Monday, 25 November 2013

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS: CARRY ON CLEO

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS

9. CARRY ON CLEO (1964, dir. Gerald Thomas)

25/11/2013

*

Maybe I am just a product of my time, but the "Carry On" films are a product of theirs, and that is why I don't like them very much - humour is either timeless, or something that dates very badly and, apart from perhaps "Carry On Up the Khyber" (1969), which is rather well done, this group of films are only good for a diverting entertainment on a Sunday afternoon, as viewers of ITV3 will know. 

Despite this, why am I picking on one of the films here? It is because it provides a glimpse of what might of been - not for the "Carry On" films, but the film it parodies. 

When the cast and crew of "Cleopatra" (1963) decamped from Pinewood Studios in London for Cinecitta in Rome, they left behind an opulent and elaborate group of interior sets, and a standing outdoor set that was overwhelming in scale, but were constantly deteriorating in the dire British weather, as was the health of Elizabeth Taylor at the time, hastening the escape to a better climate. 

As the escape to Italy went from ballooning budgets to marital scandal with Richard Burton, "Carry On Cleo" was concocted as a way of using what was left behind, injecting British bawdiness into a more luxuriously appointed surroundings than normal, and giving Kenneth Williams the chance to say, as his Julius Casear is about to be assassinated by his guard, "Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!" It's just a shame that it was shot in their usual way, all medium and close-up shots like a TV show, that make no great use of the sets for a film that wound up costing over fifty times what they were doing.

However, what "Carry On Cleo" shows is what "Cleopatra" was meant to be - a quick, $2 million, 90-minute romp that would have starred Joan Collins, intended to get 20th Century-Fox out of a sticky position with their finances - they would up with a $40 million behemoth that nearly sank the entire company, having been seduced by how much more they could have if they had bigger production values and bigger stars, and the contractual obligation to use a widescreen film process owned by Elizabeth Taylor, Todd-AO, developed by her late husband, Mike Todd, one of the less likely sequences of words in the history of filmmaking.

I feel that, after the third "Hobbit" film is released, story bloated beyond all reason and length, a quick "Up the Hobbit," or something like that, might be just what everyone needs...

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