Carry On Cleo (1964)

Cleo

Roman general Mark Antony becomes smitten with Egyptian queen Cleopatra, then plots to murder his friend and leader Julius Caesar…

What’s it spoofing? Famously, the film is a satire of 1963 epic Cleopatra, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. That movie was based at Pinewood Studios before decamping to Italy in search of better weather, so the Carry On team reused some of the leftover sets and costumes. Also being ridiculed are Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt and prehistoric Britain. The film begins with a jokey credit: ‘Original screenplay by Talbot Rothwell, from an original idea by William Shakespeare.’

Funniest moment: Well, it’s the obvious one. Usage in a thousand clips shows and documentaries can’t dull the priceless comedy of “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!” (The line first appeared in a radio show called Take It From Here – Rothwell got permission from the writers to use it here.)

The Big 10:

* Kenneth Connor (8) plays British wheelwright Hengist Pod (a role first offered to Bernard Cribbins). He’s a henpecked husband whose workmanship leaves something to be desired: his wheels are square. But due to plotting reasons, he ends up as Julius Caesar’s personal bodyguard.

* Jim Dale (4) is Horsa, Hengist’s neighbour who invents the window but then becomes a slave.

* Sid James (5) plays Mark Antony. It’s Sid’s first full-on letch in a Carry On movie.

* Kenneth Williams (9) is a childlike Julius Caesar, who gets annoyed when people keep needlessly prompting his ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen…’ speech.

* Charles Hawtrey (9) plays Seneca, Caesar’s father-in-law who gets visions and is a bit of a dirty old man.

* Joan Sims (5) is back after four films off, to play Caesar’s moany wife, Calpurnia.

Notable others:

* Amanda Barrie plays Cleopatra dim and ditzy. Aside from a quick clip at the beginning, she doesn’t join the action until the halfway point. Barbara Windsor was originally cast in the part, but the rumour is she was dropped because she was rude to director Gerald Thomas.

* Shelia Hancock has a small role as Senna Pod, Hengist’s whiney wife. Oddly, all her dialogue seems like it’s been looped.

* Victor Maddern plays Mark Anthony’s second in command.

* Warren Mitchell gets an awful gag in his role as a slave trader. Mark Antony calls him Marcus, so he replies: “I’m Spencius. It’s my brother what’s Marcus. Yeah, we’re in partnership now, you know. Marcus and Spencius.”

* Wanda Ventham appears at the slave auction. When a frumpy old maid outbids her for Horsa, Horsa himself offers to lend Wanda the extra cash.

* Peter Gilmore has another minor role, as a Roman.

* Jon Pertwee makes the first of his four Carry On appearances. He plays an ancient, doddering soothsayer who has a long white beard and a shaky voice.

Top totty: A 29-year-old Wanda Ventham? Yes, please.

Kenneth Williams says: “I got the script of Carry On Cleo today and I must say I think it is very funny.” – Tuesday 12 May 1964 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p234)

“This Roman tunic I’m wearing in the film is really quite attractive. In white and gold. I continually lift it up and expose my cock & everything at the Unit. They’re all rather disgusted and laugh it off, but quite a number of them have remarked ‘O! Kenny! Not again – put it away…’ etc etc.” – Tuesday 4 August 1964 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p238)

Review: This is a very silly spoof, with lots of corny gags and comic anachronisms. The period setting is used to excuse some horrendous sexism and homophobia, but there’s a lot of fun to be had too.

Eight poisonous asps out of 10

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