Sunday 5 November 2017

Why Elke Sommer is the highlight of Carry On Behind

I have a guilty pleasure and it comes in the form of Carry On Behind. I have written before about this and why I love this low grade, knockabout farce which was released long after the Carry Ons had passed their peak. Yes, it misses many original faces and yes it strays a little into Confessions territory but for me, it's still a glorious British comedy film featuring some of our finest talents. 

One of the most surprising and inspired pieces of Carry On casting also occurs in this film with the left field guest starring role for European and Hollywood film actress Elke Sommer as Professor Anna Vooshka. Sommer had been a friend of Peter Rogers and his wife Betty Box for the best part of a decade and had worked for Betty several times so her involvement is perhaps less of a surprise on paper. However unlike Phil Silvers' arrival for Follow That Camel, I think Elke's appearance does just work, it actually steals the film. And here's why I think that.


First of all, I just think Elke exudes glamour and sex appeal. Not an easy thing when you spend your working day traipsing about a muddy Pinewood field in March, with snow falling periodically and your only respite a hired caravan and a natter over a canteen lunch with a grumbling Kenneth Williams. With the absence of Barbara Windsor and Joan Sims now restricted to nagging mother in law roles, Elke provides a stunning starring role and almost manages to convince that her character might fancy a bunk up with Kenneth's Professor Crump! 

Much of the humour in Dave Freeman's script comes from the foreign misunderstandings from Elke's character Anna. Despite working in English speaking cinema for most of her life, I don't doubt Elke struggled with many aspects of Carry On humour as she worked on the film. The Carry Ons are extremely British and the double entendre dominates. While this is great for us, it must have been a struggle at times for the German-born star. Despite this, Sommer goes for it from the off, apparently relishing the situations she found herself in and it's actually a real tour de force. She was working opposite a group of actors she'd probably never heard of but who had worked together as a tight unit for nearly twenty years. Not an easy environment to find yourself in.


Elke's arrival in the Carry Ons sees her take the star billing spot, mainly due to the absence of the legendary Sidney James, unavailable due to theatrical commitments. Elke finds herself working closely with Kenneth Williams throughout the film, which sees their characters even rather hilariously share Peter Butterworth's grubby old caravan! Kenneth was notoriously distrustful of newcomers to the Carry On set and could take against actors over the slightest disagreement. However Kenneth appears to have taken to Ms Sommer quite quickly, the pair sharing deep discussions over lunch in the Pinewood restaurant and I don't recall Williams' diaries ever being critical of Elke as a person or as an actress. Moreover, the pair sparkle on screen together as an unusual double act. They have delicious chemistry and Kenneth's very buttoned up, British disdain at Elke's continental openness and sexuality is brilliantly funny.

More than that however, Elke mixes with the vast majority of the cast with ease. She shares wonderful scenes with the likes of Kenneth Connor, as a randy old major; Bernard Bresslaw as a rather confused, reserved husband and the bumbling duo of Jack Douglas and Windsor Davies. The latter pairing share a glorious scene with Elke when Professor Crump suffers a rather painful mishap - "he's bleedin' terrible"! I love that scene and although the Carry Ons were struggling to remain relevant as British cinema changed beyond recognition, Carry On Behind still manages to capture the true essence of the classic Carry On.


My only regret really is that Elke came to the Carry On series so late in the day. Had she appeared earlier in the run she could have had the opportunity to work with the likes of Sid, Hattie and Barbara. Elke seemed to enjoy her brief run with the Carry On team and I wish she'd been able to come back for more. Despite her appearance in many big budget films overseas, she did, after all, star in two low budget British comedies about the first male member transplant, so anything is possible!

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  1. Bang on! I do enjoy Fred and Ernie, and the big Henry and Daphne scene, but Prof Vrooshka is the main attraction, her accent and mangled English gave a new perspective to the series, she's a very different sort of Carry On lady character. She's great with Ken but I love the bit where she beckons Bernard up close and says "I am having dirt in my caravan."

  2. I agree. I like this film despite many of the main cast missing. I think Windsor Davies and Jack Douglas do a good job and as mentioned Elle brings it a fresh face.

  3. Our favourite Carry on, Elke and Kenneth Williams brilliant together