There was no greater divide between audiences and critics in Britain than the long-running comedy “Carry On” series (outside of an occasional satirical bulls-eye like Carry On Up the Khyber (1968). And a similar gulf existed between the type of audiences the movies attracted in Britain and those in America. In Britain they were vastly popular general releases while in America their usual habitat was the arthouse as if they were seen as the natural successors to the Ealing comedies. And there was a third chasm – between the endearing risqué early comedies and the more lascivious later versions.
Carry On Nurse fell into the endearing camp. The humor was gentle rather than forced, the emphasis on misunderstanding and innuendo and smooth seducers like Leslie Phillips rather than exposed female flesh and the grasping likes of the ever-chortling Sid James. Perhaps you could define this earlier film as pre-nasal Kenneth Williams, his peculiar type of delivery not yet at full throttle. Here there is innocence rather than lust and the males quake in fear not just of the indomitable Hattie Jacques in brusque matron mode but of the other efficient nurses led by Shirley Eaton who have the measure of their rather hapless patients, although student nurse Joan Sims – making her series debut – is an accident-prone soul.
The action is mostly confined to a male ward. There are plenty of gags – alarms rung by mistake, boiling catheters burned to a turn, medication making a patient go wild, patients intoxicated by laughing gas and the famous replacement of a rectal thermometer by a daffodil. Wilfred Hyde-White as a constant complainer and obsessive radio listener Charles Hawtrey provide further ongoing amusement.
But the thrust of the story is romance. Journalist Terence Longdon fancies Shirley Eaton but his initial advances are spurned as she is in love with a doctor. In a role far removed from his later brazen characters, Williams plays a shy intellectual who finally comes round to the charms of Jill Ireland (later wife of Charles Bronson). Although Leslie Phillips is his usual suave self, he makes no designs on the female staff since he has a girlfriend elsewhere and his ailment – a bunion on the bum – makes him an unlikely candidate for a hospital liaison.
Hattie Jacques is in imperious form, Shirley Eaton shows what she is capable of, Kenneth Williams playing against type is a revelation.
The story of how Carry On Nurse unexpectedly conquered America is told tomorrow in “Follow that Nurse.”
Note: by and large this blog follows American release dates so although Carry On Nurse was shown in Britain in 1959 it did not reach America until 1960.
Many of the films made in the 1960s are now available free-to-view on a variety of television channels and on Youtube but if you’ve got no luck there, then here’s the DVD.
I caught this at my local arthouse a few days ago and it made me realise that big screen pristine prints have a way of making a movie pop and reminding you that movies were not meant for the constrictions of a DVD screen. It’s a trope to say everything is bigger on the big screen, but a classic like this is practically bursting at the seams, Jack Lemmon fizzes with energy, and you cannot take your eyes off Marilyn Monroe, nor any part of her, given her skin-tight (and Oscar-winning) outfits that must have given the censor conniptions.
Not surprisingly, there’s a lot more detail to notice, but what is revelatory is how detailed that detail sometimes is. There’s a tiny scene at the beginning of George Raft as gangster Spats closing a steel folding concertina door and you can see he is actually trying to make it close not pretending to do so. Attention to detail is what makes this picture sing. And there’s nothing more carefully constructed than the story. Sure, you can easily come up with some kind of mumbo-jumbo to make two guys cross-dress. But how to make it believable rather than pantomime? Easy enough to make them look like women and sound like women – but how to make them emotionally convincing? And to shift the story away from the obvious – fear of being found out.
Maybe you’re not familiar with the story so here’s the nutshell – two musicians having witnessed the St Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 dress up as women and hide out in an all-female band headed for Miami. There, Tony Curtis falls for Marilyn Monroe while Jack Lemmon finds himself/herself an object of lust from millionaire Joe E. Brown. Inevitably, they are rumbled, and they have to make the decision to keep on running or stay put.
