Carry On Cowboy (1965)


Wild West outlaw Johnny Finger rides into Stodge City, kills the sheriff and takes over – so the Government send a man they think is a US Marshal to deal with him…

What’s it spoofing? Westerns, of course. Carry On Cowboy uses the stereotypical tropes, and there are also specific references to Errol Flynn’s Dodge City (1939) and Gary Cooper’s High Noon (1952).

Funniest moment: Jon Pertwee’s cameo as the town’s hard-of-hearing, hard-of-seeing, hard-of-not-bumping-into-things sheriff is pure joy. Physical comedy, gurning, misunderstandings, old-man accent – it’s all here.

The Big 10:

* Sid James (6) is clearly having a great time playing Johnny Finger, aka the Rumpo Kid.

* Kenneth Williams (10) is Judge Burke, who tries to stand up to Johnny but doesn’t have much authority. Williams played the role with a voice he stole from Laurel & Hardy’s producer, Hal Roach, who he’d met in 1961.

* Peter Butterworth (1) appears in a Carry On for the first time – here he plays Doc, who’s basically Judge Burke’s sidekick.

* Joan Sims (6) gets lots of innuendo-laden dialogue as saloon manager Belle Armitage (“My friends call me Ding-Dong…”).

* Jim Dale (5) has been playing increasingly bigger roles over the last few movies – now he’s one of the leads. Marshal P Knutt (it’s his name, not his profession) is an English “drainage, sanitation and garbage-disposal engineer, first class”. When he’s mistaken for a federal marshal he’s sent to Stodge City to clean it up – when he’s rumbled by Judge Burke, they have little choice but to maintain the illusion.

* Bernard Bresslaw (1) is another debutante (unless you count his uncredited cameo as a patient’s feet in Carry On Nurse). He’s got a small role as Little Heap, one of the local Native Americans.

* Charles Hawtrey (10) plays Big Heap, the “Red Indian” leader. Despite the character’s background and heritage, Hawtrey plays it with his own English accent and mannerisms, which makes it all the more funny. (It took me a long, long time to spot the gag that, whatever the time period, Charles Hawtrey always wears 20th-century spectacles.) Big Heap loves firewater: the first of many Hawtrey characters to be written as an old soak.

Notable others:

* Jon Pertwee is hilarious as Sheriff Albert Earp.

* Margaret Nolan, in her first Carry On, plays Miss Jones. She’s the bit of strumpet that the Commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Affairs is getting off with as his scene begins.

* Angela Douglas plays Annie Oakley, the daughter of Sheriff Earp who comes to Stodge City to get revenge on the man who killed him. She meets Knutt on the journey and they fall in love. She’s a crackshot with a rifle and also gets to perform a song in the saloon.

* Apparently, Richard O’Brien (The Rocky Horror Show, The Crystal Maze) is one of the Native Americans who attack the stagecoach.

* Peter Gilmore plays one of Johnny Finger’s posse.

Top totty: Margaret Nolan. For a proper appreciation, see the ‘Girls’ section of my Goldfinger review.

Kenneth Williams says: “Saw the rushes today. The make-up etc. was all right but the voice took a bit of getting used to. I see what the trouble is. It’s really too old & wheezy for the face. It’s a shame really but of course I’m stuck with it now.” – Friday 23 July 1965 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p261)

“To Studio One, to see the Trade show of Carry On Cowboy: it was marvellous. It’s the first good British comedy in years, the first time a British Western has ever been done, and the first ‘Carry On’ to be a success on every level. It’s got laughs, and pathos, some lovely people and ugly people. Mind you, it’s an alarming thought that they’ll never top this one.” – Wednesday 9 February 1966 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p273)

Review: This film was made for just £230,000 – by comparison, the same year’s Bond film, Thunderball, cost something like £3.5 million – so it’s all the more impressive how good it looks. There are some terrific interior and exterior sets of Stodge City, even if the countryside used for the wide, open frontier is more Surrey than The Searchers. And the pastiche is generally excellent, with cute details such as the way the stand-off is staged, the bold red font used for the titles, and even a Spaghetti Western crash-zoom on Sid James. (The accents, however, are all over the place.) The film also has a decent story (a rarity) and a clever ending (ditto). The cast, meanwhile, seem like they’re having a hoot – especially Sid James and Kenneth Williams, who are playing up the genre conventions for all they’re worth, and Jim Dale and Angela Douglas, neither of whom were in the series’s first six films but make for an excellent leading pair and feel integral. Great fun.

Nine big ones (“I’m from Texas, ma’am, we all got big ones down there!”) out of 10.

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