Carry On Regardless
As the length of my hiatus may suggest, I have not been looking forward to reviewing Carry On Regardless. Before re-watching the film for the purposes of this column, I remembered it as being merely a series of sketches that was loosely strung together with a framing plot – a sentiment shared by the film’s writer Norman Hudis, who considered it his worst contribution to the franchise – which ended with the cast merrily calling out the film’s title in unison to cringe-worthy effect. In this respect, my memories are pretty much spot on. However, what I had forgotten was how good a number of these sketches were and that the lack of a linear storyline probably helps the film instead of hindering it.
The framing story is somewhat relevant to nowadays, as the principal cast are regulars at the 1960 equivalent of a Job Centre, where jobs are divided down gender boundaries. A lot of the character types are recognisable: Kenneth Williams is mainly superior in his role as a linguist, Charles Hawtrey is effeminate, Kenneth Connor is nervy and insecure whilst Terrance Longdon is smooth in a role that was originally earmarked for Leslie Phillips. They are joined by Bill Owen, who was absent for Teacher and Constable, newcomer Liz Fraser and Joan Sims, who starts her transformation from desirable love interest to frumpy comedienne in this film. Once an advert is spotted for Sid James’ Helping Hands agency, all seven of them are somewhat unrealistically hired on the spot. From here, James assigns tasks to each of his staff and gets to take on a few of his own. The only other over-arching plot line is the presence of comedian Stanley Unwin, whose signature gobbledegook method of speech keeps popping up to annoy James until Williams finally deciphers the fact that he’s their landlord, which sets up the final scene.
Hudis is right to complain about the structure in that it’s a pretty lazy way of giving the regular Carry On players their own sketches to act out. However, the overall quality of the sketches goes a long way to compensate for the set-up as the sheer variety makes it a funnier film. In many ways, it is similar to Teacher, in that it focuses on individual members of the cast and thrusts them into a situation that they will largely fail to deal with. In Regardless, there are no lingering romantic sub-plots or much in the way of character development, which is why it has to be viewed as a cinematic sketch show rather than a 90 minute film. It isn’t even just the fact that the comedy is sketch-based that makes this a good film, as Hudis really stepped up his game from the disappointing Constable by writing some surprisingly good lines. Some are predictable Carry On groan-worthy fare, such as James’ secretary Esma Cannon reassuring him about how effective his job advert will be with the line, “I’m sure you’ll get staffed!” Cannon also issues the response to the question, “Do you provide substitutes?” “No! This is a respectable firm!” There is also a scene where Hawtrey goes to a strip joint under the mistaken belief that he’s there to pick up pet birds, asking: “Blue tits?” “No, this place is fully central-heated.” Given that another scene involving Hawtrey got cut because of risqué language, lines such as those are an unexpected pleasure.
Even with the improving dialogue, the cast knew how to wring jokes out of the material they were given as well. Probably my favourite moment of the entire film is when Williams approaches a house on the pretext of taking the owner’s pet for a walk, only to find that the animal in question is a fully dressed up chimp! Even though you might expect Williams to sneer and carry out the task reluctantly, given his superior air, his character takes to it warmly and tries to give the chimp a rest by taking the return trip home via a bus and taxi, neither of which will take him on. So instead, the sketch ends with Williams cheerfully joining in a chimpanzee tea party in Windsor Park as though it were an old PG Tips advert. Another great scene is where Sims is hired to collect invitations to a wine-tasting party and is allowed in after her work is finished. The resulting drunkenness is not only testament to how great an asset Sims is to the franchise but also allows her to punch out Nicholas Parsons! Less funny, but much more ambitious is when Kenneth Connor is instructed to go to the Forth Bridge and immediately sees himself as a Richard Hannay stand-in from The 39 Steps. The result falls somewhere between From Russia With Love and Carry On Spying, which Connor ironically didn’t feature in, and the resolution is somewhat satisfying.
Carry On Regardless also boasts the largest cast list of any entry into the franchise, as the low-cost nature of making Carry Ons often meant that the entire cast didn’t extend beyond thirty people. Due to the sketch-based nature however, most of the supporting actors were only required for a day’s work, which will have pleased producer Peter Rogers no end. Notably in the supporting cast is Hattie Jacques, who would have had the secondary role that Fraser took if she had not fallen ill during the pre-production. Instead she spent her sketch playing the ward sister to Joan Hickson’s Matron, in a role reversal from Carry On Nurse. Other actors that would show up in later Carry On films include Fenella Fielding, who hires Connor to make her husband (Ed Devereaux, another regular supporting actor) jealous, Cyril Chamberlain as one of the policemen who arrest Williams after he mistakenly tries to help a school party of girls, and Michael Ward, as a photographer who snaps Williams as the unwitting model of a bee-keeping helmet advertisement. Incidentally, his assistant in this sketch is another regular supporting actor called Ian Wilson, which I get a slight kick out of!
The size of the supporting cast is not as much of an issue as the size of the main cast. The main problem with Regardless is that the Helping Hands agency has a workforce of seven operatives with James also appearing in the odd sketch. As such, there are only so many sketches to go around and inevitably, the two Kenneths get the bulk of the screen time with four individual sketches each. When not counting the occasions when all the staff are present, both Longdon and Owen barely appear, and Longdon bowed out of the franchise after this film. Fraser makes her mark early on with the first sketch – helped by the fact that she spends the majority of it in lingerie – but then has to wait quite a while for her next appearance. This isn’t helped that even during the framing sequences, a lot of time is taken up by the more established cast, including a scene between Connor and Sims about trying to give up cigarettes which ultimately goes nowhere. Even Hawtrey, who was one of the comic high points of the early Carry Ons, does not get a huge amount of screen time and this may explain the problems he had that led to him not showing up in the next instalment of the series.
Even though the final scene does end as badly as I remember, it does at least allow for the full cast to engage in some climatic slapstick comedy as they attempt to clean a dilapidated old house. It is clear that within Regardless are the hallmarks of where the franchise would progress to after Hudis stopped writing for the series; a lot of the final scene can be seen later in the famous dinner scene in Carry On Up The Khyber and the jokes only got filthier as the series progressed. Despite the fact that not everything was quite in place, the regular team by then had been established, with James more at home as a loveable charlatan than an authoritative boss. Arguably Hudis reverted to type with his final offering, Carry On Cruising, but this one occasion where he tried something different is what makes Regardless such an oddly satisfying film to watch. It isn’t the best entry of the series so far as an overall package, but the film’s tagline of being “The funniest Carry On ever!” is not nearly as hyperbolic as you would think either.
Carry On Ranking: