With Carry On Cruising, we are six-deep in the Carry On series. That’s roughly 20% of the way through. Nevertheless, we’re recycling the “band of misfits” plot for the fourth time.

Captain Crowther (Sid James) has been captain of the Happy Wanderer cruise ship for ten years. He’s hoping to move on to a large transatlantic ship, but this voyage he discovers several of his key crew members have been replaced with five newcomers. He’s worried they will botch things up, thus preventing him from getting the appointment to the new cruise ship. They do bungle things, but by the end of the movie they’ve learned how to work together. That’s pretty much the same setup as Sergeant, Teacher, and Constable.

I am not surprised that these movies are formulaic; I am a little surprised that screenwriter Norman Hudis has gone back to the same well so many times. That said, this time — the fourth time — is the best of the lot.

I am fairly certain you’re supposed to use a stethoscope for that.

One nice thing about this movie is it is less about how awful everyone is and more about funny situations. Captain Crowther is a little grumpy, but he’s more Lou Grant than William Bligh. It’s a lovable, good-hearted sort of grumpy. Kenneth Williams’s Marjoribanks has a touch of the arrogant ignoramus about him, but the character isn’t the self-absorbed prick Williams has been playing. Doctor Binn is not neurotic, he’s merely besotted and as smooth as oak bark.

Charles Hawtrey was supposed to be in this one as the cruise ship’s chef, but apparently he demanded star billing and Anglo Amalgamated handed his role to Lance Percival. Percival has all the appeal of a Muppet Nicholas Cage. Most of the characters are sympathetic rather than entertainingly horrible, but the chef is just awful. It gave Kenneth Williams an opportunity to dial back his usual arrogant ignoramus character, though, and the movie is better for that.

When they stop at a port in Spain, Williams pretends to be a bull. Really.

Of all the characters, though, my favorite is the elderly single passenger Bridget. Bridget is played by Esma Cannon, a very accomplished English character actress with sixty-four films under her belt by retirement. We’ve seen her before: in Constable, Kenneth Williams “helps” her across a street she does not want to cross. In Regardless she is Sid James’ secretary — largely a straight role — and I did not recognize her. Here she practically steals the show, drinking husband-hunter Flo under the table or practically climbing over a safety rail to get away from an awkward conversation with Crowther.

I can’t get over how different Esma looks in the two roles. It’s absolutely the same actress.

On the ship there’s a disastrous date, the chef gets seasick, the one of the passengers develops an inconvenient crush on the captain, Kenneth Connor sings a very lovely song that put me completely to sleep, someone falls into a table full of deserts, and a horrible cake is baked. There is nothing comedically groundbreaking — certainly not the plot — but the cast is (Muppet Cage excepted) likable and it’s a very pleasant and entertaining movie.

It really is an awful cake, though.

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