I said last time that I was looking forward to Sid James but I want to open by talking about the other Kenneth. Prior to Carry On, Kenneth Connor replaced Peter Sellers on the radio show Ray’s a Laugh and understudied him on The Goon Show, so he had an excellent comedic heritage coming into the Carry On. Connor’s appearances bookend the series, showing up in the first seven films, then seven of the last eight. (Since Carry On Columbus was shot fourteen years after the penultimate film, Carry On Emmannuelle, it seems unfair to hold that against him.)
Neurotics seemed to be a specialty of his, at least in these early runs. In Sergeant he’s a hypochondriac, in Teacher he’s an introvert inclined to spoonerisms. In Constable, Connor reaches new heights as an intensely superstitious man completely incapable of asking Constable Passworthy (Joan Sims) out on a date until he knows her sign.
Later, he started playing more lecherous, leering characters, turning him into sort of a Sid James, Jr. Connor is better served playing neurotics.
Shirley Eaton, the leading lady of Sergeant and James Bond’s most beautiful corpse, is here for her third and final appearance – and she’e mostly there for Philips to wolf-whistle at. This is probably for the best, since Eaton never showed much in the way of comedy chops. Joan Sims on the other hand, is wasted. She’s set up as the over-earnest constable, but she just comes off looking naïve. By the end of the movie, she’s playing the straight woman to the Connor’s awkwardness.
Constable has much the same format as Sergeant, up to and including having Eric Barker in the supervisory role. Under him in the William Hartnell slot is Sid James. Later James will be the most dependable Dirty Old Man in the series, but here he’s in the “B” character of the put-upon everyman. Both kinds of roles suit him well, but this one had me regretting that he was born too early to play Sam Vimes. Fortunately, that story serves as a better framework than the one in Sergeant and the movie feels less episodic than Nurse.
Most of the best bits of the film involve Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, or both. Hawtrey gets to do an elaborate slapstick routine chasing a cat up a church bell-tower. Williams helps an old lady across the street who doesn’t want to be helped later. Towards the end of the film, Williams and Hawtrey go undercover in drag at a department store – causing more trouble than they prevent.
One thing that puzzles me about the movie is it feels so much newer than Sergeant despite being done only two years later. The writer, director, and producer are all the same; the cinematographers all from the same era of film. So I can’t put my finger on what’s different. But this film feels less formal and more relaxed, which is probably why I like it more than the others. If you have never seen Carry On movies, it’s good one to start with.