When Bertram Oliphant ‘Bo’ West is disgraced during a game of cricket, he runs off to join the French Foreign Legion…
What’s it spoofing? Numerous French Foreign Legion stories, specifically PC Wren’s 1924 adventure novel Beau Geste and its movie adaptations. This is the second and final film in the series not to have the term ‘Carry On’ in its title.
Funniest moment: When told that Arab men aren’t allowed to enter their own harem tent to see the women, Bo West says, “What’s the good of having them all? It’s like playing cricket with no bails. There’s nothing to knock off.”
The Big 10:
* Jim Dale (8) plays Bertram Oliphant ‘Bo’ West.
* Peter Butterworth (4) is Simpson, West’s gentleman’s gentleman who also joins the Foreign Legion. He gets some cross-dressing to do.
* Joan Sims (9) is terrific as Zig-Zig, a fiery, sultry, exotic local woman. “I have a good ass, no?” she asks after giving Sgt Nocker a lift on her donkey.
* Bernard Bresslaw (3) plays another lazy ethnic stereotype – Sheikh Abdul Abulbul.
* Kenneth Williams (13) uses a severe Nazi-like accent as Commandant Maximillian Burger.
* Charles Hawtrey (13) plays Burger’s second-in-command, Captain Le Pice. The actor originally wanted to play Simpson, thinking (rightly) that it was a funnier part.
* Angela Douglas plays Lady Jane Ponsenby, Bo’s girlfriend who abandons him when he’s accused of cheating at cricket. When she realises he was innocent, she heads off to bring him home from the Foreign Legion – en route, she has a series of hilariously deadpan sexual encounters.
* Peter Gilmore has another small role, playing Humphrey Bagshaw, the guy who accuses West of cheating. Feeling guilty, he then both hangs and shoots himself (but survives).
* Phil Silvers was paid a fortune (£32,000 – five times what Kenneth Williams was earning) and given top billing for playing cheeky rogue Sgt Nocker. He replaced Sid James, who was busy on sitcom George and the Dragon and in the event had a heart attack while Follow That Camel was being filmed. Silvers was a huge star, thanks to playing Sgt Bilko in hit comedy The Phil Silvers Show (1955-1959). He gets to wear his non-period horn-rimmed glasses and deliver dialogue to camera a few times. Contemporary press reports made the probably bogus claim that Woody Allen was also offered the role.
* Julian Holloway appears in a Carry On for a first time, as a cheeky train conductor. “I just want to punch your ticket,” he says to Lady Jane before closing the blinds and doing just that.
* Anita Harris plays a belly dancer – an odd casting choice, seeing how she doesn’t have one.
Top totty: The harem is a sight and a half.
Kenneth Williams says: “I had tea at the Dorchester on Saturday with Phyllis Silvers [sic] and we were joined by Dick Van Dyke and Yul Brynner. I would like to have heard them talk but they didn’t get a chance with PS ranting on and on – ‘my lovely wife and those five beautiful daughters have left me, and I have had this operation on my eye and believe me fellahs I am only half the man that I was – why even one of the waiters here – who remembers me from way back when I did this USO show with Frank Sinatra – he said that he hardly recognised me from the old days…’ etc etc.” – Kenneth Williams to the Hon. George Borwick, 14 June 1967 (The Kenneth Williams Letters, p62)
“We were reduced to watching Carry On Camel with me being remarkably good as the German Commandant and Jim Dale remarkably attractive as Beau [sic]. It was v well written & actually had a tag line! Angela Douglas was super! Really attractive & effectively ironic. Oh! this girl has been endlessly underrated.” – Saturday 21 December 1985 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p732)
Review: An enjoyably daft comedy adventure. There’s rather a lot of racism, though.
Seven mirages out of 10