What's Up Nurse! (1977)
Watching What's Up Nurse!, a 1977 sex comedy, you start to realise just what a dire state Britain's film industry was in during the late seventies. Not because the film itself is especially bad, although it certainly isn't in the top rank of its genre, it is still amusing in places and professionally made. No, it's the fact that a cheap smut fest like this could muster such an impressive cast, featuring such British comedy veterans as John Le Mesurier, Graham Stark, Peter Butterworth, Jack Douglas, Chic Murray and Bill Pertwee among others. All of them still 'name' performers as far as UK audiences were concerned. Clearly, there was no other comedy film work out there. Indeed, the Carry On series was staggering to its doom following the release of two underwhelming movies, Carry on Behind and Carry on England, in 1975 and 1976 respectively, and would finally collapse and die in 1978, with the dreadful Carry on Emmanuelle, ironically an attempt to parody sex movies. The only alternative employment would have been TV sitcoms, but by the mid to late seventies, these were creating their own stars, rather than relying on the appeal of fading film stars.
That said, the number of sex comedies that Le Mesurier and Chic Murray appeared in seemed to indicate that they enjoyed working on them. And why wouldn't they? Le Mesurier, in particular, was there simply to add an air of 'respectability' to proceedings, usually playing someones' father, or some other authority figure, perplexed by the hapless protagonist's sex-capades. It was easy money and, for good measure, there were a lot of bare boobs thrown in to be ogled. It wasn't as if they were being asked to do anything really undignified, like participate in sex scenes. So it is with What's Up Nurse!, where Le Mesurier is the senior consultant (indeed, the only consultant) at the cottage hospital in a small seaside town, who also happens to be the father of the new doctor's main love interest. The ultimate authority figure for this sort of film, in fact.
The other thing you realise whilst watching What's Up Nurse! is that comedy probably wasn't writer/director Derek Ford's forte. A veteran of British sex films and with an impressive screen writing CV encompassing scripts for many of the top TV dramas of the sixties and seventies, Ford's best work as director were undoubtedly the films he made for Stanley Long in the late sixties and early seventies. The likes of The Wife Swappers, Groupie Girl and Commuter Husbands were effective, well crafted pieces of sexploitation. but they certainly weren't a barrel of laughs. But by the late seventies, sex comedies were where exploitation film making in Britain was at - Ford's former collaborator Stanley Long was busily (and profitably) engaged in imitating the Confessions films with his Adventures series, so it must have seemed a logical move for Ford to follow suit.
Unfortunately, Ford's script for What's Up Nurse! never rises above being a series of live action versions of saucy seaside post cards, (indeed, it's best gag - 'I told you to prick his boil' - actually is stolen from a post card), lacking any real narrative drive or proper comic opportunities for its performers. Corny, would be an understatement when describing most of the gags. Which isn't to say that it isn't mildly amusing in places - you'd have to possess a heart of stone not to crack a smile now and again, (mainly out of admiration for Ford having the nerve to try and get away with such hoary old material, I'll admit). But ford was an old pro and the film reflects this, being professionally shot and edited and moving along at a good pace. He also gets perfectly adequate performances from his cast, allowing veterans like Butterworth and Douglas, as a pair of incompetent coppers, to perform their regular schtick. Likewise, Stark, (who also has a producing credit), does hos stuff as a shady hospital porter and Le Mesurier retains his dignity as the exasperated chief medic. The stand out supporting player is Kate Williams as the Matron, who, if not exactly getting the best lines, makes the most of what she is given. Nicholas Field, as the hapless junior doctor, is no Robin Askwith or Christopher Neill, but nonetheless gives a perfectly adequate ans personable performance.
What's Up Nurse! came at a time when British sex comedies had reached a point when their formula had been pretty much established and, like the Carry On films before them, settled down to produce mild variations on the most popular elements. The settings and plot details might vary from film to film, but the basic elements and character types were constant. Which inevitably meant that, like the Carry On films, they quickly became lazy and repetitive. The biggest problem What's Up Nurse! has is that it is barely distinguishable from a host of similar films. All the ingredients are there: the catchy pop tune as a theme, the naive and bumbling hero, the professional/institutional setting, the standard authority figures, the sexual mishaps, slapstick, even the seemingly obligatory seventies comedy homosexual stereotypes. It's far too comfortable, lacking the gloss, charismatic lead performances, not to mention the gleeful vulgarity, of the Confessions and Adventures films, the satire of Eskimo Nell or the wit of The Sex Thief, for instance. It's not a great movie, but then again it isn't particularly bad, either. It remains an amusing diversion for seventy seven minutes, or so. Although looking dated and corny to contemporary eyes, in its day What's Up Nurse! was popular enough to spawn a sequel a couple of years later: What's Up Super Doc! with Christopher Mitchell replacing Nicholas Field in the lead. (I actually remember this latter film being shown at my local cinema when I was a teenager - it was even reviewed in the local paper. How times have changed).
Labels: Forgotten Films