Kenneth Williams, Harry H. Corbett, Fenella Fielding, Peter Butterworth, Jim Dale, Bernard Bresslaw, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims
Dir. Gerald Thomas
Look at that line up. Go on, how can a film go wrong with a line up that includes Williams, Hawtrey, Butterworth, Sims, Bresslaw and Dale, with added comic timing from Corbett and a literally smoking performance from Fielding. (Yes, literally. In the seduction scene with Corbett’s Detective Sergeant Bung she asks: ‘Do you mind if I smoke?’ and almost goes up in flames as she reclines on the couch.)
It’s one of the many iconic Carry On scenes in a film that makes the most of its limited 1960s budget. A parody of the Hammer Horror films of the time with vivid colour and Edwardian backdrops, Screaming is a melodramatic, bawdy tale of winsome lasses being kidnapped, plasticised and sold as shop window mannequins to the likes of Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served).
Eventually, Jim Dale reports his girlfriend’s disappearence and Bung along with his sidekick Detective Constable Slobotham (Butterworth) are on the case thanks to a hairy finger dropped at the crime scene. The finger belongs to Oddbod, a prehistoric man used by Williams and Fielding to collect victims from nearby woodland.
The film’s charm is in the gusto of the performances. Everything is over the top from Williams’ nasally melodrama to Fielding’s husky seduction. Butterworth and Corbett ham it up in traditional music hall farce and Dale races around each scene like a prototype Jim Carrey. Sims plays an almost bedridden cuckold, lambasting Corbett every time he has to go down to the station, but even she is no match for Oddbod Jnr, a smaller prehistoric man accidently regenerated from Oddbod Snr’s finger by Doctor Fettle, played here by an almost unrecognisable Jon Pertwee.
Charles Hawtrey has a minor, but crucial role as Dan Dann (the Gardening Man), the former gardener of Williams and Fielding, who has suspicions about what is going on up at the big scary house. He now works underground in the gents’ toilets and falls victim to Oddbod, presumably flushed down one of his own lavatories.
In spite of the seminal Carry On line up (only Kenneth Connor, Sid James and Barbara Windsors’ absence prevent it from a being a full house), the stand out performance has to be Fenella Fielding’s scarlett clad Valeria, sister to Williams’ Doctor Watt. She writhes and wriggles around Harry H. Corbett and even flirts with Oddbod from time to time. Fielding was an actress able to drift with ease from comedy to serious acting; appearing in two Carry On films (Screaming and Regardless), three Doctor in the House films, plays by Ibsen, Shakespeare, Ayckbourn and Henry James and still have time to run rings around Morecambe and Wise on their television shows. Like Kenneth Williams Fielding was rarely perceived by the general public as a serious actor, unlike Williams however, this misconception didn’t appear to torment her.
Watching it now, Carry on Screaming is still an evocative film. It was released in 1966, but I can remember it being shown on television in the early 1970s and the buzz amongst my friends began weeks before it was due to be shown. On the night, we were out playing football in the street and someone shouted ‘it’s coming on…’ and the street emptied in seconds as we all bombed home to catch every second of it. We had an Oddbod at school; one of the teachers – who I won’t name because he might still be alive – was unfortunate enough to be slightly square shouldered with a pudding basin haircut. He had another nickname, but Oddbod was the more respectable. Every school must have had an Oddbod, every boy must have fallen in love with Valeria, everyone who saw the film as a child must still remember it, the smoking scene and Williams crying out ‘frying tonight’ as an Egyptian mummy drags him into a vat of boiling liquid.
Arguably, perversely, one of the true classics of British cinema.