This year, the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee also sees the 75th birthday of the Queen of the East End, Barbara Windsor. Best known for her saucy sex bomb image from the Carry On films and of course as the matriarch Peggy Mitchell in TV’s ‘EastEnders’, Babs has become something of an institution to Londoners (along with Sir Michael Caine she opened up the new galleries of modern London at the Museum of London a couple of years ago) and to celebrate her career Studio Canal have decided to release a pre-Carry On comedies, Crooks in Cloisters (1963). Although she had been in films since the mid-1950s and co-starred in the kitchen sink drama, Sparrows Can’t Sing the previous year – a drama that proved she also had acting ability, this light comedy was the film which in all probability careered her towards the Carry On films.
The story is about a gang of forgers who pull a train robbery – The Smallest Ever Train Robbery as the papers call it, made shortly after the notorious Great Train Robbery (setting it into folk lore legend). Feeling the pressure of the ‘heat’, the gang decides to lie low. Led by Little Walter (Ronald Fraser) the gang of six hides out in the perfect location – an abandoned monastery on a small island off the Cornish coast. Here they wear the Monk’s habit and live the life of monks – at least to the eyes of the locals. The problem is Little Walter has his moll, ‘Bikini’ with him (Babs). They dodge tourists and monks who used to live here in the process. Old habits die hard (excuse the pun) and they continue flirting with crime but the simple life slowly leads them to go on the straight and narrow.
A very small comedy that is moving into the Carry On mode with elements of Launder and Gilliat or even a story that would suit an Ealing comedy it never the less lacks much of the class of those aforementioned films and would not really appeal to anyone outside of the UK as most of the cast are instantly recognizable to fans of either old British films or TV comedy. There aren’t that many laughs to be had beyond the one joke that a bunch of Cockney crooks are pretending to be devoted monks and the country/city dichotomy. Still it’s amiable enough to kill some time. The old school Cockney and bad boy image of the crooks is fun playing on the later image and life of Windsor’s real life bad boy husband and East End ‘businessman’, Ronnie Knight.
There are no extras on the DVD and curiously the wide screen 2.35:1 ratio is anamorphically enhanced which can create the feeling of being fish in a goldfish bowl.
Available for the first time on DVD, Crooks in Cloisters will be released on 9th July