Friday, 22 July 2011

The Carry On Legacy - Carry on Cowboy (1965)

Stodge City is in the grip of the Rumpo Kid and his gang. Mistaken identity again takes a hand as a "sanitary engineer" (plumber) by the name of Marshal P. Knutt is mistaken for a law marshal! Being the conscientious sort, Marshal tries to help the town get rid of Rumpo, and a showdown is inevitable. Marshal has two aids - revenge-seeking Annie Oakley and his sanitary expertise...
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After the historical panto that was Carry On Cleo (d. Gerald Thomas, 1964), the next in the series plays things comparatively straight. Carry On Cowboy (d. Gerald Thomas, 1965) begins traditionally, with a ballad sung over the title credits, in the style of those heard in such classic Westerns as High Noon (US, d. Fred Zinnemann, 1952) and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (US, d. John Sturges, 1957), accompanying shots of a cowboy riding the plains (actually Chobham Common in Surrey). When he arrives at Stodge City, the camera follows him up the main street until he has to face three gunmen. It is only then that we see that the rider is actually Sid James, playing The Rumpo Kid. After shooting all three he muses, "I wonder what they wanted?"
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This sets the tone perfectly for a traditional Western story which includes an Indian attack on a stagecoach, cattle rustling and a climactic shootout, but which also casts Kenneth Williams as the Mayor, Judge Burke, Charles Hawtrey as an Indian Chief and Joan Sims as Belle, the saloon Madam ("My intimate friends call me Ding Dong").
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Although the British Western has antecedents stretching as far back as the early days of silent cinema, the film was plainly inspired by such comedies as the Bob Hope vehicle The Paleface (US, d. Norman Z. McLeod, 1948) and The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (US, d. Raoul Walsh, 1958), in which Kenneth More plays an Englishman in the Wild West. In both films, bumbling heroes are mistaken for crack-shots while the real sharpshooters are their female companions. Carry On Cowboy reuses this plot, although giving Stodge City an underground sewer for the High Noon inspired finale is its own wonderfully implausible invention.
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Ironically, it was the standing sets from The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw that Sergio Leone used for A Fistful of Dollars (1964), the success of which ushered in the Spaghetti Western and effectively killed off the traditional Hollywood genre that the Carry On team so lovingly parodied.
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Published by


Volume 33, No.386, March 1966, pages 41-2


Stodge City is a quiet town run by the puritanical Judge Burke until the arrival of the Rumpo Kid, a desperado who takes up with the saloon proprietress, Belle, and kills the deaf and short-sighted Sheriff. With Rumpo in full control of the town, Burke contacts Washington for a U.S. Marshal to be sent to deal with the situation, but by mistake a certain Marshall P. Knutt, a sanitary engineer, is sent to do the job. Marshall's fellow-traveller on the stagecoach is Annie Oakley, a sharpshootress who is actually the Sheriff's daughter out to avenge the murder of her father. When Rumpo learns that a Marshal is on the way, he concludes a deal with Indian chief Big Heap, and his son Little Heap, for the stage to be attacked, but the plan misfires and Marshall arrives in Stodge City a hero, unaware that it was Annie who did all the shooting. When Annie learns that it was Rumpo who killed her father, she invites him to her bedroom where she has rigged up a lethal trap. Rumpo is delayed, and it is his luckless accomplice Charlie the Barman who is killed. It is only after he has suffered the indignity of riding out of town with his boys that Rumpo learns that Marshall is not a real Marshal. He sends a message that he will return for a high noon gun duel. None of the townsfolk will help, but Marshall determines to face Rumpo and his gang. Annie loves Marshall and wants to help, but is forced to reveal the truth about her shooting prowess. Marshall asks her to teach him to shoot in two hours, and faces Rumpo and co. by using the town's drainage system as cover. Rumpo's boys are felled one by one, but he himself is rescued by the loving Belle. But Marshall has restored peace to Stodge City and has found himself a sweetheart in Annie.

The introductory scenes make a neat enough send-up of traditional Western routines, situations and dialogue, with a cast largely made up of Carry On regulars. Subsequently there are some quite clever and amusing ideas, but an even heavier than usual reliance on outrageous puns and not particularly subtle double entendres. This, in fact, is the nearest-the-knuckle of the series, and some of the gags make the "A" certificate eminently reasonable.

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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