This is not only one of the best sustained efforts from the “Carry On” crew but a classic film in its own right. I had mentioned it as a rare example of a British Western spoof when I recently watched THE FROZEN LIMITS (1939) with The Crazy Gang; incidentally, the film’s style is pretty close to that of BLAZING SADDLES (1974) – but it actually anticipates Mel Brooks by almost a decade!
There are so many inspired gags in this outing (right from the opening sequence with the black-clad Rumpo Kid arriving in town and immediately gunning down three men, only to then ask himself “I wonder what they wanted?”) that it’s hard to remember them all – even a mere couple of hours later. Notable, however, is the merciless lampoon of the Wyatt Earp legend by making its namesake here (played by soon-to-be Dr. Who Jon Pertwee) – and whom the Mayor even addresses as Twerp – completely useless, being both short-sighted and hard of hearing!
The “Carry On” stalwarts are in top form, foremost among them Sidney James (as the afore-mentioned Rumpo Kid, amiable outlaw leader – in urgent need of cash at the saloon, he excuses himself to casually hold-up the bank situated just opposite!), Kenneth Williams (as the Mayor of Stodge City – reportedly, he lifted his American accent from legendary comedy producer Hal Roach), Jim Dale (as Marshall P. Knutt, a sanitary engineer mistaken for the new sheriff because of his name!), Charles Hawtrey (as the unlikeliest Indian Chief ever – he’s actually introduced emerging from a tepee-cum-lavatory!) and Joan Sims (as the traditionally sultry saloon hostess); besides, Angela Douglas (who subsequently appeared in three more “Carry Ons” and would later become Mrs. Kenneth More!) – playing the real-life Annie Oakley – makes for an extremely charming gun-toting heroine.
The last third of the film turns into a spoof on the seminal HIGH NOON (1952) – with Dale left to face James and his gang alone in a delightful, and most original, climax. Incidentally, the sheriff’s heroic resistance of a stagecoach raid by Hawtrey’s Indian warriors (ending with James – who engineered it – disappointingly quipping, “I’ve met braver cowards than you braves!”) was actually the work of Douglas i.e. in the vein of THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962); Dale’s subsequent awkward coaching in the handling of firearms, then, is hilarious. Another influence from classic Westerns is in the catfight between Sims and Douglas – in this case drawing on DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939).
While CARRY ON COWBOY’s send-up of a popular genre easily makes it one of the gang’s best-known entries, I was surprised to learn that it’s not held in highest regard by even staunch fans of the series – such as the people behind the official “Carry On” website, citing its (deliberate) lack of authenticity as a major drawback; I couldn’t disagree more since, to my mind, the level of humor and ingenuity displayed throughout is soaring indeed for this erratic (and idiosyncratically crude) brand-name...