Friday, June 28, 2013

Carry On Camping (1969)

Carry On Camping (1969)
Directed by Gerald Thomas
Starring Sid James, Charles Hawtry, Barbara Windsor
Rated R

"We're going on a lovely nature ramble!"  

Carry On Camping was part of a decades-long series of low-budget British comedies. Directed by Gerald Thomas and produced by Peter Rogers, the films generally lampooned traditional British society and/or stuffier elements of cinema, and were liberally laced with double entendres and gratuitous T&A. The series began in 1958 with military spoof Carry on Sargeant and ended in 1978 with the softcore send-up Carry On Emmanuelle. A stock cast of British comic actors appeared in every film, and included – as this one does – Sid James, Peter Butterworth, Joan Sims, and Barbara Windsor, among others. There were 31 Carry On films in the original series, as well a mid 70’s TV series. In 2003, a boxset of the entire collection was quietly released in the US by Anchor Bay. Still, the Carry On films remain largely unseen and/or unheralded by American audiences. On one hand, it’s easy to see why. These movies, after all, are super British. I mean, Spice World, Eastenders, Upstairs-Downstairs British. They are so British they often seem like an SNL spoof of a British sex comedy, and a good portion of any Carry On film is devoted to sly references to various segments of Brit society that will sail right over American heads. So there’s that. On the other hand, their gleefully destructive sense of humor and dollops of tasty crumpet make for pleasantly dim-witted entertainment, a sort of super-sized Benny Hill with a cast of aging pratfallers tumbling through one disastrous set-up after another. Carry on Camping, produced midway through the series’ run, is widely considered one of the best and most accessible Carry On films.

Two couples are at the cinema, checking out a nudist camp movie. There’s crusty old Sid (Sid James) and uptight Joan (Joan Sims), dimwitted oaf Bernie (Bernard Bresslaw) and squeamish Anthea (Dils Laye). Naturally, the fellas love it. The women, on the other hand, are outraged and sickened by the whole thing, and demand they all leave.

Meanwhile, across town, another couple discuss their impending camping trip. Peter Potter (Terry Scott) is the classic henpecked husband. Harriet (Betty Marsden) is  his braying, self-obsessed shrew of a wife. Harriet never listens to him, so to amuse himself, he says whatever comes into his head. “
“How was work?”
“ I took a bunch of opium and spent my paycheck on prostitutes.”
“Oh, that’s nice dear.”
That kind of thing.

It’s Sid and Bernie’s job to plan this year’s camping trip with the girls. Sid comes up with a plan to go the nudist camp without telling the girls where they’re going. Seems like a can’t-miss maneuver. He and Bermie head over the sporting goods store to grab a brochure for “Paradise Resort”. That was the name of the place in the nudie flick. Also at the sporting goods store is one Charlie Muggens (Charles Hawtry), a Don Knotts type who molests a shopgirl (Hammer girl Valerie Leon) in a tent.

He wants to go camping, too. I get the feeling everybody’s going to run into each other later on.

Then we go to an all-girls school where two of the girls whale on each other in an awesome cat-fight! It turns out the girls are all camping too. Everyone's going camping!

The big day arrives. Sid and Bernie head out to pick up the girls. Joan lives with her judgmental mom, who does not approve of Sid at all. I’m not surprised, seeing as there’s at least a 20 year gap in age between Sid and Joan. Anyway, Bernie almost gives up the game, but so far, the girls have no idea what the fellas have planned.

The ride up to the county  mostly yelling and puking and hurt feelings.

So the fellas finally make it to Paradise Camp and get extorted by the owner, Mr. Fiddler (Peter Butterworth). Of course now the girls are hip to what's happening – or at least what they think is happening - and demand to go home, but the men won't hear of it, so they press on. But once they get to the campgrounds, they find out they've made a terrible mistake – it's just a regular camp. No nudity allowed, even. Plus, it starts to pour as soon as they get there!

Meanwhile, Peter and Harriet finally find a decent place to camp after Peter  has a run in with a bull and then gets an ass full of buckshot courtesy an angry farmer. Peter settles in for a well-deserved rest after his trying day, but then Mr Muggins wanders by, and Harriet lets him stay in the tent with them. Old-timey ass-on-fire physical comedy hilarity ensues as they all try to fit into the tiny tent.

Also meanwhile, the school girls are staying at a hotel for the night and getting into all kinds of pranks and antics! Mostly they try to get their matronly headmistress, Miss Haggard (Hattie Jacques) to hook up their obviously gay headmaster Mr. Soaper (Kenneth Williams).

The most mischievous girl in class, Babs (Barbara Windsor), switches some door numbers so that Soaper ends up in bed with Miss Haggard. He’s appalled, but she’s in love.

Back at Paradise camp, Sid and Bernie learn an important lesson: don't put your inflatable raft in your tent. It won't end well. Also, don’t put your aching feet in your girlfriend’s pot of boiling stew.  Just when they've had enough of this awful trip, the busload of schoolgirls show up. So what the hell, might as well stay awhile! Muggins shows up, too. He was hitchhiking and got picked up by  the bus. The Potters soon arrive, as well. Now the whole gang is at Paradise Camp!

And then Soaper leads the girls for some sexy exercises. Babs tops flies right off! Goodtimes.

Afterwards, he plans on taking them on a “Nature ramble”. First, though, shower scene! It plays out sorta like the Porky's scene, only without the boobs and penises. Soaper gets a suggestive load of toothpaste in the eye, though.

Meanwhile, Peter Potter wanders off to get drunk by himself. Another schoolgirl, Jane (Elizabeth Knight) shows up – she pretended she was sick to get out of visiting a boring old  monastery – and gives Peter an offer he can't refuse

Boning the young chippy gives him the shot of self-confidence he needs to toss out Mr. Muggins and then give his wife a little of the ol' slap and tickle.

Sid and Bernie sneak off to the monastery disguised as monks so they can make plans with Babs and Fanny (Sandra Caron).  He looks just like the Cryptkeeper from Tales of the Crypt, it's awesome. Then they sneak back to prepare for the evening's activities.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a crowd of hippies show up for a dance party and a performance by the Flowerbuds! Everybody's having a groovy time, but the campers are annoyed and want the racket to stop, so the fellas devise a sinister plan, and they end up blowing up the band’s equipment. By the way, the Buds are supposed to be playing rock music, but the music on the soundtrack is lounge-pop with an orchestra.

So that's it. The trip's over. Nobody gets laid. Or do they?

Haha, no everybody gets laid!

Despite being a low-budget, low-brow sex comedy, Carry on Camping was the biggest grossing film in England in 1969 and even played in theaters in the US. As mentioned, it is often considered to the best of the Carry On films. Although this really makes me dread running into the worst of the series, I still found CoC to be an entertaining little romp. As you by now expect from any Britcom, everybody’s miserable, uncomfortable and unsatisfied, and all the washed-out, gray and mud-soaked shots of the campgrounds make camping seem even less appealing then it usually does. None of the characters shamelessly lusting after one another are age-appropriate, the ‘psychedelic’ band is the least psychedelic thing I’ve ever seen, and Barbara Windsor’s kooky pile of hair and ill-fitting short-shorts were more odd-looking than alluring. Throw in a barrage of double entrendes so relentless in their execution that even the cast of Three’s Company would balk at the script, and you’ve got a grubby little winner on your hands. Based on Camping, I’d definitely be into delving deeper into the Carry On series. As the British often say – at least in the head of Americans who’ve never been to the UK – Carry on Camping is a jolly good show. Pip pip, and all that.

- Ken McIntyre

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