*. Don’t Lose Your Head is the thirteenth movie starring the Carry On troupe. It doesn’t have a Carry On title, like Carry On the Revolution or Carry on Chopping (a line Kenneth Williams’s Citizen Camembert cries out to the guillotine) because this was the first of the movies to be produced by Rank and thy weren’t sure they had the rights to the prefix. This movie and the next (Follow That Camel) are thus the only two films in the series without Carry On in the title.
*. The story here is set during the French Revolution, with Sid James playing a Scarlet Pimpernel character going by the name of the Black Fingernail. Names are always good for a groan in a Carry On movie. The bad guys here are Citizens Camembert and Bidet. Groan, groan.
*. The setting is the only thing that sets one Carry On movie apart from any other. They may be set in the jungle, or the Sahara, or in Ancient Rome, but all that changes are the costumes. The company fit into stock roles, as they pretty much do here. Charles Hawtrey is flaming, though this time apparently heterosexual. Sid James is the raffish Cockney hero, Jim Dale is the handsome young hero, Joan Sims is loud and bosomy, Kenneth Williams is uptight and anal, Peter Butterworth is Sancho Panza.
*. The comedy is the same too. There’s not a lot of physical humour, or funny situations that involve complex plotting. Instead the humour all comes out of the fast-paced, ribald banter full of sexual innuendo and double entendres. That’s it. That’s really all there is to a Carry On movie.
*. Does it hold up? Surely what was risqué in the 1960s must seem pretty tame today. Well, you’d think so, but at one point Sir Rodney Ffing (with two “f”s) is asked by a society lady what charity his fancy ball is being thrown for and he replies “SFA.” She responds “Oh come on, it must be in aid of something.” He then explains that SFA stands for Stranded French Aristocrats. I was surprised by this joke, at least if I understand it correctly. I didn’t think SFA was that widely used as an acronym for “sweet fuck all” in 1966. But what else could have been meant?
*. Aside from little points like this though, most of the risky jokes are just groan material. But then I suspect people were groaning at it sixty years ago. And groan humour has its charm. Oddly enough, it’s the very inoffensiveness of this stuff that makes it so enjoyable today. I remember watching these movies on TV when I was a kid decades ago and I think I like them just as much today. So can I say they’ve aged? There’s something here that’s timeless in a way that the comedy of Mel Brooks isn’t, and I was thinking of Brooks’s History of the World quite a bit while watching Don’t Lose Your Head, as there are more than a few similarities.
*. If it’s a typical Carry On movie, is it a good Carry On movie? There are decent production values (Rank probably wanted to make a splash), but I find the action takes over in the final third of the movie, when there’s nothing very funny going on. Jim Dale’s Darcy character also has nothing to do for pretty much the entire picture.
*. These are basic structural problems though, for a series of films that never cared that much for such big-picture considerations. A Carry On movie is meant to be a delivery vehicle for lewd jokes and that’s it. There’s no point overthinking them.