Don’t Lose Your Head (1966)

Don'tLoseYourHead

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.

Notable others:

* 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

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