The Atomic Submarine

Year: 1959

Director: Spencer Gordon Bennet

Stars: Arthur Franz, Dick Foran, Brett Halsey

I’ve been going through a retro-sci-fi kick recently, and the other night selected this relatively unknown movie from the back end of the fifties.

The Atomic Submarine cashed in on the two big ‘sciencey’ things dominating the American psyche at the time: space aliens and all things nuclear. It tells the story of a US Navy submarine’s mission under the polar ice cap to solve the mysterious and tragic disappearances of ships and submarines in the region. Of course, the sub is atomic-powered and the ships are being destroyed by a submerged alien spaceship. and of course in the end it’s Humans 1, Aliens 0. However, that just tells half the story.

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There’s almost as much focus on relationships and personal tensions as there is on defeating the alien bent on colonizing the planet. There’s a pacifist among the war-mongers, there are scientists and soldiers, there are those who value life and those for whom fallen colleagues are simply ‘fortunes of war’.

All that having been said, it’s a shame that the acting is so wooden and the scenery so bland. Because there’s a good plot here, discussing principles of war and peace better than most other films of the age managed.

The Runaway Bus

Year: 1954

Director: Val Guest

Stars: Frankie Howerd, Margaret Rutherford, Petula Clark

A lovely little character-driven farce, with plenty of slapstick and lots of little twists.

As southern England lies fog-bound, a handful of passengers leave Heathrow Airport by coach bound for Blackbushe Airport and a chance of getting their flight to Dublin. All is not what it seems with them, however, as the bus holds £200,000 in stolen bullion, and someone on board is the villain!

There’s a quaintness about the movie, from its views of a very pre-commercialised Heathrow Airport to the mixture of passengers, including a pulp-thriller addict who somehow fails to see the tense plot unwrapping before her very eyes.

Frankie Howerd plays the unwitting, unassuming driver, and as such provides most of the comedy moments as he tried to unpick the plot. He was apparently cautious about breaking into film, and only agreed to do it so he could work with Margaret Rutherford. Rutherford plays a bossy academic with her usual aplomb, and a very young Petula Clark shines as the stewardess assigned to look after the passengers.

 

Carry On Constable

Year: 1959
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Williams, Leslie Philips, Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, Eric Barker, Shirley Eaton

Carry On Constable has distinct shades of the first film in the series, Carry On Sergeant, in that a bunch of hapless, hopeless new recruits need to be pulled into shape by a world-weary, put-upon Sergeant. In this case (as the title suggests) it’s the police force rather than the army that provides the setting from which the old jokes get launched.

However, Constable really marks a turning point in the (at the time) fledgeling series. This fourth outing marks the first time where the stereotypical characters are so obviously present – Charles Hawtrey reprises his Private Golightly role as the effeminate, harmless SPC Gorse, Kenneth Williams’ Constable Benson is the slightly camp, very superior intellectual that he played in all three of the previous outings, Leslie Phillips is the womanising loafer that blessed Carry On Nurse so well, and Hattie Jacques manages to show a little humanity in the soul of the ‘matronly’ role of Sergeant Moon.

The other key element in Constable, of course, is that it marked the first appearance of Sid James. As Sergeant Wilkins, it’s his job to be frustrated by the ineptitude of his recruits, and confounded by the attentions of his superior (once again played by the great Eric Barker).

It’s pretty standard early Carry On fare – you know there’s going to be some catastrophies, you know there’s going to be a successful ending, and you know more than anything that there’s going to be some sort of drag act somewhere in the plot. But that’s fine, because that’s really what Carry On is generally all about – the comfort of knowing that you’re visiting a well-loved family member, and your visit will entertain and satisfy. Carry On’s are the comfort-food of the British film-viewing public: they know what’s on offer, and they know they will enjoy it. Constable is no different – it does exactly what it says on the DVD box……

Carry On Nurse

Year: 1959
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Shirley Eaton, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Hattie Jacques, Joan Sims, Leslie Phillips, Charles Hawtrey, Bill Owen, Terence Longdon

Hard on the heels of Carry On Sergeant, the second outing for the Carry On team placed them in a hospital – a setting that would become the most familiar theme throughout the entire series, with no fewer than four films being based around activities in a hospital. In Carry On Doctor the medical staff were incompetent and the patients revolting; in Carry On Matron the staff were lecherous and the patients were all pregnant; and in Carry On Again Doctor the staff were out to make a quick killing with their ‘fountain of youth’ formula. Carry On Nurse takes us back to a more sedate age, where the patients were patient, the nurses were beautiful, and Matron was in charge.

