A&E // 1975 // 325 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 16th, 2004
"This is your guide, Richard Darcy...known to the natives as Elephant Dick."
All English humor is good, right? It's all Blackadders and Absolutely Fabulouses, correct? Even if entities like To the Manor Born and Keeping Up Appearances teeter over into tedium occasionally, the Brit wit is still intact and active, true? Now there are some people who feel that, when it comes to feeble foolishness replete with ridiculously sexist attitudes, no one can top Benny Hill in the degenerate disgrace department. John Cleese has even been known to call him "sad." Now, by all accounts, Hill was no genius. Sure, he had a way with bawdy broad (*wink*) humor, recycling gags that were so old they sported immense muttonchops. No one ever mentions him in the same frame of reference with other sketch comedy giants of the UK, like Monty Python's Flying Circus or The Goon Show. At best, he's a genial goof, a burlesque throwback to T&A anarchy more than willing to substitute a leer for a clever line and a double take for a subtle satire. But when compared to Carry On Laughing, a short-lived British comedy series from the mid-'70s (based on the Carry On films so popular in the UK for nearly 40 years), Hill is the Algonquin Round Table of raunchy. Compared to this insipid sex comedy, Benny's the Neil Simon of salaciousness.
Carry On Laughing is just abysmal. This pun-filled, triple entendre-laced lewd bit of sloppy slapstick sets back the causes of gender equity, political correctness, and clever English humor about a half-dozen centuries, to a time when the Pendragons panted like Pekingese over the notion of naughty knickers. Using the costume drama as a basis for their balderdash, and adding in enough heaving bosom and ripping bodice to wet nurse an underdeveloped nation, the cast of crack witty Brits try to instill some semblance of jocularity into what is regularly the most misguided of amusements. Think that's an exaggeration? Just look at the descriptions of the episodes offered here and see how many times your funny bone achieves wicked wood status:
* "The Prisoner of Spenda"
Someone is trying to kill the Crown Prince of Pluritania, so it's time to locate a lookalike -- in this case, a visiting British tourist on his honeymoon.
* "The Baron Outlook"
Hoping to escape capture, Sir Gaston de Lyon disguises himself as his page Marie. Unfortunately, she is captured and sent to the worst castle prison in England.
* "The Sobbing Cavalier"
It's all-out war between Oliver Cromwell and the Crown. Lovelace the Cavalier must fight for whatever side is winning, or lose his head in the process.
* "Orgy and Bess"
Sir Francis Drake is called up by Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, to defend her nation against Archduke Ferdinand and the warring factions of Spain.
* "One in the Eye for Harold"
With the Battle of Hastings looming, King Harold sends for his "secret weapon," hoping that it will defeat the Duke of Normandy, who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the unknown item.
* "The Nine Old Cobblers"
It's time for the local variety show, but when a dead body turns up, the festivities are spoiled. That is, until Lord Peter Flimsey and his faithful servant Punter show up to solve the crime.
* "Under the Round Table"
Arthur is having a hard time keeping his unruly knights in line. Seems they are only in it for the money and women, and the King can't convince them to fight for their country.
* "The Case of the Screaming Winkles"
When a guest at a local inn dies after eating poisoned seafood, Lord Peter Flimsey and Punter are hot on the case. It turns out to be a little more complicated than they originally thought.
* "And In My Lady's Chamber"
Sir Henry Bludgeon-Plunger is a lonely old man looking for affection. As luck would have it, a randy old gal from his past, now a wealthy widow, moves in next door.
* "Short Knight, Long Daze"
When Arthur's treasurer steals his money, the King must find a way to save his kingdom. The answer comes in the form of a chaste man of infinite virtue. He will save Camelot. His name? Lancelot.
* "The Case of the Coughing Parrot"
When a mummy turns up missing, Lord Peter and Punter are yet again called into action. It turns out that there may be more to this Egyptian stiff than meets the eye.
* "Who Needs Kitchener?"
Sir Henry's household is up in arms when World War I is announced. Too bad the maids have joined the suffragette movement and a new footman seems oddly "Germanic."
* "Lamp Posts of the Empire"
The famous explorer Stanley is sent to Africa to find the long-lost Dr. Pavingstone. Turns out the good doctor likes living in the jungle and has been cursed with a monkey's tail.
