Director: Gerald Thomas
Cast: Kenneth Williams, Terence Longdon, Kenneth Connor, Joan Sims, Shirley Eaton, Leslie Phillips, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques, Wilfrid Hyde-White
Plot: A reporter (Longdon), an intellectual (Williams) and a boxer (Connor) spend time bedridden in a chaotic hospital ward.
The Carry On films are a staple of British movie culture. While some try to ignore our bawdy comedy origins, where a group of actors and writers teamed up an incredible 31 times to deliver low budget comedies, following the same style of jokes and featuring a handful of stock character types, it is a part of our culture and one that must be explored. Carry On Nurse is the second of the series, following on from the original Carry On Sergeant. The first one didn’t quite hit the expectations modern viewers would have had for it, the series of half steam, not quite coming up with the foundation for their material yet.
Carry On Nurse starts off in a similar enough style. We are given a totally different scenario for jokes. In the last movie, we were shown a boot camp lead by William Hartnell’s gruff sergeant. In this one, we are in a hospital ward, where the patients are trapped in their rooms, watched over by the vigilant nurses. The setting might be totally different, but the similarities are ever-present. Both films filled their set-ups with oddball characters and madcap sketches. Here we are shown a reporter who is using his case of appendicitis to investigate the hospital, a brainy patient has a crush on his friend’s sister who keeps visiting him on his friend’s behalf and a boxer is denying the fact he needs to be there. Around them the nurses have their own issues, lorded over by a domineering matron. These plot points all intertwine when Leslie Phillips’ late-arrival wants to push along his surgery, so he can slip away with a sex-filled week with his fiancée, who ropes the other patients into taking back the hospital. It is a promising pitch for a movie and Carry On Nurse is argued to be the entry that made the series as strong a movement as it eventually became. Sadly, as far as this critic can tell, there is still a long way to go before we hit the solid ones. There is still a sense of Carry On Nurse only being half as good as it has the potential to be. The same flaws that plagued Carry On Sergeant are still present. There is a sense of a narrative on hand here, but it is never more than a vapid excuse to get things into motion. It isn’t structured enough, so the film, as Carry On Sergeant did, plays out like an excuse to put some sketches on the big screen. The gags float in and out, not quite flowing as neatly as they must have looked like they did on paper. They are also not as funny as they want to be. To be bluntly truthful, Carry On Nurse is nowhere near as cheeky as Carry On films are known to be. It is a tricky tightrope to walk, the sexual innuendos needing to come across as tasteful yet audacious. There needs to be a sense of “oh my god, they can’t get away with that!”. Sadly, there is far too much restraint with Carry On Nurse. This is fairly easy to say for a modern viewer who is used to the gross-out gags of American Pie or the kind of Judd Apatow film that just shoves a naked girl on the screen as clear as day. Is it fair to call a sex comedy too prudish when I have been too openly subjected to movies with few boundaries? That being said, the truth is that the best jokes just aren’t as funny as they need to be. There was a lot of hype upon this movie’s release where a daffodil is used like a thermometer in a rectal exam. However, there is far too much restraint shown with this joke, so there is such a small swell of cheekiness that the joke might as well not been told. This is the total opposite feeling of what you would expect from a Carry On film.
That being said, Carry On Nurse does come across as an improvement on Carry On Sergeant. By this rational, we should expect a gradual climb of quality, rather than an overnight change of tone. There is just enough narrative to tie the ending together, while Carry On Sergeant felt like an aimless sketch show from start to finish. The actors are also very strong in this one around. Kenneth Williams remains the most motivated player, this time given a more central character to show off with. His comic timing is excellent and he always mesmerises when he is on-screen, which is especially inspiring when he doesn’t have as solid a script as the future entries to help him here. There is also an important appearance from Hattie Jacques as the Matron. The Matron will grow into one of Jacques’ most prominent roles in later Carry On films and here she proves why. Her Matron, while never the same character shares enough traits to make her come across as a familiar sight, doesn’t quite have the three-dimensional writing as later offerings (most iconically Carry On Matron – it is named after her, after all), but in Carry On Nurse, her caricature comes across as the Matron in her most simplistic form, a battleaxe patrolling the halls of the hospital, spreading fear wherever she goes. In fact, Carry On Nurse is a much better outing for the women in general. The army base setting made them all but non-existent in the previous entry. Yes, they are still unashamedly there for the sex appeal, Shirley Eaton’s job to be eye candy for the audience. There is too much mileage in the lead characters getting a sponge bath, not to bring up the awkward sexual tension in the air. However, it isn’t as jarring as it could have been, mainly because the women are written strongly enough to avoid the pitfalls. Yes, the nameless female character might wear a short nurse’s uniform, but when it is the men clumsily falling to their feet at the very sight of it, it is hard to see the woman in question as the weak figure in this scene. There are also more jokes gifted to them than ones concerning the male gaze, so it might be a part of their characters, but it isn’t all their characters. One nurse gets a strong gag, where she is told to watch over a sleeping patient and proceeds to stare unblinkingly at him for the next two hours. There is also the first Carry On appearance from Joan Sims, one of the stronger faces in the Carry On franchise. She is instantly a fan favourite, feisty, adorable and funny, with her clumsy antics and sharp joke delivery. It creates a strong sense of an ensemble that isn’t just relying on one player, but every cast member individually. And that is what a Carry On film is supposed to be.
Final Verdict: Carry On Nurse is still slightly dated and not quite as strong as you want it to be, but it is more thrilling than before, suggesting an uphill climb to the better stuff.