“ Genre: Comedy / Theatrical Release: 1992 / Parental Guidance / Director: Gerald Thomas / Actors: Leslie Phillips, Jon Pertwee, Richard Wilson, Keith Allen, Nigel Planer ... / DVD released 2007-01-08 at Warner Home Video / Features of the DVD: PAL „
It's the end of an era, this review bringing to a close the 30-film British comedy marathon I've been subjecting myself to since August 2008.
With the Carry Ons grinding to a halt in 1978, for "...Columbus" it was like a doctor coming along and applying a defribulator only to have the patient immediately flatline - this film was neither a success nor a piece of required movie making.
By '92, most of the series' leading stars were dead - gone were Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey and Hattie Jacques - so ageing director Gerald Thomas and producer Peter Rogers looked to established TV comedians including "Young Ones" stars Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer and Alexei Sayle, as well as Richard Wilson, Julian Clary, Tony Slattery and Martin Clunes.
That's not to say that a number of Carry On veterans weren't called upon to star also!
"Full as an egg!"
The film was thankfully saved from totally flogging a long dead horse by the return of Jim Dale who hadn't Carried On since "...Again Doctor" twenty-three years previously.
Older, certainly, than the last time we had seen him, but Dale was still filled with that childlike naive enthusiasm that had made his Carry On career so memorable.
It's 1492, and here he plays the title role of Christopher Columbus, owner with his brother Bart (Peter Richardson) of a map shop, a man that yearns and dreams to find a way to the Indies by sea, hence opening up fantastic trade opportunities that will make him rich beyond his wildest dreams.
Along for the ride are map-reader Mordecai (Bernard Cribbins), adventure-seaker Don Juan Diego (Julian Clary), and Marco the Cereal Killer (Jack Douglas) who 'beats his victims to death with a bag of rice crispies'.
None to fond of a possible trade route that misses out on Turkey and his taxes, the Sultan (Rik Mayall) sends his best spy and assassin the sultry Fatima (Sara Crowe) to upset the voyage any way she can.
With the King (Leslie Phillips) and Queen (June Whitfield) of Spain's permission and funding, Columbus sets off with his rag-tag crew, facing many a mis-hap along the way - will he find his way to the Indies and bring back the gold he so craves?
Or will the cigar-chomping Americans he meets (headed by the Chief played by Larry Miller) be more than he bargained for?
"What's the street value of this pepper?"
"Nothing! In China we have no streets!"
If you thought "Carry On Emmannuelle" was considered to be the most embarassing of the comedy canon, think again.
"...Columbus" was a mistake of a movie, a needless effort that seemed to slap the memories of the late Carry On greats in the face, but amazingly it does still hold its own.
Littered with familiar Carry On faces and still utilising the writing-style, wit and charm of the originals, it holds the innocence of the earlier Carry On vehicles like those written by Norman Hudis ("...Sergeant" to "...Cruising") rather than Talbot Rothwell's innuendo-driven scripts (see: Sid Fiddler).
It doesn't have the ridiculous smile-inducing double entendres we had come to expect of the series, and several of the new Carry On faces that eat up screen-time seem unable to make the very-safe script as hilarious as it needs to be.
After all, the wealth of talent on offer is amazing, so it's a shame how most of them fall flat due to the lack of risk-taking - never before had I seen a cast so in dire need of a good cucumber, bottom pinch or rummage in a vegetable patch quip!
When will the bras fly off or the trousers fall down?
And why hasn't anyone dressed up in drag yet?
In fact, and I'm almost ashamed to admit it, one of the only new faces really getting into the swing of things is Julian Clary as the overly camp Welfare Officer Don Juan Diego.
Dressed to impress, he takes a role not too far removed from Charles Hawtrey, and in the scene-stealing way of Hawtrey, Clary does manage to steal away from the comedians around him.
On the other hand, 'alternative' "Young Ones" likeables Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer and Alexei Sayle fail to raise a smile.
Although Mayall and Planer get the whole of the opening scene together as the Sultan and his servant, they make little impact with their dealings with "Whose Line is it Anyway" star Tony Slattery and "Pink Panther" veteran Burt Kwouk.
"Men Behaving Badly"'s Martin Clunes, meanwhile, gets a couple of scenes towards the beginning of the film, but he doesn't get much to work with, setting up Jim Dale's character introduction more than anything else.
Introducing a bunch of Americans into the mix, led by the brilliant Larry Miller, sounds a little sacrilegious given Carry On's firmly British roots, but they are strictly kept to their side of the pond, the two parties neither unable to communicate or understand one another.
Also joining the field is TV veteran Richard Wilson from "One Foot in the Grave" who gets to play his familiar grumpy old man character who gets to let his hair down a little when he's encased in the ship's hold with numerous barrels of wine and a particularly flamboyant Julian Clary.
Carry On veterans of old Leslie Phillips and June Whitfield play the King and Queen of Spain, harking back to their first Carry On appearence together as boyfriend and girlfriend in 1959's "Carry On Nurse".
They do add a bit of class to the proceedings, but Leslie Phillips is nowhere near as naughty as he has been in the past (so no "Ding Dong!" here), and Whitfield is nowhere near as prudish as her later Carry On characters like the staunch feminist Augusta Prodworthy from "...Girls".
Here they're more of a doddering old couple rather than a hilarious pair that light up the screen.
Both have made a resurgence of late, Phillips having starred alongside Peter O'Toole in "Venus" and Michael Caine in "Is Anybody There?", and Whitfield recently popped up alongside Bernard Cribbins in David Tennant's last foray as the Doctor.