The musicians hide out in an all-female band because if they try and hide anywhere else they will be easily caught. The female personalities they adopt are totally at odds with their male characteristics. Curtis, the womanising chancer, willing to risk everything on a horse, turns into a soft-spoken rather snooty woman lending a sympathetic ear to loser-in-love Monroe. And while admittedly this is originally for ulterior motives, it initiates a complete character change. Being a woman liberates Lemmon from his over-cautious male nature and he/she has a blast. Feminists turn away now, but Lemmon get so into his new identity that he appreciates being wooed and spoiled and shrieks with pure joy at the prospect of getting married. Curtis, meanwhile, has a third identity to play to fulfil Monroe’s fantasy of falling for a harmless intellectual be-spectacled playboy complete with Cary Grant mannerisms.
And there are two versions of Monroe on show, the sexy showgirl and the sweet and tender lass. This is the final twist. In every Monroe movie under the sun she is the object of desire. Here, she is the one who has to make the running. In the end, everyone has to give up their fantasies and settle for reality – except for Joe E. Brown who does not care if he is marrying a man, “nobody’s perfect,” he snaps in one of the greatest last lines. So it’s a master class in character development.
But it’s also as funny as hell. And that’s without going down the route of easy laughs. The script – developed over a year by director Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, 1944) and co-conspirator I.A.L. Diamond – is a cracker and visual gags abound. There’s plenty of humour from the gender switch – Monroe cosying up to Ms Lemmon, Lemmon having his/her ass pinched, an over-confident bellboy making a pitch for Ms Curtis. And while Raft’s henchmen are straight from Stereotype Central, director Billy Wilder pays homage to the gangster greats – the idea for a minor character with a penchant for flipping coins lifted form a trick Raft himself used in Scarface (1931), the gangland supremo is Little Bonaparte instead of Little Caesar (1931), and Raft comes close to apeing Cagney in Public Enemy (1931) when he is tempted to squash a grapefruit into a confederate’s face..
You want exuberance, here it is in spades. Lemmon has turned the volume up to eleven, Joe E. Brown is continually on twelve, Monroe belts out a couple of great songs and if there was any limit on sexiness she breaks those barriers. And yet it is counterbalanced by Curtis’s myopic millionaire and the little-girl-lost Monroe. The kissing scene between Curtis and Monroe is so finely nuanced that you cannot help but be swept up in its innocence.
Curtis, who had just emerged from the Universal beefcake cocoon to gain more peer acceptance after his Oscar-nominated turn in The Defiant Ones (1958), did not quite gain the credit he deserved for his triple role, but Lemmon, who was Oscar-nominated, saw his career take off while Monroe, with a percentage of the gross, made a killing.
Of course, even such a genius as Wilder didn’t get everything right first time out. The original cast was meant to be Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra and Mitzi Gaynor. Go figure!
Catch it on the big screen: OCT 2-4 Gilson Cafe & Cinema, Winsted, CT, USA; OCT 6 Broadway Center, Salt Lake City, USA; OCT 13 Odeon St Michel, Paris, France; OCT 20 Folkbiografen, Hovmantorp, Sweden; OCT 22-NOV 18 LAB111, Amsterdam, Netherlands; OCT 25-OCT 27 CGV Apgujeong, Seoul, South Korea; and NOV 13 Astor Film Lounge, Koln, Germany. Contact distributor Park Circus on email@example.com for details of further showings.
If you’re not lucky enough to live in any of these cities, your best bet is DVD.
Confession time! I never saw either of Bill and Ted’s previous outings nor the animated series for that matter and in truth had there been the usual choice of new movies to see – other than a slim pandemic ration – I might well have skipped this one. The good news is that I come with no preconceptions. I’m not overloaded with sequelitis, I’m not in a position to compare new with old.
So I was surprised how much I enjoyed this very amiable comedy. It makes no bones about the unintelligibility of the sci-fi side of things, no mind-bending required to find out how it is all meant to work. Shades of the BBC’s Dr Who series, the boys just hop into a telephone buy and dial up the future. you know from the outset that the scientific mumbo-jumbo is just that and there’s a running gag when someone tries to explain it, which goes over the heads of our heroes.
