Friday, 20 May 2011

The Carry On Legacy - Carry on Cleo: 1964

Although designed as a send-up of the historical epics that proliferated throughout the 1960s, Carry On Cleo more directly parodies the notoriously extravagant Hollywood blockbuster Cleopatra (UK/US, 1963). But the decision to lampoon this particular movie was made partly for practical reasons. Its star Elizabeth Taylor had originally insisted that Cleopatra be shot in the UK. However, after enormous delays the production relocated to Italy, leaving behind many unused costumes, props and sets in storage at Pinewood Studios, home of the Carry On films.

Carry On Cleo
Carry On Cleo
Carry On Cleo

The film wittily contrasts the splendour of Ancient Rome with the prehistoric Britons dwelling in caves, with Kenneth Connor cast as Hengist Pod, inventor of the square wheel. In one of the film's most inspired sequences, Pod and his neighbour Horsa (played by Jim Dale) are captured and taken to Rome to be sold at a slave market run by the family firm, Marcus et Spencius. Splitting the focus between the honourable slaves and the dissolute Romans was a ploy derived from Quo Vadis (US, 1951) and Ben Hur (US, 1959), but also recalls the hit 1963 West End comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum, in which Frankie Howerd played a slave in ancient Rome and in which Connor was still appearing during the filming.

Carry On Cleo
Carry On Cleo
Carry On Cleo
Although this is the Carry On film in which Sid James first comes to the fore, Amanda Barrie sparkles as a coquettish Cleopatra, while Kenneth Williams is a very eccentric Julius Caesar. Williams and James' regular greeting - "Tony!", "Julie!" - is priceless, while Talbot Rothwell's script is replete with cod schoolboy Latin (one of the best has Sid James deliver an exasperated "Blimus!"), a plethora of puns and ingratiatingly daft lines. Particularly effective is the deadpan narration delivered by E.V.H. Emmett, known for thirty years as the voice of the Gaumont Britishnewsreel.

Carry On Cleo
Carry On Cleo
Carry On CleoCarry On Cleo

THE

MONTHLY FILM BULLETIN

Published by

THE BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE

Volume 32, No.373, February 1965, page 24

CARRY ON CLEO (1964)

In ancient Britain, square-wheel-maker Hengist Pod is among those captured by the Roman forces of Mark Antony and taken to Rome where he is sold in the slave market. He and his friend Horsa manage to escape and find refuge in a temple where they are welcomed with open arms by the sex-starved Vestal Virgins. Sought by troops, Horsa does mighty deeds with his sword before making his escape. Left behind, the weak-kneed Pod is thought to be the valiant warrior who has saved the life of Caesar, and the latter promptly appoints him his bodyguard. Thus Pod becomes the fear of all - except Mark Antony, who guesses the truth. Caesar sends Mark Antony to Alexandria with instructions to dispose of Cleopatra and instal Ptolemy on the throne of Egypt. But Cleo and Mark hit it off so well together that Mark disposes of Ptolemy instead and, returning to Rome, induces Caesar to visit Cleo with the intention of assassinating him. The conspiracy collapses in unexpected but lively fashion, with Pod once again getting credit where no credit is due. Hengist Pod is able to return with his friend Horsa to Britain where (thanks to a love philtre which was the property of Cleo) his shrewish wife finds him a completely changed man.

"Based on an idea by William Shakespeare", runs the legend immediately following the script credit, which suggests a level of wit never quite reached by this latest and pictorially most ambitious of the "Carry On" series. In fact the film is funny in the usual bludgeoning manner which has made the series so popular: the punning aspects of, for instance, slave auctioneer Marcus and his business partner Spencius, the lavatory jokes and the occasional blue line that one wonders if the censor noticed. Most of the players have their moments, although these are perhaps too few for some old stalwarts like Joan Sims. Amanda Barrie, however, as a comically suburban Cleo makes a worthy addition to the team.


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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