Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Nurse On Wheels (1963)

There are some coincidences you'd rather not happen. Having watched Carry On Nurse again last week, I got around to watching Nurse On Wheels today only to find out that the writer of both films Norman Hudis passed away yesterday at the age of 93. Hudis wrote all of those early Carry On films, the black and white ones that were funny, rather than ribald, charming rather than tacky. This review serves as a dedication to him - RIP.

Despite my affection for this era and genre of British comedy, I couldn't actual recall having ever watched this before. By the final reel which features a subplot starring Jim Dale as the husband who parks his caravan in a farmer's field to effectively squat there whilst his wife (Amanda Reiss) reaches the final stages of her pregnancy I had vague recollections from my childhood, but nothing more.

Loosely adapted by the early Carry On films scribe Norman Hudis from the 1961 novel/memoir Nurse Is A Neighbour by Joanna Jones, Nurse On Wheels stars Juliet Mills as young nurse Joanna Jones who, upon passing her driving test after 106 lessons, takes up the vacancy of district nurse in the small country village of Blandley, accompanied by her dotty mother played by Esma Cannon. It soon becomes clear to her on her first day that the locals - a motley bunch of eccentrics, of course - are sceptical of their new young nurse and believe she is unable to live up to the reputation of her predecessor, recently retired who was much respected and loved. Through a variety of duties, Joanna slowly begins to win them over, whilst attracting the romantic interests of Ronald Lewis' local farmer.

Nurse On Wheels shares much with Carry On Nurse; the same writer in Hudis, the same producer and director of the Carry On's in Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas and there's even something of a callback to that film's final gag here too. Bearing in mind all those common links, it's no surprise that the film's poster takes great pains to liken Nurse On Wheels with that Carry On feature. Whilst the claims that this is 'even funnier' is not 100% accurate, it does steer you on the right path for your expectations; this is a gentle romantic comedy with a dash of silliness and slapstick - all key traits that the early Carry On's and the Doctor series shared. Less risqué in tone, much of the film consists of vignettes that form the daily duties of a district nurse, and Mills' sweet and likeable performances makes them rather watchable, even though it is all as predictable as the familiar faces who appear in the cast. It's undemanding Sunday afternoon fun, one for a cup of tea and a chance to put your feet up, but overall it's not very memorable.

And in light of posting this after Hudis' death, I feel I have to say something about a better film, Carry On Nurse, too...

The second film in the Carry On series was also the first and the best of their forays into the hospital setting, with Norman Hudis' script (based on Patrick Cargill and Jack Beale's play, Ring For Catty) utilising the natural salty humour of nurses to establish the risque tone that the franchise ultimately became famous for. 

Several returnees from the first film Carry On Sergeant appear here including Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Bill Owen, Terence Longdon, Shirley Eaton (looking divine in her nurse's uniform) Cyril Chamberlain and Norman Rossington, with Kenneth Connor playing a super fit professional boxer here; a complete contrast to the role of the terminal hypochondriac he played in the first film. Making their debuts in the series are, amongst others, Leslie 'ding dong' Phillips, the ever-matronly Hattie Jacques, June Whitfield and Joan Sims, along with a scene stealing Rosalind Knight as the wide-eyed Student Nurse Nightingale.

This remains one of my all time favourites in the Carry On series.

Thank you, Norman Hudis!

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