Two Englishmen rescue aristocrats from execution in revolutionary France, but Citizen Camembert is determined to find them…
What’s it spoofing? Emma Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel novels (1905-1940), which were actually still in copyright and needed a skating-on-thin-ice legal letter from producer Peter Rodgers denying that they were a source material. This film doesn’t have the term ‘Carry On’ in its title because the series had switched to a new distributor (The Rank Organisation) and the old one (Anglo-Amalgamated) said they owned the brand. Since the disagreement’s been settled, the film has sometimes been promoted on TV and home video as the clunky Carry On – Don’t Lose Your Head. For some reason, IMDB lists it as Carry On Pimpernel.
Funniest moment: Joan Sims puts such a dismissive, derogatory quality on the two-word phrase in a certain line – “My brother, the count, wishes to meet him…” – that the pun is hilariously obvious. Tickled by the joke, the actress actually begins to smirk before the shot cuts away. See it here.
The Big 10:
* Kenneth Williams (12) plays Citizen Camembert (aka the Big Cheese).
* Peter Butterworth (3) is Camembert’s sidekick, Citizen Bidet.
* Sid James (7) is back after a film off to play Sir Rodney Ffing (pronounced effing). He’s a master of disguise who, when pretending to be an English fop, has a marked lisp. When he’s out saving aristos, he’s known as the Black Fingernail. Sid James has some ludicrous dragging up to do at one point.
* Jim Dale (7) plays the Black Fingernail’s associate, Lord Darcy Pue. It’s a pretty boring, thankless role.
* Charles Hawtrey (12) is Duc De Pommfrit (these names!), the featured Frenchman that Sir Rodney and Lord Darcy rescue and smuggle back to England.
* Joan Sims (8) is really brilliant as Desiree Dubarry, Camembert’s bored-with-life sister. She plays her working class and a bit dim, and the character is hilarious when putting on airs and graces. There are a lot of jokes about her impressive cleavage.
* Peter Gilmore has another small Carry On role, here playing Robespierre.
* Dany Robin – who was later in Hitchcock’s Topaz – plays Jacqueline, a Frenchwoman who Sir Rodney falls for.
* Jacqueline Pearce appears briefly as a lady at Sir Rodney’s ball who hangs on De Pommfrit’s every word.
Top totty: Dany Robin.
Kenneth Williams says: “Peter [Eade, agent] drove me to Windsor in 40 minutes (motorway) and we saw Don’t Lose Your Head at the local ABC. It wasn’t bad, but I realise there is no need to do all this character make-up. It just doesn’t work for comedy. The thing is to look as pleasant as possible. I really should stop making all these faces too! They’re quite absurd and unfunny. The fight sequences went on too long & Sid James really does look terribly battered and old. V. unattractive when he’s making love to the girls in it – all rather disgusting.” – Thursday 27 April 1967 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, pp302-303)
“Went in to see Louie [his mother] in the evening and found there was nothing but rubbish on the television. Old films! – including Don’t Lose Your Head with me and Jim Dale and Sid James. I was as bad as ever, all posh voice and sneers and convincing no one.” – Sunday 16 December 1973 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p463)
Review: Another genre spoof – it’s now half a dozen films since we had one about ‘real’ people. Sadly, this isn’t quite as successful as the last few, seeming a bit tired, but there’s still some fun. A repeated gag during romantic scenes, where Sid James, Dany Robin and Joan Sims give private asides to the camera, works really well. The sword-fighting climax seems to never end, however.
Seven baskets out of 10