WFTB Score: 7/20
The plot: Newspaper reporter Ted York goes into hospital for an appendectomy and is tasked with writing a piece on the goings-on in the public ward. However, the quirks of his fellow patients, and the charms of the ‘angels’ watching them, prove a strong – if shapely – distraction.
The second film under the Carry on banner decamps the action for the first, but by no means only, time to the men’s ward of a public hospital. Reporter Ted York (Terence Longdon) is admitted with appendicitis and quickly becomes acquainted with the way things operate (excuse the pun): lowest of the low is orderly Mick (Harry Locke), at the beck and call of the crabby, demanding Colonel (Wilfrid Hyde-White), placing bets and smoking cigars in his own room. Only slightly higher in rank is clumsy student nurse Dawson (Joan Sims), then pretty staff nurse Dorothy (Shirley Eaton); bossy sister Joan Hickson tries to keep them all in order, for she – like the rest – live in fear of Matron’s (Hattie Jacques) sharp tongue during her rounds.
Ted’s visiting editor thinks the ward would be a great place for a spot of reportage, but Ted’s attention is almost fully taken by Dorothy. Besides, his fellow in-patients are a curious, distracting bunch, especially at visiting time: there’s Henry and his wife Rhoda (Brian Oulton and Hilda Fenemore), trying desperately to hide their humble status (she works!); fed-up Perce and his emotional wife Marge (Bill Owen and Irene Handl), fretting over compensation for his broken leg; famous boxer Bernie Bishop (Kenneth Connor), believing his broken hand is nothing to worry about; eccentric music lover Humphrey Hinton (Charles Hawtrey); and pompous science student Oliver Reckitt (Kenneth Williams), who slowly warms to the charms of attractive visitor Jill Thompson (Jill Ireland). When suave Mr Bell (Leslie Phillips) comes along with a bunion, delays in his operation threaten his saucy weekend away with Meg (June Whitfield); however, getting tiddly on champers and asking an equally drunk Oliver to perform the surgery seems a drastic way of guaranteeing he gets round to his ‘snogging’.
It’s easy to see why the Carry ons kept going back to hospital: there’s a distinct chain of command ripe for mockery, demonstrated best when Matron’s stroppy instruction to remake the beds is filtered all the way down; there’s plenty of scope for jokes about undressing and nudity; and what could be more Carry on than a bunch of ageing men looking at women in tights and muttering ‘Phwooar!’? There’s a bit of all of this, in a very tame fashion, in Carry on Nurse. What there isn’t is a plot. The closest you come is York’s pursuit of Nurse Dorothy, who might herself be interested in sleazy Surgeon Stevens (John Van Eyssen), but that really is it.
The drunken surgery on Bell is the most protractedly amusing scene in the film, with Phillips backtracking and Williams making a wonderful drunk while the rest fall about laughing because of the gas (as in The Pink Panther Strikes Again, the laughter’s contagious). Yet it’s isolated: there’s no climax, and absolutely no consequence to the patients’ actions, when you might imagine gagging a nurse would have one or two implications.
So, the story literally goes nowhere, making greater demands on the cast to deliver. As I’ve said, Williams does a great job while Hawtrey is his usual unusual self (having a drink, for a change), Phillips plays up his ‘Ding dong!’ persona to the hilt, Connor does what he does, Joan Sims is charmingly maladroit, while Shirley Eaton only has to look pretty to fulfil her remit, which she does in spades. Jacques is less fully used, unfortunately, while Longdon is plain of both face and personality. There are a few chucklesome bits, such as Connor getting smacked in the chops by a young child, or the Colonel famously getting his comeuppance; there’s also a cracking cameo from Rosalind Knight as an insanely intense student nurse. But there’s simply not enough highlights, or enough zip in Norman Hudis’ script, to make us overlook the lack of dynamism, overall arc, or the fact that most of the characters and ideas dribble away without resolution (Leigh Madison has all of ten seconds as a female doctor).
As I’m sure I’ve said before, the Carry ons were undoubtedly at their best when they were parodying something else, since the thing parodied – Cleopatra, Westerns, historical adventures – gave the writers a ready-made frame to hang the quickfire gags from. Carry on Nurse is quite nice, and gentle, and inoffensively saucy, which is preferable to the leering smut the series would later become; but in truth it’s more a collection of re-enacted anecdotes than it is a bona fide film.