Top positive review
Don't forget the gherkins...
6 March 2012
Best known today as the inspiration behind Jonathan Coe's best-selling 1994 satirical novel of the same name, What A Carve Up (1961) is one of the truly guilty pleasures of British film comedy's golden age, a ghoulish horror spoof that weaves aspects of James Whale's The Old Dark House (1932) with Agatha Christie's classic novel And Then There Were None into its story of a group of relatives lured to a gothic pile on the Yorkshire moors for the reading of a recently-deceased uncle's will. Carry On regulars Sidney James and Kenneth Connor are the jokers in the pack, whilst the supporting cast is filled out by the stunning Shirley Eaton, character star Dennis Price, and horror veterans Donald Pleasence and Michael Gough. The movie manages a fine balance between its priceless Carry On-style comic business and an atmospherically creepy mystery aided by some dingy black-and-white photography and an excellently portentous score. Director Pat Jackson (Don't Talk to Strange Men) brings the whole thing off in style, maximising the comedy talents of James and Connor (who irritates far less here than he did in several of his early Carry On appearances), whilst the likes of Pleasence and Gough's familiarity from the chillers of the period gives the whole thing a feeling of legitimacy (both actors' introductions are ridiculously overblown and hilarious). The plot, of course, makes hardly any sense and is reliant on a ridiculous number of contrivances to get the audience through the barrage of horror movie clichés on display, but the whole thing is so good-humoured and well-played that it hardly matters.
Unfortunately, this DVD release is not in the same league as the film itself. Not only is it clearly transferred from the same scratchy TV print used for the mid-1990s VHS release (neither the picture nor the sound have been cleaned up at all), there are also no extras whatsoever and the sleeve is littered with spelling mistakes (`Kenneth Conner', `Donald Pleasance'). However, it's still well worth the asking price if you want to enjoy this criminally underrated movie.