Carry on up the Jungle

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Professor Inigo Tinkle heads out on safari in search of rare birds, though there are already a few in his party: Lady Evelyn Bagley, searching for traces of her long-lost son; and her help June, who befriends overgrown Jungle Boy Ugh. The party are captured by the fierce Nosha tribe, but – for the men at least – their rescue by the Amazonian Lubi Dubis could be a case of going from the frying pan into the fire.

High and mighty professor Inigo Tinkle (Frankie Howerd) and his associate Claude Chumley (Kenneth Connor) find themselves in deepest, darkest Africa, searching for exotic birds such as the fabled Oozalum. Accompanying them are Lady Evelyn Bagley (Joan Sims), whose previous experience of Africa was a disastrous honeymoon where she lost her husband Walter and their baby son; her maid June (Jacki Piper) is also part of the party led by hunter Bill Boosey (Sid James) – determined to live up to his name – and gutless native guide Upsidaisi (Bernard Bresslaw). Fighting off a host of male (and non-human) attention, Lady Bagley looks for clues about the fate of her child, while June’s bathing is interrupted by inept jungle swinger Ugh (Terry Scott), initially clueless about feminine wiles but keen to learn.

After some nocturnal monkey business around the camp, during which time Bagley discovers Ugh’s true identity, the hapless party are caught – ooer – by the Noshas, a cannibalistic tribe who see the white folks as ingredients for the stew pot. However, Ugh drops in and escapes with June to carry on his education, whilst the others are ‘rescued’ by Leda’s (Valerie Leon) all-female Lubi Dubi warriors. Leda takes them back to Aphrodisia and puts the men to work, but only after meeting their King, the Great Tonka (Charles Hawtrey); he’s a little feeble-looking, but that’s not a surprise given the ‘work’ the men are put to.

The Carry on series was always cheap and cheerful, but often disguised its cheapness remarkably well, either by nicking other film’s sets (Cleo) or proving so infectiously cheerful (usually via Babs’ giggles or Charles Hawtrey’s irrepressible good nature) that the low budgets went unnoticed. Up the Jungle pulls off the dreary combination of looking very cheap – a clutch of plant-lined sets with safari footage spliced clumsily in – at the same time as being utterly cheerless. The laboured riffs on Tarzan are so lethargic, so lacking in anything approaching wit, that watching the film is more chore than chortle for the majority of its running time. Most of the material is the tent-hopping stuff of farce, with the lumbering jokes dead on arrival; there’s a silly gag about a ‘vindscreen viper’ that takes forever to get to the punchline, while the familiar innuendo is just that: highly familiar.

The apparent tiredness in Talbot Rothwell’s script is matched by flat turns from the cast. Joan Sims does what she can but the idea that she might send the men wild with desire doesn’t fly; Piper, the dolly-bird designate of Jungle, is pretty but bland, while Sid’s low-key performance is a symptom of the poor script as much as his poor health. Scott – three years older than his supposed mother! – looks ridiculous as the barrel-chested Ugh, Kenneth Connor returns from a six-year Carry on hiatus to very little effect, and Reuben Martin causes lacklustre mayhem in a thoroughly unconvincing gorilla costume. Luckily, Rothwell’s script largely steers clear of racial trouble, instead parodying the savages of dozens of straight-faced Tarzan movies; but the film still features Bernard Bresslaw blacking up and putting on a bizarre accent, with predictably non-hilarious results.

Customarily, this is about the point where I say “At least Kenneth Williams is funny”; Williams isn’t in Up the Jungle – he was busy with his TV show – and boy, does it show. I enjoyed Frankie Howerd’s performance in Carry on Doctor, but that was in the context of an addition to the cast, not as a replacement for Williams. Howerd’s shtick was always much better-suited to a one-man show rather than interacting with others, and it’s clear that the regulars don’t exactly warm to his attention-grabbing bluster. To be entirely fair, the film picks up around the hour mark, which has something to do with Charles Hawtrey’s belated appearance but rather more to do with Valerie Leon’s. When this pair – stop it – are on screen, the film threatens to spark into naughty life; it’s like a reward for getting this deep into the jungle, if you like; sadly, the fun with the scantily-clad Lubi Dubis is pretty short-lived.

You may accuse me of not sharing the saucy spirit of the Carry ons, of not enjoying their live-action seaside postcard humour to the full – and you may well be right. However, I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t, and I can sort the wheat from the chaff. It’s not altogether hopeless, but I’ve no hesitation in throwing Carry on up the Jungle in with the chaff.

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