Carry on Spying (1964)
“They’re at it again- O.O.Oh!”
Director: Gerald Thomas
Cast: Kenneth Williams, Barbara Windsor, Bernard Cribbins
Synopsis: Agent Simpkins and three trainee agents search for a top secret chemical formula stolen by STENCH (the Society for the Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans).
Considered by many to be one of the best ‘Carry On’ movies, Carry on Spying was the first spoof of the James Bond movies that had taken the world by storm just a couple of years before. The ‘Carry on’ franchise was still reasonably fresh back then, even though this was the ninth of the series (the franchise would eventually keel over from exhaustion in 1978 after 28 releases, only to be unsuccessfully revived in 1992), meaning that it hadn’t yet descended into (and even beyond) the smutty seaside-postcard brand of humour on which it would become increasingly reliant in the 1970s.
Kenneth Williams (Make Mine Mink) leads the cast of Carry on Spying, and if you’re not into his highly camp nature and nasal delivery you’re in for a long haul because he seems to have ramped up both of those aspects of his performance, as if he’s trying to be a grotesque parody of himself. He plays Desmond Simkins, a clueless secret agent who is given the task of retrieving a stolen formula by his boss (Eric Barker – The Great St. Trinian’s Train Robbery) simply because there’s nobody else available to do it. Simkins is given a trio of raw recruits to aid him in his task: Harold Crump (Bernard Cribbins – Blackball), an eager but nervous young recruit, Daphne Honeybutt (Barbara Windsor, making her belated entry amongst the cast regulars), a bubbly blonde with a photographic memory, and Charlie Bind (the inimitable Charles Hawtrey – Carry On Cabby).
This quartet’s ineptitude is surpassed only by their enthusiasm for their mission as they wander the world in search of the missing formula, pitching up first in Vienna (giving writers Talbot Rothwell and Sid Colin the opportunity to lampoon The Third Man), and then Algiers. The progress of the mission is charted by a series of mishaps arising entirely out of their incompetence, most of which somehow conspire to aid our heroes in their search, even though they keep handing the document on which the formula is written back to the bad guys without realising it is the subject of their quest.
The formula was stolen by Milchmann (Victor Maddern – I Was Monty’s Double), who we see at the beginning of the movie casually sauntering unchallenged into an intelligence unit disguised as a milkman in order to steal it. Exactly what the formula is for is never clearly explained, but it falls into the hands of the double-crossing Fat Man (Eric Pohlmann – Anastasia), and the novice agents’ farcical attempts to relieve him of it eventually requires Daphne and Harold to disguise themselves as belly dancers (come on — it wouldn’t be a Carry on movie without a man dressed as a woman at some point in the proceedings). While there’s nothing wrong with seeing the curvaceous 27-year-old Barbara Windsor crammed into one of those skimpy outfits, the sight of Cribbins’ belly quivering gracelessly as he attempts the moves is one that more discriminating viewers might wish to avoid. Once the agents finally get their hands on the formula and destroy it, they find themselves pursued by the agents of STENCH (the Society for the Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans) who plan to retrieve the details from Daphne’s photographic memory.
Although Carry on Spying lacks the presence of Sid James, who for many people is the physical embodiment of the whole series, it’s still a strong entry in the series which manages to provide a number of laughs, despite suffering from a weak ending. Fellow regulars Kenneth Connor and Joan Sims are also absent, but Jim Dale (Carry On Cabby) continues his own mission of climbing the cast list, playing a suave Bond-like agent whose solo attempts to recover the formula are repeatedly thwarted by the novice agents’ antics. And familiar British stalwarts such as Eric Barker, Richard Wattis (The Great St. Trinian’s Train Robbery) and Dilys Laye are also on hand to lend a level of comic class to this Carry On which would eventually be irredeemably diminished by the producers’ increasing preoccupation with boobs and juvenile innuendo.
(Reviewed 21st January 2014)