The plot, if you’re unfamiliar with it, has the pair dashing back and forth time-wise, meeting their future selves, in a bid to pull together the one tune that will save the universe while their daughters nip back in time in an effort to put together the best band of all time – Mozart, Jimi Hendrix and Louis Armstrong – are dragged into the combo. Bill and Ted – or Dim and Dimmer if you want to be more accurate – do little more than look stunned by developments. But I take my hat off to still under-rated Keanu Reeves for reprising his comedic character after nearly two decades of building up a meaty portfolio of action (Speed, John Wick) and more substantial sci-fi (Johnny Mnemonic, The Matrix) roles as well as a string of romantic (A Walk in the Clouds, Sweet November) and dramatic (The Replacements, Hardball) parts. Alex Winter’s career hardly matches that of Reeves, but they are a good pairing.
Perhaps gender-conscious sensibilities conspired to the pairs sons from the previous movie turning into the goofy daughters they are currently saddled with. A good twist, I thought, for the kids to take after their dads rather than their more sensible mothers. I found myself laughing out loud at several sections even when they had already been highlights of the trailer, such as the couple counselling and Death (William Sadler) cheating at hopscotch. I liked the guilt-ridden killer robot. There is even some character development, though nothing that would trouble the likes of Shakespeare.
I saw this last night on the big screen at my local Odeon. It’s streaming in the United States.
I’ve never gone out of my way to watch a Doris Day picture with the exception of musical Calamity Jane (1953) when it became a camp classic as well as Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and films where she happened to be co-starring with Cary Grant.
So I came to The Glass Bottom Boat with low expectations, especially as this was towards the end of her two-decade career and co-star Rod Taylor was a different level of star to Grant and Rock Hudson. By now, she had dropped the musical and dramatic string to her bow and concentrated on churning out romantic comedies and also been supplanted by Julie Andrews as Hollywood’s favourite cute star.
But on the evidence here I can certainly see her attraction. This is entertaining enough. And she sings – the theme song, one other and a riff on one of her most famous tunes “Que Sera Sera.” Unless there’s a symbolism I’ve missed, the title is misleading since the boat only appears in the opening section to perform the obligatory meet-cute with Taylor as a fishermen hooking Day’s mermaid costume.
The plot is on the preposterous side, Day suspected as a spy infiltrating Taylor’s aerospace research operation. It’s partly a James Bond spoof – when her dog is called Vladimir you can see where the movie is headed – with all sorts of crazy gadgets. But mostly the plot serves to illustrate Day’s substantial gifts as a comedienne. For an actress at the top of her game, she is never worried about looking foolish.
And that’s part of her appeal. She may look sophisticated even when, as here, playing an ordinary public relations girl, but turns clumsy and uncoordinated at the first scent of comedic opportunity. There’s some decent slapstick and pratfalls and some pretty good visual gags especially the one involving a soda water siphon. A chase scene is particularly inventive and there’s a runaway boat that pays dividends. But there are a couple of effective dramatic moments too, emotional beats, when the romance untangles.
She’s in safe hands, director Frank Tashlin responsible for Son of Paleface (1952) and The Girl Can’t Help It (1956). I also felt Taylor was both under-rated and under-used, never given much to do onscreen except stick out a chiseled jaw and turn on the charm. Although he had been Day’s sparring partner in her previous picture Do Not Disturb (1965) he’s not in the Cary Grant-Rock Hudson league.
It’s also worth remembering that the actress had her own production company, Arwin, which put together over a dozen of her pictures, including this one, so she would be playing to her strengths rather than those of her co-star. On the bonus side, watch out for a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo by Robert Vaughn (The Man from Uncle), a featured role by Dom DeLuise as a bumbling spy and, in a bit part as a neighbour, silent screen comedienne Mabel Normand.
Stars rarely get to choose when they want to retire. Usually, the phone stops ringing, or they slide down the credits until no one can remember who they once were, or they end up in terrible international co-productions, or like Tyrone Power (Solomon and Sheba) they die on the job or, like Spencer Tracy, because of it.
