WFTB Score: 6/20
The plot: The Wedded Bliss Agency promises to bring together singles for a life of matrimonial happiness, but behind the scenes things aren’t quite what they seem. That fancy match-making computer? Just a prop, allowing Sid and Sophie Bliss to manipulate their unfortunate clients to get on one anothers’ nerves. Even worse, the ‘loving’ couple aren’t even married themselves.
In the Spring, said Tennyson in Locksley Hall, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. These are roughly the thoughts of callow young Bertram Muffet (Richard O’Callaghan) when he’s entranced by the relentless snogging of an omnipresent pair of lovers (Mike Grady and Valerie Shute), so he seeks the Cupid-like attentions of the Wedded Bliss agency run by Sidney and Sophie Bliss (Sid James and Hattie Jacques). Given that Bertie’s favourite hobby is making aeroplanes out of milk bottle tops, they don’t hold out much hope; but much to Sid’s chagrin, Hattie sets Bertie up with his bit on the side, Esme Crowfoot (Joan Sims). Sid derails that plan and Bertie instead has an awkward encounter with model Sally Martin (Jacki Piper); however, Sid’s designs on wooing Esme don’t go to plan either since – although he gives Charles Hawtrey’s private dick Mr Bedsop the slip – their tryst is interrupted by Esme’s would-be fiancé, aggressive wrestler ‘Gripper’ Burke (Bernard Bresslaw).
Meanwhile, Terry Philpot (Terry Scott) has a tough first date with reserved Miss Jenny Grubb (Imogen Hassall), though she’s considerably more up-front on a second meeting; and marriage guidance counsellor Percy Snooper (Kenneth Williams) is practically ordered to obtain a partner to be any good at his job. Sophie, out for revenge on Sid, confesses that she’s never been married to her ‘husband’ and offers herself as a potential bride. However, perhaps surprisingly for a Carry on movie, neither Sid nor Snooper’s besotted housemaid Miss Dempsey (Patsy Rowlands) are going to take that lying down.
Although it would be over-simplistic to characterise the Carry on series as 60s=Good, 70s=Bad, there is a definite rise and fall in the quality of the films (though I’m given to understand that Henry isn’t bad), the zenith coming at Cleo or Khyber before drifting slowly down into the mire of England and Emmannuelle. Carry On Loving is evidence of a pretty steep decline: for while it features most of the stars (Babs Windsor excepted) and a fair smattering of decent jokes (Peter Butterworth’s brief appearance features a great gag, beautifully performed), most of Talbot Rothwell’s script is given over to inane variations on mindless innuendo: doing ‘it’, having ‘it’ off, getting ‘it’ and so on. It should be no surprise that Carry On Loving is actually nothing to do with love, more about getting your leg over; but it’s disappointing that the ‘phwooar’ factor is quite so high, matching old/clumsy/naïve men with short-skirted dollybirds in the shapely forms of Piper and the voluptuous – and ultimately tragic – Hassall. As far as the men are concerned, while Scott is not the most eligible of bachelors, he does have an amusingly expressive face. Unfortunately, the same can’t really be said for O’Callaghan, who never becomes amusing or indeed interesting: he only gets the girl because Sally feels sorry for him.
While the girls’ sitcom antics (Sally and Jenny share a flat with Janet Mahoney’s Gay, a girl who’s flat-chested and therefore not of interest) take up too much of the film’s running time, it’s not as if the alternative storylines offer much by way of a diversion. Sid’s pursuit of Esme doesn’t really work because the part is clearly written for Babs rather than Joan, and neither Hawtrey nor Bresslaw are given much to work with (Bresslaw’s not bad, actually, and at least Hawtrey doesn’t spend his entire screen time drinking!).
Kenneth Williams fares better as his usual haughty self, forming a satisfyingly awkward partnership with Jacques who is (as usual) unfairly followed by Saint-Saëns’ The Elephant wherever she goes. But they are both upstaged by Patsy Rowlands, who vamps up a treat as the spurned Miss Dempsey, who drapes herself all over Snooper in a desperate act of sabotage. The final scene of the film acts as a microcosm of the whole: while the miserable faces of the couples ‘celebrating’ the Bliss nuptials are a treat, it quickly descends into a moronic food fight that can’t finish quickly enough.
For the most part, Carry On Loving feels as tired and drab as much of the real Britain it features as its backdrop. It’s much less clever than the successful entries in the series, and while it has the odd moment of inspiration – Jenny’s time-warp family, featuring the wonderful Joan Hickson, and Sid’s façade of a computer – most of it is lost in sniggering over breasts and jokes of the ‘I thought you were talking about sex!’ variety. On the other hand, the regulars are reliable and there are still – just – enough flashes of wit to make it worth a watch. Sadly, the series still had some way to fall from this undistinguished point.