WFTB Score: 4/20
The plot: In the sleepy seaside town of Fircombe (geddit?), Councillor Sidney Fiddler plans to liven up the tourist trade by holding a pageant, much to the dismay of his bride to-be Connie Philpotts, whose hotel is overrun by the bevy of beauties. Sid ingeniously drums up publicity for the show but he is unprepared for the meddling of rival councillor, arch-feminist Augusta Prodworthy.
While ‘dignified’ would never be the first word used to describe the Carry ons, there is always a sense of fun in the series’ best examples (Cleo, Cowboy, Up the Khyber) and the knowledge that if one joke isn’t to your taste, there will be another one along in a couple of seconds. Carry on Girls, with its one-note script by a deeply uninspired Talbot Rothwell, feels murky and decidedly undignified.
There are several reasons for this, not least of which is the age of the Carry on crew by this point in time. Sid James puts his all into the role of randy Cllr Fiddler but looks old, and it’s barely credible that he would captivate widowed Connie Philpotts (Joan Sims, asked to be more shrill than usual), let alone Babs Windsor, who turns up on a motorbike as Hope Springs, aka Miss Easy Rider. Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey are sorely missed, as too much screen time is left to lesser lights like Jack Douglas, Peter Butterworth and Kenneth Connor, who plays the oafish, ineffectual Mayor Bumble. It is significant, too, that Carry on Girls is not a parody of another genre but a film showing contemporary England; this is bound to date the film, and the scenes in Bumble’s house paint the seaside town, and the seventies as a whole, as a rather grim place.
Not having a genre or film to lampoon also means that the script has to come up with its own gags, and Carry on Girls is particularly bare on this front (pun intended). There are a few basic jokes that are stretched beyond tolerance: in the first, buxom contestant Dawn Brakes (Margaret Nolan) has part of her clothing torn off, either by somebody’s clumsiness or by Hope in an effort to get the beauty show more publicity – this scene in particular, with the two women chasing each other round the hotel lobby on all fours, definitely fails to qualify as dignified, and Nolan is further humiliated during a photo-shoot with Robin Askwith as Peter Butterworth’s clumsy, lascivious admiral lands on top of her.
The second joke is a variation on the first involving the removal of Kenneth Connor’s trousers; the third is a series of pratfalls, personified in Jack Douglas’ William, performed in verbally and physically twitchy Alf Ippititimus mode; and then there’s the tiresome innuendo, with every reference to doing ‘it’ milked, plus two separate stabs at a joke about taking down knickers.
There are a couple of bright moments, for example when publicist Bernard Bresslaw is made to pose as a contestant when a television crew appears, or whenever Patsy Rowlands is on screen as the mayor’s gloriously slovenly wife; but the highlights are few and far between and lost among the film’s highly dubious sexual politics. June Whitfield plays the councillor opposed to the beauty contest; with an assistant who dresses in a tie and suit (so is almost certainly a lesbian), she organises the local women’s lib movement and activates their dowdy ranks into causing chaos at the beauty show.
While this does provide the film with a climax of sorts, it also suggests that there are essentially two types of women: dolly birds (the film’s term, not mine) and flat-chested harpies. There is, naturally, only one kind of man, the sort who goes ‘Phwooar’ at other women but expects virginal chastity in his own partner – Bresslaw lays down the law to fiancée Paula (Valerie Leon, unaccountably dubbed) because her costume shows off her belly button (‘I will own you!’ he says, referring to their impending marriage). The film does give an example of another type of man, but the less said about monstrously camp TV producer Cecil Gaybody (Jimmy Logan) – yes, he’s actually called Gayboy at one point – the better.
Without a decent story or script, Carry on Girls is a sad example of the fag-end of the Carry on series, reflecting the fact that when the films were good they could be very good, but when they were bad they were pretty horrid. When I say that worse was to come – Carry on England and Carry on Emmannuelle followed – it is not to give much praise to this film, but to indicate the direness of the later efforts. You have been warned!