Cary Grant, on the other hand, went out at the top, or near enough, after a string of box office winners, including this one, throughout the Sixties. If you are more generally familiar with Grant through Hitchcock thrillers or Charade, you might have forgotten his comedy expertise. He was a master of the double take and the startled expression – and he needs that here in what is sometimes a pretty funny farce.
The set-up is peculiar. Grant is a businessman landing in Tokyo two days before the 1964 Olympic Games with nowhere to stay and ends up sleeping on the couch of Samantha Eggar and later sharing his room with Jim Hutton, an athlete equally lacking in the forward planning department. (Excluding the Olympics, of course, the film has a similar concept to The More the Merrier, 1943).
There’s no great plot and no great need for one. Grant’s main purpose is to play Cupid to Hutton and Eggar and steer her stuffy fiancé out of their way. But it says a lot for Grant’s talent that not much plot is required. He is just so deft, whether he is playing top dog or being beaten at his own game by a rather resilient Hutton.
Eggar is Doris Day-lite, but Hutton is a revelation, not the dour dog of later The Hellfighters (1968) and The Green Berets (1968), but showing true comedic talent, especially in quick-fire verbal duels with Grant. There is only a wee bit of stereotype, overmuch bowing mainly and a Russian shot-putter, but some other Japanese customs are more interesting, yellow flags to cross the road, for example.
There are a couple of brilliant visual gags, one involving trousers, another with Grant getting locked out of the apartment, and a terrific payoff in a Japanese restaurant. Except for thrillers, Grant did not need great directors, he knew comedy inside out and here the accomplished Charles Walters (High Society, 1956) has the sense to let him get on with it.
Grant was 62 when the film appeared so quite rightly delegates romance to Hutton, which is a shame because his (non-romantic) interaction with the pernickety Eggar (she and fiance equally matched in this department) carries all the Grant romantic hallmarks. Instead, he ensures that romance between Hutton and Eggar runs its true course, which while that is satisfying enough, is a bit like removing John Wayne from the final shootout in a western. Oh, and there is a reason for the Olympic Games setting.
Somewhere between SBIG (So Bad It’s Good) and WAL (Worth a Look), The Wrong Box is a black comedy in the wrong directorial hands.
Better known for thriller Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) and POW drama King Rat (1965) Bryan Forbes struggles to bring enough comedy into the proceedings or to wring sufficient laughs out of what he has. Neither the wit nor the slapstick is sharp enough. But it does exhibit a certain charm.
Essentially an inheritance story, it pivots on the notion that the two potential inheritors are on their last legs and putting one (Ralph Richardson) out of action will benefit the dastardly nephews (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) of the sole survivor (John Mills). It turns out Richardson is not dead. That does not cue as much hilarity as it should.
Surprisingly, the film relies on affecting performances from Michael Caine, playing against type as a gentle soul, and Nanette Newman as a young woman terrified of being murdered, who enjoy a very innocent romance. Hitherto, I had been rather sniffy about Ms Newman, but here she is delightful. Ralph Richardson steals the movie as a dotty pedant, weighted down with erudition and a knack, equally, for boring the pants off anyone within earshot and for escaping from the jaws of death including a massive train pile-up and several murderous attempts by Mills.
Cook and Moore let the show down by being so obviously just themselves but there is a nice cameo from Peter Sellers as an inebriated doctor.
Michael Caine got it spot-on when pointing out in his autobiography that it was a “gentle success in most places except Britain” precisely because to foreigners it represented an acceptably stereotypical view of a country full of eccentrics while to Brits it was all too stereotypical. So if you’re from America or other points global you might like it and if you are British you might not. On the other hand, the score by John Barry is one of his best with a wonderful theme tune.
POSTCRIPT. Just to back up Caine’s assertion, I pulled out the Pressbook from my stack and it goes heavy on critical praise. Newsweek said: “As funny and sunny a movie as any audience could ask for.” From the New York Times came: “so fantastic and explosive it virtually pops right out of the screen! A crazy, merry tale that tumbles somewhere between black humor and elegant, uninhibited camp.” The New York Post thought it was “a beautifully designed elaborate spoof,” while as far as the New York Daily Post was concerned it was “a laugh a minute.”