comedy picture.


So there you have it, five reasons why I love Don't Lose Your Head. So if you haven't watched it recently, why not dig it out this weekend and give it a go?

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