Sunday, 23 June 2013

Carry On . . . Up the Khyber (1968)

Carry On . . . Up the Khyber is the sixteenth of the thirty-one Carry On films produced between 1958 and 1992. This was my first, and I didn't know what to expect. I did know, however, that this was a long-standing British comic sequence, coming next only to James Bond in the sheer number of titles produced. Thematically the Carry On films hark back to the tradition of English music halls and seaside postcards from the turn of the century. This affinity to these particular forms of popular culture makes this series a sterling example of 'high burlesque' and 'low comedy': Carry On . . . Up the Khyber solely relies on the crude and the obvious to evoke laughter; it includes situation comedies, farces, and is generally slapstick. Neither of these genres of comedy are my particular favourites, and sufficeth to say that the film's dependence on the crude and the physical doesn't go down well with me. Yet do not get me wrong: I am a big fan of 'Allo 'Allo despite the inappropriate jokes and the double entendres. A text needs some thing more other than slapstick humour to sustain the plot. Carry On . . . Up the Khyber, I'm afraid, lacks that extra bit glaringly.



The actions of the film revolves around the Third Foot and Mouth Regiment (or The Devils in Skirts), stationed in the province of Khalabar, near the Khyber Pass, and their claims that like true Scotsmen, they do not wear anything under their kilts. Apparently their fearsome reputation depends solely on this pretext, and hence when Private Widdle faints on being politely accosted by Bungdit Din, the chief of the warlike Burpa tribe, and the latter discovers him to be wearing woolen underwear, the fearsome reputation of The Devils in Skirts is under stake. Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond is the Governor of British India of the province, and the lapse is brought to his notice by the British captain Keen. A quick inspection of the regiment reveals that in fact, all the 'Devils' do indeed wear underwear beneath their kilts. While this inspection parade is going on, Lady Ruff-Diamond takes a photograph of the underwear display, hoping to lure the Khasi of Khalabar, the antagonist of her husband to bed with this trumpcard. With this delicious piece of evidence in hand, the Khasi can break the myth of the fearsome 'Devils', muster a ferocious army of Afghans, storm the Pass, and reclaim India from the British rule. However, this cannot be done until he sleeps with Lady Ruff-Diamond whom, incidentally he doesn't find at all attractive. You get the drift . . .

Incidentally, the Khasi's daughter, Princess Jelhi, who's in love with Captain Keen, informs him of the Lady's elopement, and the rest of the plot involves ridiculous disguises of British soldiers to retrieve the evidence, a farcical orgy with the concubines of Bungdit Din, extremely crude jokes, and a lot of running. Jelhi finds enough time and chance to warn Lady Ruff-Diamond of her stupidity, and her father's plan to execute her. The Lady quickly sees what a fool she's been, and with the British soldiers, run to the safety of the British regiment.

Meanwhile the Governor receives and entertains (in numerical order) the fifty-one wives of the Khasi, who have come to him to "right the wrong" that the Khasi and the Lady have supposedly committed against him. Near the Pass, the Afgans have already advanced and pillaged the British armoury, rendering the latter unable to put up a proper fight. By this time, I had lost track of the story and all sense in watching it.

Anyway, Captain Keene and his mates arrive with the ladies, and after being reprimanded by his wife on discovering his escapades during her absence, the Governor decides not to do anything about the Afghan invasion, rather to host a Black Tie dinner. As the walls collapse, the British continue to eat, laugh, and be merry. Once the party ends, Sir Sidney casually tells Captain Keene to do the needful, and the remaining Regiment stand in one long line in front of the Afghans and do some flashing, and voila, the battle is won!

Thus Carry On . . . Up The Khyber exhausts all the possible crude forms of comedy. Yet as a high burlesque, it satirises the Kiplingesque movies of the British Raj throughout the preceding decades, those which looked at the Empire with nostalgia, and portrayed with painful details life in the Empire. This satirical element, is in fact a predominant streak of the Carry On films. The budget of the films was indeed very low, as could be made out from the frames of Carry On . . . Up The Khyber. Nevertheless, satire or not, I could be spared the agony of this Carry On film. Never again, yet another.

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