Today: February 29, 2024

Crooks in Cloisters

If there is a movie scene for which Barbara Windsor achieved a degree of domestic screen celebrity, it is the one in which she lost her bikini top before an aghast Kenneth Williams in Carry On Camping.

If
there is a movie scene for which Barbara Windsor achieved a degree of domestic screen celebrity, it is the
one in which she lost her bikini top before an aghast Kenneth Williams in Carry
On Camping.
But long before she reached such heady,
oops-a-daisy comedic heights, she was rejoicing in playing an actual character
named Bikini, in Crooks in Cloisters.

The film was made the year before Windsor
made her Carry On debut, in Carry On
Spying
, but it’s clear from her performance here, cast as the Cockney moll
of the leader of a gang of robbers played by Ronald Fraser, that she needed to make very few adjustments before
stepping into Peter Rogers’ immortal
ensemble. Almost all the shrill, brassy blonde antics were already in place.

Fittingly in this year of the Diamond
Jubilee, the East End’s own queen is celebrating her 75th birthday –
and this re-mastered film receives a special screening at the East End Film Festival this month (1-8
July). You’ll need to be in an indulgent mood to derive major laughs from it,
however. Apart from being shot by Harry
Waxman
, the cinematographer of the Boulting Brothers’ noirish classic Brighton
Rock
(1947), there is a likeable, but only second division assemblage of
British screen talent on view here.

The story, such as it is, involves a group
of crooks lying low in a remote monastery on an island off the Cornish coast,
after pulling off “the smallest ever train robbery.” The picturesque setting
provides scope for some fairly standard situation comedy, but the material is
so feeble, it is rather like a Carry On without the funny-awful double
entendres.

For every character comedian involved here,
the ghost of a more accomplished member of the Carry On’s hovers at their
shoulder. For Ronald Fraser as the Cockney cigar-puffing womaniser in a tweed
jacket and trilby, imagine Sid James. For Melvin Hayes as a dreamily poetic type, imagine Jim Dale. For Bernard Cribbens, try Kenneth
Connor
. Windsor squeals in her inimitable fashion, and there’s an
inevitable bath scene, but Joan Sims
acid tongue would have sharpened the tone for the better.

There is a mini pleasure in the appearance
of Wilfred Brambell as a crafty old
sailor, his gap-toothed grostesquerie the spiritual descendent of Moore Marriott’s whiskery old dotard in
the Will Hay films. Arnold Ridley (Godfrey in Dad’s Army)
has a cameo as a shopkeeper. Brambell’s daughter is played by the lovely Francesca Annis, in a very early part.

Fans of British screen comedy will draw
little nuggets of pleasure like this from the availability of Crooks in
Cloisters on DVD, but coming from an era in which, as well as the Carry Ons, we
had the Doctor and St Trinian’s series, and the last of the Boulting Brothers
comedies, it’s stretching it to call this one a vintage.

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com

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