Cribbins, best known these days for either his stint as Catherine Tate's dad Wilf in the new "Doctor Who" or as the narrator for "The Wombles", originally jumped to fame with British film in the late 50's / early 60's, including two starring roles in "Carry On Jack" and "Carry On Spying".
Twenty-eight years after his last stint he returns to the fold, and although he does get a couple of amusing scenes, he never really gets his feet off the ground - the energy of those around him really drowning out his vibrancy.
Talking of "Doctor Who", we do get a limited appearence from the late third Doctor Jon Pertwee as the decrepid Duke of Costa Brava, who had previously cropped up in two small Carry On roles in "...Screaming" and "...Cowboy".
Although amusing for the brief seconds of screen time he is allowed, he isn't given all that much to do.
Also popping up for his eleventh Carry On in a brief cameo is Peter Gilmore, a man who always played support, his previous final appearence having been in "...Henry" in '71 - like Pertwee, there's very little meat to his character here, playing just another familiar face in a crowd.
Jack Douglas returns to the screen for his final cinematic jaunt, the only regular to have starred in the final eight Carry On entries.
A latecomer to the series, he lit up the screen with his own brand of severe nervousness by spasming wildly and generally making a nuisance with his simple minded characters.
Here he retains the simple mind but not the uncontrollable shaking, probably for PC sake, and while he's not given a large part it's nice to see him onscreen for this final adventure.
A supporter of the franchise to the last, Douglas made "...Columbus" his last film and retired to the Isle of Wight before passing away recently in 2008.
Star of the show and front-runner for "...Columbus" is Jim Dale in his eleventh Carry On role, his first having been in 1963's "Carry On Cabby" as a young father desperately trying to get his pregnant wife to hospital, making Sid James increasingly late for a date with his wife Hattie Jacques.
Here he retains his boundless enthusiasm, giving the film the wind in the sails it needs to barely survive.
Because even though Dale is a credit here, and it's excellent to see his return to the fold, the film carries a lot of heavy baggage that could and should have been dropped overboard at the earliest opportunity.
Relying on star names to help kickstart and reboot the franchise, its long-list of comedians can't save the performance due to Dave Freeman's poorly written and risk-free script.
If there had perhaps been more ad-libbing and chance to let its stars loose, we would have got something entirely different, especially with the likes of Rik Mayall about, but perhaps that wouldn't have been a good idea either.
The Carry On spirit, with its rudery and double entendres, was still alive, especially since "Allo Allo!" had only just finished its popular run on television, but even Gerald Thomas and Peter Rogers didn't know how to tap back into it for true comedic success.
Jim Dale brings his enthusiasm and Julian Clary is amusing, but it's not enough.
It's a name dropping exercise more than anything else.
If they'd taken a page out of the later Carry Ons and allowed more sex jokes and naughty winks, rather than keeping it child-and-cash-friendly, maybe things might have worked out.
Commercially they did in a way, beating Gerard Depardieu's "1492: Conquest of Paradise" financially, but "Carry On Columbus" remains a black mark on the resumes of many British comedians.
Not an awful piece of rubbish, but more a pointless yawn-inducing revival.
[The DVD can be purchased from PlayTrade on play.com for £9.87 (at time of writing), including postage and packing]
CARRY ON COLUMBUS was the final farewell from the classic 'Carry On' brand of British humour. It was made in 1992, some fourteen years after the previous movie, CARRY ON EMMANNUELLE. Due to the passage of time, most of the original stars of the series were not able to appear, either through a lack of desire or due to the fact that they had passed away.
They were replaced by a selection of then current British comedians, such as Rik Mayall and Julian Clary. These stars don't hold a candle to the Sid James' and Kenneth Williams' of this world and unfortunately the film really is a rambling mess. The story, such as there is one, tells of Columbus (played by Jim Dale, who had appeared in previous Carry On movies) and his discovery of America.
The humour falls flat, the set design shows how cheaply the film was made, and ultimately this was a sad final farewell to the Carry On series. Avoid at all costs.
1992 was the year that a truly dreadful attempt was made to revive the Carry On franchise with this awful effort that saw some once hip alternative comics totally sell out for the cash, the worst culprits has to have been Rik Mayall and Alexei Sayle. This film was truly awful with hardly any laughs in it.
Jim Dale ... Christopher Columbus
Bernard Cribbins ... Mordecai Mendoza
Maureen Lipman ... Countess Esmeralda
Peter Richardson ... Bart Columbus
Alexei Sayle ... Achmed
Rik Mayall ... The Sultan
Charles Fleischer ... Pontiac
Larry Miller ... The Chief
Nigel Planer ... The Wazir
Leslie Phillips ... King Ferdinand
June Whitfield ... Queen Isabella
Julian Clary ... Don Juan Diego
Sara Crowe ... Fatima
Holly Aird ... Maria
Keith Allen ... Pepi the Poisoner
Jim Dale plays Columbus who gets the Spanish monarchy to fund his expedition to discover a new route to the rich Far East however the Sultan of Turkey is intent at stopping him as he makes a lot of money from the current route by charging the merchants for safe passage. He dispatches Sara Crowe who plays the most unconvincing Turkish assassin to kill Columbus and stop the voyage.
This is a truly awful film, Julian Clary camps it up in his usual talentless way, Sara Crowe claim to fame was an advert for cream cheese and she is poor while many of the others involved just look embarressed when they realise they have signed up to a total turkey of a film.
This is one to give a wide bearth to, in fact I would rather row myself to the Far East than watch this drivel ever again.