After a top secret formula is stolen by STENCH (Society for the Total Extinction of Non-Conforming Humans), not-so-top but still secret Agent Simpkins of the British intelligence and three inept trainees set about retrieving it, before it falls into the hands of the dastardly Dr. Crow.
It was as sure as taxes that the Carry On team would end-up taking a few pot-shots at the Bond series, that it took such an early punch, only two years after 007’s cinematic conception, reveals a rare prescience on their behalf. This is the last of the black and white Carry Ons and still in touch with the more genial comedy of its early years, less caught up with bawdy farce than a spry pastiche sighting everything from Bond’s emerging prowess to the tinkle of the zither score from The Third Man. While never as exuberant or self-aware, Austin Powers’ wry inspection of the genre owes plenty to this frothy top-line Carry On.
The set-up with its ring of plaintive British cost-cutting, presents a British intelligence organisation having to send its least-able operative, the bumbling, ignorant Agent Simpkins (a rare lead for Kenneth Williams) and his tottering trio of spies in training (Barbara Windsor, Bernard Cribbins, and, inevitably, that ribcage on legs Charles Hawtrey) across the globe — ably produced on Pinewood soundstages — to get back the precious formula (possessed of a great punchline). Naturally, this is a process fraught with idiocy, and thus prolonged from success, until we end up in the bowels of Crow’s secret layer. It will take a double agent, secretly working for SNOG (Society for the Neutralisation of Germs), to save the day.
More sprightly and less encumbered with the need to titillate that would ring-fence the Carry Ons in later life, there is a youthfulness about Spying that still remains fresher than the colour films. The characters, assuredly potty as they are, are all likeable rather than ridiculous caricatures of British life. Again, in these formative, more elegant early days of Carry On there is none of the growing disgust that their director and writer grew for the wheedling conformity of their later characters. In that it is something to treasure.
The last black and white Carry on this has a slightly less formulaic bawdiness than the later colour ones.
Reviewed by Ian Nathan