The French aristocrats are quaking in their rather plush boots for Madame Guillotine is steadily reducing their numbers. However The Black Fingernail – in reality foppish Sir Rodney Ffing – and his sidekick Lord Darcy are on hand to thwart the revolutionary schemes of Citizen Camembert & a daring rescue of the Duc de Pommfrit is only the start.
Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head was the first film in the series to be released by the Rank Organisation, originally without the Carry On prefix hence the rather unwieldy moniker. Opening with a jolly sing-along title theme it’s a fun pastiche of the Scarlet Pimpernel tale with a handful of the usual suspects along for the ride.
You know exactly what to expect from a Carry On film and this 1966 offering doesn’t disappoint. Kenneth Williams sneers and enunciates as only he can in the role of Citizen Camembert with Peter Butterworth on hand as his much put upon flunky Citizen Bidet. Sid James brings his cackling lothario persona to Sir Rodney Ffing/The Blackfingernail and Jim Dale seems to be enjoying the chance to play a more old-fashioned heroic character, Lord Darcy, throwing in some physical comedy along the way. Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey (with arguably his finest performance) round out the regulars in a relatively small selection of performers from the Carry On company.
Talbot Rothwell’s script is full of great one-liners but one of the best was a rare addition from one of the cast (Jim Dale). Hawtrey, head in the guillotine, receives an urgent message – “pop it in the basket I’ll read it later!” is his droll response. The setting is a welcome excuse for some puns on the French language – “. . . by this time tomorrow, the Duc de Pommfrit will definitely have had his chips!" - but as well as the usual double entendres and saucy postcard humour Rothwell’s script has a relatively strong action adventure plot. Messrs James, Dale and Hawtrey apply their own unique style of swordplay in the prolonged swash and buckle finale that would not be too out of place in an old Errol Flynn movie.
The historical Carry Ons always looked more cinematic than the contemporary set films and never more so than in Don’t Lose Your Head. It is one of the most lavish of the series with some excellent production values; the sets and costumes belie the low budget. More plot heavy than most the story drives the narrative rather than the gags. In this sense it is a more specific parody rather than the broader joke led scripts of many of the other films. One of the best of the series and a good opener from Rank Productions it is an ideal starting point for those that have yet to be won over by this most uniquely British of film franchises.