Top critical review
One person found this helpful
Carry on Caesar
on 13 February 2013
I watched Carry On Cleo for an Open University course which begins with a look at Cleopatra in modern culture, and though some of my countrymen may see it as sacrilege to confess, I don't think it's very good. I laughed several times, but it's a crudely assembled and edited film. The amateurish direction doesn't suit slapstick, which is used a lot; it makes you appreciate how much craft and sophistication physical comedy needs. The verbal humour's mostly bawdy fluff about dirty old men, nagging wives etc. The famous "infamy" line, delivered by Kenneth Williams, was borrowed from a radio show. That its best joke wasn't original says something about the film (and series). Cleo is, however, intermittently funny, thanks to a gifted regular cast. Williams, an excellent comic actor who never skips a beat, creates a persona which elevates his material.
The film's a parody of historical epics, in particular 1963's Cleopatra, whose abandoned sets and costumes Cleo used. Unlike recent parodies it bothers to have a plot. Not a deep or suspenseful plot, of course, but everything that happens makes sense and logic's never sacrificed for a stupid gag. Narrative structure leads to funnier jokes in any kind of film comedy, I think. What's strange is that, despite the title, Cleopatra (Amanda Barrie) doesn't appear until halfway through and even then only from time to time. She's portrayed as a moron who keeps forgetting why she wants Caesar (Williams) killed, and isn't greatly distinguished from the other female eye candy. Sid James plays Mark Antony, her lover, who's the brains in their relationship even if Cleo did seduce him. Caesar's the real focus, as his life's repeatedly threatened by various assailants. Jim Dale and Kenneth Connor, meanwhile, play British slaves trying to get back to blighty.
Joan Sims is Caesar's wife and Charles Hawtrey her father. They're also great comic actors; it's a shame that Sims is relegated to the minor role of nagging wife, but then this is really a boy's club. Women are either sexpots or battleaxes. Carry On Cleo's far from a great film, but it does have some good gags, an actual plot and a light, pleasant tone. File it under pastimes or guilty pleasures.