Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Carry on Legacy - Carry On Sergeant (1958)

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Proving that even great institutions have modest beginnings, Carry On Sergeant (d. Gerald Thomas, 1958), the first film in the Carry On series, started out as little more than an attempt to cash in on the huge success of the ITV sitcom The Army Game (1957-1961). The TV series was so popular that it had already led to its own movie spin-off, I Only Arsked!(d. Montgomery Tully, 1958). Producer Peter Rogers even went so far as to recruit two of the series' leading cast members, Charles Hawtrey andWilliam Hartnell as the titular sergeant. Hartnell, in any event, was only playing a comic variation on a character he had first portrayed in the classic wartime film The Way Ahead (d. Carol Reed, 1944).

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Carry On Sergeant, loosely based on story material by the popular novelist and playwright R.F. Delderfield, was shot over a period of six weeks at Pinewood Studios and on location at the Queen's Barracks in Stoughton, Surrey, on a meagre budget of £ 74,000. The actors were paid a few hundred pounds each, but a number of them would return in many of the subsequent Carry On comedies, including Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor, Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams.

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Although the film was a big box office hit, it is in many respects anomalous when compared with the later titles, particularly its romantic subplots and occasional sentimentality. Even the vaguely risqué story of a pair of newlyweds desperately trying to celebrate their wedding night is dispensed with surprisingly early on, in favour of fairly traditional service comedy high jinks. None the less, it introduces in embryonic form many of the themes and characters that would recur throughout the series, while many of the comic set pieces, such as Kenneth Connor's relentless medical examinations and the various training disasters, are still funny and confidently handled.



Published by


Volume 25, No.296, September 1958, page 112


Training Sgt. Grimshawe accepts a bet that his last platoon of National Servicemen before he retires will pass out as Star Squad. His hopes are dashed when he meets the recruits. As training proceeds each recruit makes his own contribution to the chaos, but on the eve of the passing-out parade, impressed by Grimshawe's relatively gentle methods, they decide to retrieve their reputation. To their own and the Sergeant's surprise they win the Star Squad award.

The professional skill of William Hartnell and Dora Bryan lends some reality and humour to this conventional farce, in which all the characters come from stock. Carry On, Sergeant is a traditionally English mixture of old farcical situations, well-worn jokes, and comic postcard characters. Charles Hawtrey, as a weedy incompetent, and Kenneth Williams, as a condescending intellectual, provide some genuine laughs. The rest of the humour is either overdone or half-baked.

The Monthly Film Bulletin was published by the British Film Institute between 1934 and 1991. Initially aimed at distributors and exhibitors as well as filmgoers, it carried reviews and details of all UK film releases. In 1991, the Bulletin was absorbed by Sight and Sound magazine.

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