When the British Secret Service learn that an enemy agent called Milchmann will be in Vienna for the next 24 hours, they dispatch operative Desmond Simpkins and three trainees to find him…
What’s it spoofing? James Bond. Ian Fleming had written 10 novels and a few short stories by the time Carry On Spying began filming. More significantly, there’d also been two movies released with a third in production. Dr No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964) were all made at Pinewood Studios alongside the Carry Ons, and this spoof actually irritated the Bond producers to the point of threatening legal action. Carry On Spying contains specific 007 references such as From Russia’s gadget-laden briefcase, as well as more general similarities like flamboyant sets, sexy henchwomen and a featured song. But the longer it goes on, the more the satire spreads to also cover classic thrillers such as The Lady Vanishes (1938), Beau Geste (1939), Casablanca (1942) and The Third Man (1949).
Funniest moment: Agent Crump tunnels out of his prison cell, egged on by his colleagues. However, he comes up just a few feet away – ie, still inside the cell.
The Big 10:
* Kenneth Williams (8) plays Desmond Simpkins, the bungling leader of the team. It’s a performance of relentless comic energy. Williams used a ‘snide’ voice/character that would have been familiar to contemporary viewers from radio comedies such as Hancock’s Half-Hour and Beyond Our Ken. We even hear the persona’s catchphrase: “Stop messing about!”
* Barbara Windsor (1) debuts in the Carry On series, playing Daphne Honeybutt (aka Agent Brown Cow). She has a photographic memory, an impressive bust line and slightly more intelligence than her teammates. Windsor is really good and often very funny.
* Charles Hawtrey (8) plays agent Charlie Bind. It was originally scripted as ‘James Bind 006 ½’ but then the Bond producers took umbrage.
* Jim Dale (3) has great fun with the role of Carstairs, the service’s man in Vienna. He’s a master of disguise and looks different each time we see him – as a ticket inspector, a customs official, a cigarette seller, a lady of the night, a waiter and an Arab. His code-word catchphrase – “Café Mozart, 10 o’clock” – gets a bigger laugh each time he says it.
* Eric Barker gets a third Carry On character, here playing the chief of the secret service who’s surrounded by fools.
* Bernard Cribbins returns from the preceding movie to play trainee agent Harold Crump. He has fun comic business when trying to help Daphne into her gun holster, then later has some cross-dressing to do.
* Dilys Laye sexes it up big time as femme fatal Lila. The character appears first as a nightclub singer, then is revealed to be an enemy agent… then announces she’s a sleeper for a third party. Laye is unrecognisable from her character in Carry On Cruising. At the end of the film, she gets to quote “Stop messing about” at Kenneth Williams – an ad-lib, apparently.
Top totty: Barbara Windsor is *very* fetching in her Algiers outfit.
Kenneth Williams says: “This is the first picture I’ve done the ‘snide’ voice in. I just hope it works.” – Monday 3 February 1964 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p228)
“I must say I like this Barbara Windsor. She is a charming little girl.” – Thursday 6 February 1964 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p228)
“The script of Carry On Spying is so bad that I’m really beginning to wonder. I’ve changed one or two things but the witless vacuity of it all remains.” – Thursday 20 February 1964 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p229)
“On Wednesday I took Sybil Burton to see the trade show of my latest ‘Carry On Spying’. She sat there, speechless. There was hardly a laugh. At one point in the picture I have to come out of a cubicle lavatory and say to a man who is waiting to use it, ‘I should give it a minute if I were you…’ and Syb said, ‘O Ken – that is really terrible!’ and I said yes but we’ve all got to earn a living.’ – Kenneth Williams to Noel Willman, 8 July 1964 (The Kenneth Williams Letters, p55)
Review: This is a joyfully silly film. We get almost every type of humour imaginable: sight gags, wordplay, groaners, satire, physical comedy, cultural stereotypes, arch music cues, intertextual asides… The team of regulars, meanwhile, are dumb, dumber, even dumber and Barbara Windsor – and there’s great energy and comic timing between the four. A full-on spoof of spy movies, this preempts Austin Powers by 33 years and is fantastically entertaining. (It’s also the final black-and-white Carry On.)
Nine fezzes out of 10