When it’s on: Sunday, 26 August (2.05 pm)
I’m flabbergasted! My gast has never been so flabbered!
The 1970s are seen as a downturn for the fortunes of the Carry On franchise, with the humour becoming courser and the budgets tighter. Considering it’s a film that simultaneously parodies all of Tarzan, Hammer’s prehistoric output and Mogambo, the sets created for Carry On Up the Jungle were done on the cheap. With considerably less invested in the project than the series’ high point, Carry On Follow that Camel (a significant portion of which went on Phil Silvers’s wages), any possibility of filming on location was abandoned for interior sets at Pinewood, and it shows. Jim Dale (not at all happy with being offered the role of Ugh, the Jungle Boy) and Kenneth Williams (filming The Kenneth Williams Show) were unavailable, and that shows too.
All of which said, with so many plot strands crammed into the sub-90 minute running time and the usual quickfire gagsmithery from Talbot Rothwell, it’s very entertaining stuff and never gets dull. Frankie Howerd fills in for Williams as Professor Inigo Tingle, an ornithologist who’s in Africa with his assistant, Chumley (Kenneth Connors). Sid James is their grizzled guide, Bill Boosey, and along for the ride is expedition investor Lady Evelyn Bagley (Joan Sims) and her maidservant, June (Jacki Piper). Boosey employs the obligatory team of African retainers, led by Bernard Bresslaw in black face. On the way, they have encounters with jungle creatures (largely culled from stock footage, along with a bloke running around in a gorilla suit), a jungle native (Terry Scott) who takes a shine to June and has some long lost connection to Lady Bagley, ferocious tribes and a tribe of Amazonian women, led by Valerie Leon.
The jokes – mainly knob gags – come thick and fast, along with moments of mild nudity. Bresslaw was required to speak gibberish as his communication with the other Africans, but actually took the time to learn the Ndebele dialect; in an unfortunate comic twist, no one understood him as the actors playing his fellow retainers were from the West Indies. It sounds good anyway, though presumably the exchanges with Boosey – ‘Nikka Nookie’ – is wholly made up. Scott and Piper have a surprisingly touching subplot as the romantically involved ‘Tarzan and Jane’, Scott emerging as pretty funny in a part that requires him to grunt nonsensically, clamber around in nothing more than a loincloth whilst possessing a 40-something’s stocky build. George of the Jungle he is not, though the later film did rip off his talent at flying along vines and straight into tree trunks.
It starts to lose its way a little once Leon’s female tribe enters the action, mainly because the antics of James, Sims, Howerd and all have been such good fun (especially the latter, who brings his usual verbal tics and ‘Please yourselves’ remarks to bear). The action suddenly becomes much bawdier, though there’s a brilliant build-up to Tonka, the tribe’s chief and sole male member, talked of as a legendary lover, who turns out to be none other than Charles Hawtrey.
Other elements to recommend include Eric Rogers’s frantic score, drawing on drumbeats, tribal chants and at times becoming fairly epic. Indeed it’s the latter moments that undermine the film as an ultimately cheap exercise, though it’s never less than fun and moves at a sufficiently whip-cracking pace to keep eyes from focusing on the cost-cutting methods.
Carry On Up the Jungle: ***