Once Upon a Time in a Carry on West
When the Rumpo Kid (Sid James - Carry on Cleo) shows up in Stodge City and kills Sheriff Albert Earp (Jon Pertwee) it spells doom as the Rumpo Kid along with busty saloon owner Belle Armitage (Joan Sims) start running things. But having written the governor asking for a replacement Judge Burke (Kenneth Williams - Carry on Spying) is thrilled when Marshal P. Knutt (Jim Dale - Carry on Jack) shows up in town, except he discovers that Marshal is Knutt's name not his position and in fact he is a sanitation engineer. Never the less Knutt takes the job of Sheriff and with the help of the delightful Annie Oakley (Angela Douglas) sets about cleaning up Stodge City and stopping The Rumpo Kid from his tyrannical ways.
In 1958 there was a comedy western called "The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw" which was about an English gentleman who rolls into the Wild West and through a matter of mistaken identity and confusion ends up becoming sheriff of a troubled town. It was like a better made version of a "Carry On" movie and even featured future Carry on cast member Sid James in a small role as a drunk. Ironically 8 years later in 1966 the "Carry On" team ventured to the wild west, or at least a part of the UK which could pass for the wild west, and gave us their own "Carry On" western with "Carry on Cowboy".
Now "Carry on Cowboy" is a lot of fun and the simple reason why is that it parodies the western genre and takes a recognizable storyline to have fun with rather than just trying to entertain with barely connected set piece. Yes that storyline of mistaken identity and confusion as sanitation engineer Marshal P. Knutt finds himself installed as the sheriff of Stodge City maybe used in countless other western comedies but it works especially in the hands of the "Carry On" team. It allows the writers to draw in as many cliches as possible and embellish them to hilarious proportions from Sid James evil gunslinger The Rumpo Kid through to the weasely Mayor of Stodge City, Judge Burke played with plenty of pompous energy by Kenneth Williams. As such you can guess the outcome of "Carry on Cowboy" right away but it doesn't matter as it serves up plenty of fun.
And what adds to "Carry on Cowboy" is that whilst there is the expected sexual innuendo it takes a bit of back seat to the slapstick and the parodying of western cliches. Watching Annie Oakley trying to teach the inept Marshal P. Knutt to handle a gun is pure comedy thanks to the wonderful Jim Dale who makes every nervous slip of the gun amusing. And watching Peter Butterworth as Doc fill the background with his quirky mannerisms is scene stealing and very much in the style of the great Thomas Mitchell who brought so much comedy to the great westerns. As for that sexual innuendo well Joan Sims as busty saloon owner Belle Armitage delivers plenty of obvious but amusing one liners as she flirts with Sid James who seems so at home as The Rumpo Kid. I could go on because quite frankly the comedy in "Carry on Cowboy" is some of the best in the whole series with obvious but very funny jokes.
But the biggest reason as to why for me "Carry on Cowboy" is one of the best in the series is that all of those regular "Carry On" stars such as Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Charles Hawtrey and those who made their "Carry On" debuts such as Bernard Bresslaw and Peter Butterworth were clearly having great fun playing western characters. Joan Sims seems to love every second of playing the busty saloon owner, delivering every single line with a delightful touch of the Mae West, whilst Sid James seems to be getting a kick out of playing The Rumpo Kid, delivering comic menace to perfection. But it is Jim Dale and Angela Douglas who steal the movie from everyone working so well together but also separately especially Jim Dale whose coming timing and nervous awkwardness is at its best here.
What this all boils down to is that for me "Carry on Cowboy" is one of my favourite "Carry On" movies. It is simply pure all round fun from the parodying of western cliches through to the enthusiastic performances of all of the "Carry on" stars. And with it actually having a proper storyline of mistaken identity and confusion it all has a purpose rather than just ending up a series of sketches.
Tags: Carry On Movies