Director: Gerald Thomas
Cast: Bob Monkhouse, William Hartnell, Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Williams, Shirley Eaton, Dora Bryan, Eric Barker
Plot: A retiring Sergeant (Hartnell) has a £50 bet that his troop will be the Champion Platoon, only to discover he has been assigned a group of idiots.
The Carry On films are one of the pinnacles of British comedy, a band of comedians who brought out film after film, covering every genre they could think to get their hands on and bringing it down to their level of comedy, mainly slapstick jokes and the occasional ‘ooh-err’ at the thought of a female. Here, we see it in its initial form, Carry On before the team had thought of Carry On. The title is merely a one-off gag, no one realising it was a brand name at this point in time. While familiar faces hover (Williams and Hawtrey feature), there is no sign of other popular faces like Sid James or Barbara Windsor. As a result, Carry On Sergeant is Carry On at half speed, only a portion of the beloved charm present, although it does act as a pleasant exploratory watch just to see where it all started.
The set-up is a simple one, as is best with this form of comedy. William Hartnell (yes, Carry On started with Doctor Who, folks), is a year away from retirement, training up his last regiment of soldiers. While he speaks of wanting to send out his final troop as the best of their year out of pride, the truth is that there is a secret fifty pound bet in the works. To his horror, he walks in and sees his hardest challenge yet waiting for him. Bob Monkhouse, due to a clerical oversight, has been shipped off to the army on his wedding day, meaning he has his head in the clouds and a wife who is determined to spend her wedding night with him, even if it means breaking into the camp. Kenneth Connor is the hypochondriac, convinced he is unfit for duty, despite his doctor’s best efforts. Terrified of physical work, expectant of sudden heart failure at any given turn, he is a sergeant’s worse nightmare. The rest of the regiment are hardly any better. One cadet consistently fails the test year after year, another is an upper class dandy and one of them is Kenneth Williams. Carry On Sergeant proceeds to be a sketch show where these bumbling fools are put through military test after military test, failing in amusing and entertaining ways. The result is a slightly flat one. Carry On Sergeant comes across as horrifically dated, killing a lot of the jokes. There are several neat set-ups that are one punchline away from that sucker punch of a gag the writers have in mind. A few opening scenes hover awkwardly, the joke they used not quite as amusing as someone thought they were. The characters are well-written, each actor using their comfort zones as precisely-crafted tools, but they are missing a few decent set-ups. One recruit is mocked for having a guitar and proceeds to simply fill the room, bringing nothing to the story, not even a joke. Sadly, the most you will get from this film is a few chuckles. It brings a smile to your face, mainly because of Charles Hawtrey’s terrific Private Golightly, but these days, that’s not really enough to earn a recommendation.
Final Verdict: The first Carry On lacks the punch the later films muster up. Amusing, but really only worth a watch to satisfy curiosity at the series as a whole.