Film review Jason Day of Carry On…Up the Khyber, the sixteenth entry in the long-running British comedy series which sends up adventures such as those written by Rudyard Kipling. Starring Sid James and Kenneth Williams.
To like this post, comment on it or follow this blog, please scroll to the bottom. Use the search function on the left of the screen to look for other reviews and updates.
Imperial India, 1890: Whilst observing diplomatic niceties, the British Governor of Kalibar Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond (Sid James) and Kalibar’s legitimate but powerless ruler the Khasi (Kenneth Williams) secretly loathe each other.
When the wimpish Private Widdle (Charles Hawtrey), a solder in the Third Foot and Mouth regiment, famed across the region for their terrifying habit of wearing nothing under their kilts, is discovered to be wearing underpants, a major political incident that could threaten British rule in Kalibar must be averted.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
Not all Carry On films, famous for their seaside postcard humour, were as bad as each other. A handful, in fact, were hugely funny with a sharp ear for cracking one-liners and mercilessly silly stories and characters.
Their success was due in no small part (snigger!) to the puntastic efforts of screenwriter Talbot Rothwell whose skills at working the most innocent of English words and phrases into giggle-inducing double entendres was overshadowed by his later lapse into more obvious, sexually overt coarseness and crudity.
For me, I think the Best Punning in a Carry On Award should go to …Don’t Lose Your Head (1966), the French Revolution farce, but Khyber is still up there in the pantheon of classic Carry On‘s.
Here, he manages to stay on the right side of the line even as Butterworth’s evangelical minister gives way to his baser urges in a harem and lusts after an excessively bejewelled delight:
God made me to save fallen women…save me the one with the big earrings!
(NB: for those not up on cockney rhyming slang, Khyber relates to Khyber Pass…arse).
…Up the Khyber is one of the best of the series and the public of 1968 agreed; it was the second most popular film at the UK box office that year.
The British Empire had been dead for more than 20 years since India’s independence, but that system was long overdue a good roasting.
There are plenty of sly-digs at this and British politics throughout. As Sir Sidney notes:
What’s needed is some top-level, diplomatic bluff – the kind of thing that made our Empire what it is.
Bringing things more up to date and relevant during our present era of austerity, the Khasi says of the ‘dead of a thousand cuts’ execution method:
Don’t worry, the British are used to cuts!
Near to the wonderfully contrived conclusion, Roy Castle (in his only Carry On, as the romantic lead), James and Julian Holloway argue about how best to deal with the marauding Indian’s, hellbent on capturing the Governor’s House:
James: Captain, we’re British, we’re not going to do anything.
Holloway: Until its too late
James: Gentlemen, as usual, we will carry on as if nothing is going to happen.
With all this and the Union Jack shown fluttering proudly at the end with the slogan “I’m backing Britain!”, perhaps this should be reissued across Europe and help raise a few laughs as we descend into Brexit flimflammery.
The best line in the movie, however, goes to Joan Sims during those final sequences as the Khasi bombs the Governor’s House. As James’ tipsy cockney wife she declares, as masonry falls on her: “I seem to have got a little plastered!”
Despite this tangy dialogue, these films can grate on modern, more politically and ethnically aware audiences.
Williams and Bresslaw are ‘boot polished’ to resemble Indians, something not quite as offensive as Al Jolson blacked-up in The Jazz Singer (1927), but perhaps that explains why a theatrical rerelease should probably be forgotten.
Scott is a red-faced, puffed-up delight as Hawtrey’s most senior officer, whose belligerence is matched only by his commitment to duty but the whole cast are fully ‘up for it’ and without fault.
Cast & credits
Director: Gerald Thomas. 1hr 28mins (88mins). The Rank Organisation/Peter Rogers Productions. (PG)
Producer: Peter Rogers.
Writer: Talbot Rothwell.
Camera: Ernest Steward.
Music: Eric Rogers.
Sets: Alex Vetchinsky.
Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Roy Castle, Joan Sims, Peter Butterworth, Terry Scott, Angela Douglas, Cardew Robinson, Julian Holloway.