Okay, the review will continue when you've finished laughing, sewn up your splitting sides, and wiped the tears of delirium from your eyes.
The thirteen episodes in the Carry On Laughing box set represent some of the worst British comedy ever created. Attempting to capture the saucy spirit of the movies and genre on which the series was based, and even featuring several of the frisky familiar faces from the films, one would anticipate a risqué, ribald offering. Instead, Carry On Laughing is so limp and flaccid that several dozen oysters, a bushel of asparagus, and enough Levitra to choke a choc-ice couldn't get it up and going. Sagging granny strippers giving lap dances to comatose castrati are more likely to excite and entice than the randy retardation offered on this hoary old show.
Carry On Laughing makes Three's Company seem like Shakespeare, finds a way to convert burlesque into innovative inspiration, and turns the classic '70s turd Love, American Style into virtual hardcore porn. The level of humor incorporated throughout the show is illustrated in the sad joke names -- Lord Peter Wimsey is turned into "Flimsey," faithful servant Bunter is called "Punter" (not quite up to the level of Biggus Dickus and Incontinentia Buttocks, huh?) -- entendres that can't even move to the left of the decimal point and stupid, straightforward ways of describing sex ("having it off" and "getting" it off are the usual sad suspects). You know you're in trouble when the tit -- that mainstay of crude, rude humor -- fails to generate a single serious series giggle. Carry On Laughing is like a Quakers' version of classic French farce, with all the nookie and nudge-nudge taken out.
The best moments here -- which is a lot like saying the least moldy parts of this nearly spoiled Cheddar cheesefest -- revolve around the literary spoof of said famed English detective Lord Peter Wimsey (Dorothy Sayers should be spinning in her writing shed) and his ultra-complicated claptrap cases. While so weak on chuckles that even the laugh track struggles to snicker, at least the actors breathe a little life into their roles. There is also a recurring King Arthur sketch, and an almost acceptable spoof of the master/servant, Upstairs/Downstairs genre, but only the class warfare comes close to generating any real entertainment value (and that's only because Barbara Windsor is a literal scream as the sex-crazed Lottie). The other acting name worth mentioning is Sid James. Apparently quite the star back in Anglo-Saxon land, Master James does have the dirty old man persona down to a perverted pleasure. But he is given nothing to work with...nothing new, that is. Indeed, the problem with most of Carry On Laughing is that someone has already done the majority of this material before...and a billion times better. You can't help but wonder why Willie Clark and Al Lewis aren't part of the ensemble. The subtle sound you hear in the background during every episode of Carry On Laughing is the ghost of laughing dinosaurs, doubled over in lizard-like belly-busting bemusement, wondering why, after all these eons, the show is still so fresh and funny. Perhaps if you too were as old as water, you'd enjoy this bland buffoonery. But most modern members of the real world will prefer Benny Hill sticking his bum out for a crocodile to bite on.
At least A&E does the series proud by providing a quality audio and video presentation. The 1.33:1 transfer looks very nice and the amount of aggravating artifacting (flaring, bleeding, and the like) is minimal. Sure, the shows are also rather colorless, seemingly taking the earthtone tendencies of the Me Decade a little too seriously. But overall, the image is vibrant and the details crystal clear. The same can be said for the sonic attributes. Though there is nothing special in the mono mix that's part of the Dolby Digital Stereo offering, the dialogue and musical cues are all easily understood.
Sadly, A&E doesn't put forward a single extra feature to explain or describe the purpose behind this package. You have to bring your own interest and understanding of the Carry On genre to appreciate anything going on here. And you'd be advised to bring your own gags as well. Indeed, perhaps the only way to enjoy Carry On Laughing is MST3K style. Making up your own riffs and tossing out your own quips would be far superior to the failed funniness and anti-absurdity offered by this lousy Londonium lickspittle. So unless you find aged actors and actresses smirking at each other whenever somebody mentions underwear the pinnacle of professional ha-ha, go grab a complete season set of Yes, Minister and remember why Britain still stakes a claim to clever comedy. Carry On Laughing offers no such evidence.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Carry On Online