When he gets hospitalised for an appendectomy, local reporter Ted York (Terence Longdon) finds himself writing about all the other inmates – there’s bookish Oliver Reckitt (a very young Kenneth Williams); boxing star Bernie Bishop (Kenneth Connor) and working man Percy Hickson (Bill Owen). These are easy to diagnose, but others, such as Charles Hawtrey’s Mr Hinton, are not.

York can’t focus well on his writing, however, as he’s immediately smitten by Nurse Denton (Shirley Eaton at her finest). And he’s joined by the arrival of Leslie Phillips’s Jack Bell (“Ding Dong!”), adding more flirting to the mix.

The nurses are all rushed off their feet, and this isn’t helped by The Colonel (Wilfrid Hyde-White) constantly buzzing from his private room – usually because he wants Mick the porter to place a bet for him. All is silenced however, during Matron’s rounds.

As the film progresses, Bell is more and more desperate to get out, especially as he has a holiday planned with his current target, played by June Whitfield. If he doesn’t have his operation, he’ll miss his chance with her.

And when the Bunion removal gets postponed one more time, he manages (with the help of some smuggled champagne) to convince his drunken fellow-patients to cut it off for him……..

Norman Hudis’s early screenplays only hinted at the double entendres of those that would be so well written by Talbot Rothwell. But he had some flashes of comic genius, and some jokes that, for their time, were bordering on being cut out. The one that is most remembered from this movie is actually the very last scene, where the nurses are getting their own back on The Colonel once and for all – only for Matron to walk in and see The Colonel lying face down, having his temperature taken with a daffodil!

Carry On Sergeant

Year: 1958
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: William Hartnell, Shirley Eaton, Bob Monkhouse, Kenneth Williams, Eric Barker, Bill Owen, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor, Hattie Jacques, Dora Bryan

Back in Britain in the fifties, National Service came to all men. It came to Charlie Sage (Bob Monkhouse) during his wedding reception.

And so, along with a host of other misfits, he found himself the next day sharing a bedroom with thirty other men, instead of with his new bride Mary (the very lovely Shirley Eaton). Amongst the new recruits are Kenneth Connor’s Horace Strong, a hypochondriac who is anything but strong – in mind or body; Charles Hawtrey’s Peter Golightly, a man so innocent he wouldn’t even admit to having been to the toilet; James Bailey (Kenneth Williams) who is less than impressed with the intelligence of his new colleagues; and Norman Rossington as Herbert Brown, still trying to pass basic training at his fifteenth attempt.

In command of this motley group is Sergeant Grimshawe (William Hartnell), for whom this intake of recruits will be his last platoon before retirement. And he’s never achieved the one thing he craves – Champion Platoon. After a bet with his fellow NCOs, he’s looking for a worthy last-ever platoon, and gets lumbered with the worst bunch he’s ever known!

Whilst Grimshawe tries to whip them into shape – a task not easy when the person awarding the prize is the strict Captain Potts (Eric Barker) – there’s love in the air, as newly-wed Mary gets a job in the Barracks kitchen to be near her husband, and Horace Strong becomes the target for man-eater Norah (Dora Bryan).

This gentle introduction to Carry On falls well into the typical 1950s British Comedy film genre, with a few hints at the sauciness to follow. The cast perform their roles with style and energy, and the jokes are easy on the brain. There’s also a minor role for Terry Scott, who would go on to exclipse so many of the leads in the Carry On firmament.

Overall, the film reminds us of a time where you had to know stuff, rather than just be able to google it on your phone, and where you had to rely on the people around you and work hard for what you wanted. It’s a world that you can so easily slip into.

It’s certainly far easier to watch Carry On Sergeant than something like Stripes, which pretty much tells the same story (but far more coarsely) and then goes all gung-ho USA on us. Stick to this film, and you’ll do fine.