25 June 2004 | JamesHitchcock
So Bad It's Unfunny
The permissive society of the seventies led to a growing number of erotic films in both Britain and France. The two countries, however, often had very different approaches to erotica. The characteristic British erotic film of the period was the 'sex comedy', typified by the later 'Carry On' films as well as the 'Confessions' series, 'Percy' and cinematic versions of stage farces such as 'Don't Just Lie There, Say Something' and 'No Sex Please, We're British'. These films all started from the premise that sex is something intrinsically comic, and attempted to get laughs from innuendo, doubles ententes and smutty, sniggering humour about breasts, bottoms, penises and bodily functions.
The typical French erotic film of the period- characterised by the 'Emmanuelle' series- took quite the opposite approach. The 'Emmanuelle' films approach their subject with an almost reverential seriousness, and are filled not only with sex scenes but also with much tedious sermonising about the Meaning of Life (which generally means having as much sex as possible). Whereas the British made sex seem ridiculous, the French came close to making it seem boring.
'Carry On Emmannuelle' would therefore seem to represent an intriguing fusion of two quite different approaches to the erotic film. The 'Carry On' films were by no means uniformly bad. They were generally at their best in the fifties and sixties when they concentrated on exploiting a vein of humour which was later to be mined to great effect by Mel Brooks- the deliberate parody of an established film or television genre. Thus 'Carry On Cowboy' parodied the western, 'Carry On Cleo' the sword-and-sandal epic (especially 'Cleopatra' itself) and 'Carry On Constable' British TV cop shows such as 'Dixon of Dock Green'.
The 'Emmanuelle' films might be thought to offer plenty of targets to the parodist or satirist, with their misty, soft-focus photography, their stilted dialogue and their pretentious philosophising. 'Carry On Emmannuelle' does not, however, attempt to guy the affectations of its original models, but is made as a fairly standard piece of British sex comedy- the main difference between this and earlier 'Carry Ons' is that smutty innuendo has largely been replaced by direct sexual references. The only links to the original films are the name of the heroine (deliberately misspelled- apparently for copyright reasons), the fact that she is married to an older man who works for the French diplomatic service (in London rather than in Bangkok) and the fact that she is continually unfaithful to him. The actress who plays Emmannuelle, Suzanne Danielle, another long-legged, curly-haired brunette, has a passing resemblance to Sylvia Kristel, although she is more voluptuous and lacks the Dutch girl's delicate features. Emmannuelle's husband M. Prevert (a fairly common French surname meaning 'green meadow', but probably chosen in this instance because of its closeness to the English word 'pervert') is impotent, so she enjoys herself with any other man she can find, including a gallery of VIPs, an entire football team, various embassy servants and an Australian body-builder. (Unlike her namesake one-n Emmanuelle, who takes as many female lovers as male ones, two-n Emmannuelle seems to be exclusively heterosexual).
The film does not, however, generate any humour from Emmannuelle's frantic sexual couplings. It simply assumes that the fact that she seduces so many men is a hugely amusing joke in itself. The film's theme tune 'Love Crazy' (apart from being intensely irritating) is not appropriately named. Emmannuelle may be sex-crazy, but that is not the same thing. Love is not an emotion featured anywhere in this film. The script's attempts at wit are feeble in the extreme- a running joke about the butler Lyons, whose name Emmannuelle consistently mispronounces as 'Loins', is as about as good as it gets. There is the typical 'Carry On' assumption that any sexual or lavatorial reference is automatically good for a laugh. All genuine humour seems to have been surgically removed.
This is a good example of one of the most miserable types of film, the failed comedy. A wretched serious drama can at least provide inadvertent humour of the 'so-bad-it's-funny' kind. A wretched comedy cannot. 'Carry On Emmannuelle' is so bad it's unfunny. When she walked out on this film, Barbara Windsor showed a greater discernment than I thought she possessed. The producers of the 'Carry On' films seem to have agreed that it was a failure, because it persuaded them to wind up the series and we were spared more offerings of this nature in the eighties. The failure of the attempted revival 'Carry On Columbus' (another rat-wretched 'comedy') in the early nineties shows what a wise decision that was. 2/10.