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Film Title

Carry On Sergeant

Director

Gerald Thomas

Starring

  • William Hartnell as Sergeant Grimshaw
  • Bob Monkhouse as Charlie Sage
  • Kenneth Connor as Horace Strong
  • Kenneth Williams as James Bailey
  • Charles Hawtrey as Peter Golightly
  • Bill Owen as Corporal Copping
  • Eric Barker as Captain Potts
  • Terence Longdon as Miles Heywood
  • Hattie Jacques as Captain Clark
  • Shirley Eaton as Mary Sage
  • Dora Bryan as Nora

The first in what would become a long-running franchise and British institution, Carry on Sergeant gives us a good starting point that introduces many of the key players in the series to us and has laughs a plenty. It’s not quite the bawdy movie that many if the later films were, but Sergeant provides you with an amusing story that delights in its own funny way. Let the Carry On Bonanza begin!

Sergeant Grimshaw is retiring from the army, but wants to win in the platoon championship before he hangs his boots up. He bets another officer £50 that he can win platoon of the year and sign off his career with a good swan song. His hopes quickly dip when he sees who is in his squad for National Service, many of whom take inept go a new level. There is handsome Charlie Sage, who is much aggrieved to be called up to service on his wedding day; weedy hypochondriac Horace Strong; smarmy and educated James Bailey; clumsy and effeminate Peter Golightly and upper class dandy Miles Heywood. With his second in command helping him, Grimshaw has his work cut out for him. Many pratfalls and mistakes befall them as Grimshaw tries to sign off with dignity and win that bet. He fears that this group will be a disaster and almost resigns himself to the fact that they won’t win. It’s here that the seemingly hopeless recruits decide to buck up and give it their best shot, out of a growing respect for the Sergeant. Meanwhile, Charlie’s wife Mary sneaks into the barracks with hopes of having a proper wedding night, and Horace is pursued by a volunteer named Nora.

Gerald Thomas, who would direct every one of the Carry On movies, has the right, light touch for the humour and performances to take off. He never calls attention to technical areas or showy camerawork, his focus is on the comedy which is delivered splendidly. Sergeant lacks the naughty edge and staples of latter films of the franchise, but it still gives you plenty of laughs with some hilarious set pieces. Among them are the accidental spraying of officers with fire extinguishers, repeated attempts to improve the group that often go pear-shaped and especially various imagined maladies and paranoia of Horace. The send up of the army and National Service is well done, managing to lampoon a respected organisation without demeaning it or completely tearing it to shreds. All in all, it’s a perfectly pleasant and harmless way to spend an hour and a bit. Good humour, great antics of the slapstick and farcical variety and the guarantee to leave you smiling is what you get. What may surprise many however is the fact that the humour is largely innocent here. Sure there is the odd instance of innuendo, but it’s mainly the antics of the inept squad that get the most laughs. And the ending of Sergeant does feature a bit of pathos, which is often a rarity in these films but fits here excellently. The lack of bawdiness is noticeable, but the humour is pretty fun throughout and will raise quite a lot of smiles and laughs from you( unless you have a heart of stone that is.) Some of it is obviously going to be dated given that it’s an old movie, but it’s hard to fault humour and laughs from an amiable cast. A lively score is another welcome addition to the speedy pace of the film and fits the calamities that transpire.

Of course to get laughs and humour to register, you need a good cast. Carry On Sergeant has just that, with various members later becoming staples in the long series. Heading proceedings is a dignified William Hartnell, whose interpretation of the retiring eponymous sergeant is the right blend of firmness and hidden caring. He’s a strict leader, yet not a horrible person despite his misgivings of the team. Bob Monkhouse is pretty good as the head in the clouds recruit, whose primary objective is to have a special night as man and wife with his new bride. Kenneth Connor stands out the most with a hilarious performance as the paranoid hypochondriac and ironically named Horace Strong. Constantly fretting about literally everything he encounters, he elicits pity, sympathy and laughs. Just watching him get worried at the sight of physical practice is enough to have you rolling on the floor. Two other longstanding stalwarts of the franchise are successful as the bumbling and overly gentle Golightly and the scholarly, know it all Bailey. The two men are Charles Hawtrey and Kenneth Williams, who steal many scenes they are in. Bill Owen and Eric Barker shine as officers of different ranks, but both who are concerned and more than a little amused by the spectacle before them. Terence Longdon doesn’t have the biggest or most interesting part, but still has fun playing the ladies man. Hattie Jacques is suitably no-nonsense as the army doctor, who grows impatient with Horace’s many visits to her. Shirley Eaton is the glamour and beauty of the picture, while we have Dora Bryan playing a daffy, wide-eyed woman who falls for the unlikely Horace.

The debut Carry on movie, Sergeant doesn’t have the some of same formula as the rest, mainly in terms of naughty shenanigans. But that shouldn’t detract as the cast( of whom many would return in future entries) and the easy humour of the piece make Carry on Sergeant. And if anything, we have the success of this film to thank for the creation of a much beloved film series.

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