*. Ugh. I’ve said before that the historical Carry On movies tend to be better than those with contemporary settings, and that’s certainly the case here. But by 1971 the series was feeling really played out anyway, and I don’t think they could have visited Cleopatra or gone up the Khyber and had a better movie. The previous film, Carry On Henry VIII, had been a period piece and it was lousy in its own way. Still, this is an especially terrible entry, mainly because of its tone-deaf topicality.
*. Right from the opening credits, which appear on a roll of toilet paper, we lower our expectations. The setting is a toilet manufacturer, so is this just going to be a movie full of bog jokes? Luckily, no. Or maybe they would have been better off if it had been.
*. The owner of the plant is named W. C. Boggs. Other family names include Plummer and Spanner. Despite all the forced larfs, things are not happy at the factory, with the union striking every week or so over some petty grievance. And here we have the place where the movie really goes off the rails.
*. Apparently the idea here was to do a Carry On version of I’m All Right Jack, a movie about similar union shenanigans that came out in 1959. In 1971 labour issues hadn’t reached the level they would during the so-called Winter of Discontent (1978-79) but they were heading in a bad direction. I remarked in my notes on Hoffa how that movie was a real throwback in its depiction of the early Teamster movement as a heroic struggle for workers’ rights. In England things had been going downhill for years before Thatcher took over.
*. As an aside, I’m not sure why this is. I’ve been a member of several unions, and while they certainly have their downside I think it’s better to be in one than not. But for whatever reason, and corporate propaganda would be near the top of the list, people and political parties turned against them in a big way. Today, outside of the public sector, they are vanishingly rare.
*. Carry On at Your Convenience very much picks a side in this struggle, and does so in a ham-handed and unfunny manner (or, in the measured understatement of Richard O’Callaghan on the DVD commentary, “they did seem a little bit biased”). Vic Spanner (Kenneth Cope), the union shop steward, is an arrogant (read: Bolshie) loser who just wants to go on strike so he can watch football. He’s lazy and carries around a little book of union rules that the boss likens to toilet paper and, when followed literally, shut the plant down. Meanwhile, everyone else just “wants to do an honest day’s work”! Sure enough, Spanner will get his comeuppance, losing his girlfriend to the son of the factory owner (O’Callaghan) and getting beaten up multiple times before finally being thrown over his mother’s lap and given a good spanking. Now carry on working! (the film’s original title). Yay!
*. O’Callaghan mentions on the commentary that the Carry On movies he did (I think he was only in two) “lasted longer than anything else I’ve made.” And it’s true that these films have had a cultish afterlife — a cult O’Callaghan attributes not to a specific film but to the series or genre. Still, by this point they were burnt out. I don’t think Carry On at Your Convenience has lasted.
*. This was the first of the Carry On movies to lose money on its theatrical run, only breaking even years later after selling television rights. Some of this was attributed to its being Conservative propaganda when the Carry On audience was predominantly working class and pro-union. Even more of it though can be put down to the fact that it just isn’t funny.
*. Near the beginning there’s a union meeting where Cope, Sid James, and Joan Sims engage in the usual ribald innuendo and everyone else roars with laughter at every line. It’s like a laugh track, which isn’t something they’d relied on a lot in earlier films. Indeed, throughout the movie many lines are delivered with cackles and laughter. Nothing says tired desperation in comedy so much as laughing at your own jokes, and in this movie they do it a lot.
*. So: poor material and bad politics. Crudity that hasn’t aged well (these were the day when slapping a bird on the ass would only get you a playful look and the admonition “Saucy!”). One oddly melancholy scene between James and Sims as they go back to their lives of monogamous suburban misery after an outing at Brighton. Even, or especially, for fans this is one you should miss.