Director: Gerald Thomas
Cast: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Dilys Lane, Liz Fraser, Lance Percival
Plot: A cautious captain (James) becomes nervous when five of his staff are replaced at short notice before a cruise voyage.
Carry On Cruising is a notable early entry in the Carry On series for a handful of reasons. The easiest to spot is that the fact that suddenly the series has colour. The setting of a cruise ship feels a fitting opening for the first colour-image motion picture from the team, the bright blue of the ocean making a fine backdrop for the story. There is also a more vivid detail to the actors’ faces, adding to some of the realism. Sid James’ look of tired disappointment feels much more vibrant when we can see the frown lines on his face in finer detail. It is a big jump towards making the Carry On films feel more sleek and professional.
There are a few differences to the cast line up as well. Two heavy players in the regular team are absent. Joan Sims was taken ill four days before filming and replaced under tight short notice by Dilys Lane. While Sims is a comic talent that is sorely missed, when you have a series that is so threatened by routine, it makes for a surprisingly pleasant change to see what another actor can do with a stock role. Dilys Lane plays one of the passengers of the cruise ship, looking for a fitting husband. Her role in the movie, of course, makes up for a lot of awkward stammering and faux-pas. On one hand, it is a shame that Sims isn’t handling the awkward flirting role that is usually saved for the men of the team; she would have surely have made a lot out of the material. But Lane is a strong substitute, especially paired with the quite lovely Liz Fraser, taking part in some delightful set-pieces. One strong moment sees her faint and wake up in the arms of the medical doctor, Kenneth Connor, leading to an awkward misunderstanding. With Sims the amusing joke may have seemed like business as usual, but Dilys Lane’s involvement masks the fact that we have sort of been here before. The other missing player is Charles Hawtrey. Hawtrey fell out with the producers due to his billing in the cast list, believing himself to be the veteran comedy actor of the group. To put him in his place, the team replaced him with Lance Percival. Percival only made the one Carry On film and, perhaps his understudy duties aren’t quite as smooth as Lane’s, but he hardly ruins the film. Playing the oddball chef, perhaps not enough material is the ruining of the character (suggesting a sharp edit around scenes that Percival just couldn’t get), his role not entirely gelling with the rest of the script. Hawtrey would be back on Carry On duties in the next film, only slightly being missed here. Perhaps, once again, it is a good thing, because these cast shifts shake up the routine formula nicely.
Perhaps not nicely enough. Exhaustion is definitely settling into the Carry On films’ bones now. This is yet another film with a random career thrown into the title and the same gags being played out. Each actor tries his hand at the job with various mishaps. Kenneth Williams will play some variant of Kenneth Williams. Kenneth Connor will be Kenneth Connor. And yes, they are doing their jobs well, but it means that Carry On films tend to rely on the luck of the draw. And Carry On Cruising is bizarrely tame in terms of set-pieces. There are only a few grand moments that echo that delightful Carry On style. The rest of the movie tends to be sharp writing and witty banter between the team. On one hand, it is rather funny (“What is afoot?” “That thing on the end of your leg!”), but it doesn’t quite make for a strong movie. As a result, this movie gets surprisingly tame, none of the characters quite as useless as they usually are and the jokes more jovial, than calamitous. On the bright side, this does mark the first time the female actors leave a film stronger than the men. Bravo!
Final Verdict: Carry On Cruising is helped by some new faces, but hampered by a surprisingly tame script.