WHAT A CARVE UP! 1961. A BRITISH HORROR COMEDY DIRECTED BY PAT JACKSON. STARRING SID JAMES, KENNETH CONNER, DONALD PLEASENCE, MICHAEL GOUGH, MICHAEL GWYNN, SHIRLEY EATON, ESMA CANNON, VALERIE TAYLOR AND DENNIS PRICE. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
What an absolute joy this film is! It’s a British comedy horror classic loosely based on the novel THE GHOUL by a chap called Frank King. I watched it for the first time recently on a lazy Sunday afternoon and I enjoyed it tremendously. I’d been suffering a bit with a pesky cough/cold combo and it took my mind off my troubles for a good hour and a half.
I bought the DVD the way I buy most of my films, second-hand from local charity shops. The pickings can be rich indeed if you keep your peepers peeled. You wouldn’t believe the stuff I’ve found in charity shops. Great books, films and even film memorabilia and TV boxsets and stuff. By the same token, you wouldn’t believe the stuff people get rid of, either! Fortunately, their loss is other folks’ gain, if you know what I mean.
The plot here is simple. Ernest Broughton is a proofreader of lurid horror novels. THE FIEND IN THE FIRST FLOOR FLAT, THE CASE OF THE BATTERED BLONDE and suchlike. I love his job! I want his job, haha. His nerves have been shredded completely by all the horror and mystery thrillers he has to read to earn his living. He’s a nervous little fellow all round.
Anyway, he’s gobsmacked when he discovers out of the blue that his rich Uncle Gabriel has kicked the bucket and he might be coming in for an inheritance of sorts. Thing is, though, he has to travel to the spooky Blackshaw Towers on the moors of Yorkshire for the reading of the will.
Off he duly goes, accompanied by his best mate Syd, only to discover that the Broughton clan are all as mad as hatters and there’s a crazed murderer in their midst who seems intent on bumping off the family members one by one in the time-honoured fashion of horror mysteries.
Can the wacky Broughtons catch the murderer before he (or she!) has laid waste to their entire clan? That, my dear readers, is the sixty-four-thousand dollar question…
The beauty of the film lies not just in its sparkling script and gorgeous setting but also in the superb cast. For example, Ernie and Syd are brilliantly played by Kenneth Conner and Sid James from the CARRY ON movies. Here, Kenneth Conner plays the nervous, bumbling, shambling little character he portrays so well in the CARRY ONs and there’s plenty of chances to hear cockney Sid’s trademark raucously dirty laugh.
They riff off each other so well, especially in scenes like the bedroom one where they’re obliged to share a bed and Ernie drives Syd nuts with his nervy fiddling and foostering. ‘Foostering’ is an Irish-ism, by the way, intended to convey irritating faffing about and whatnot.
The zombie-like solicitor Everett Sloane is perfectly portrayed by Donald Pleasence. It’s hard to believe that this is nearly two full decades before he plays the role for which he’s probably best-known, that of Dr. Loomis, psychiatrist to madman Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s legendary HALLOWEEN films.
He looks so young in this film, although I think he must have lost his lovely hair fairly early on in his career as I confess I’ve never actually seen him in any state except mostly bald…! Dear old Dr. Loomis. I love him so much, and I know I’m not the only one. He’ll always be Dr. Loomis to me.
I was thrilled too to see Michael Gough taking the role of the nutty family retainer, Fisk. Michael, of course, played Arthur Holmwood a mere three years earlier in one of the most famous ever movie versions of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, the Hammer one with Christopher Lee in the title role and Peter Cushing as his arch-nemesis, Van Helsing.
Michael was deliciously British and stiffly uptight as the man whose sister Lucy and his wife Mina both succumbed to the diabolically sexy charms of Count Dracula, leaving Arthur Holmwood baffled, bewildered and questioning everything he’d ever thought was real and good and true. He’s terrific in the role and I always love to see him popping up in other stuff as well. I feel a lot of affection for him because of his role in DRACULA. As far as I’m concerned, he’s good people!
Michael Gwynn has a role here as Malcolm Broughton, a piano-playing relative who’s really ‘quite mad,’ I can assure you. Four years later, this Michael would play the god Hermes in the brilliant JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and in the 1970’s, he played the mendacious Lord Melbury in an episode of classic British sitcom FAWLTY TOWERS.
Basil Fawlty, the snobbish hotel-owner, welcomes the posh Lord Melbury into the Torquay boarding-house with open arms. He’s such quality, you see! Baths, dining in the town, shabby old suitcases of the kind that only the most aristocratic of aristocrats would ever dream of using!
Of course, Basil’s disabused of his snobbish notions when ‘Lord’ Melbury turns out to be a big fat fraud and, naturally, hilarious shenanigans ensue as Basil’s wrath knows no bounds and the phoney big-wig has to get his come-uppance. Michael Gwynn has a great scene with Kenneth Connor in WHAT A CARVE UP! as they play CHOPSTICKS together on the ancestral old grand piano.
The stunning blonde Shirley Eaton with delectable curves in all the right places is on duty here as the negligée-wearing eye-candy, by the way, and Esma Cannon does a terrific job as the dotty old Aunt Emily who thinks that the First World War is still going on…! Yep, there’s one in every family, isn’t there…? I’ve got an Uncle Dick who thinks that Stalin and Hitler intermittently meet for confabs up his allotment, and we know that can’t be true.
Anyway, enough of my insane ramblings. Watching this film is like getting a great big cuddly hug from your DVD player, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to miss out on that, haha! If I could, I’d hug all you guys to bits too. I’m really feeling the love today. It could be the effect of my cough medication though, so don’t get too excited…!
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can contact her at: