Lady Dodo Fitzadam (Joan Greenwood) is hankering after a lovely Tudor cottage now her husband, General Sir Hamish Fitzadam (Cecil Parker), is about to retire from the British Army, but money is tight and at the moment they cannot afford it. The place they live now is in North West Scotland, a country pile provided by the military, which they won’t be remaining in once the retirement begins, so Lady Dodo is growing rather anxious and seeking money-making schemes to increase their budget. On reading the classified ads in the newspaper, she alights upon a pair of Americans asking for accommodation to go fishing, and as there is a potentially salmon-stuffed river near the mansion, she has an idea…
No matter what the title sequence tells you with its animated shellfish courting another animated shellfish (female variety), actual sea life was nowhere to be seen in this film, unless you count the occasional large salmon, which may well have been the same large salmon in different scenes. The prawn of the title referred to the Dennis Price character, he being Mr Vernon, Member of Parliament and Minister of War, and even he didn’t show up until the film was getting to be halfway over, thereafter supplying very much a supporting role which built up to a punchline that suddenly seemed very relevant around the date of the release of what was a very ho-hum comedy.
That was down to the Profumo Affair, a scandal that rocked the British public’s faith in their government – or confirmed what they suspected all along, depending on their point of view. This saw Minister of War (non-fictional) John Profumo exposed as a visitor of call girls and potential giver away of state secrets, which was not really what happened here, as the Minister in this case was more intent on having his wicked way with a local barmaid (popular glamour model and bit part actress Sandra Dorne), with no further repercussions than the exposure of his lechery. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop the producers renaming this The Playgirl and the War Minister in a desperate attempt to cash in.
It didn’t work out, as the film still underperformed for what had been a big success as a West End farce, proving that what is a hit on the stage doesn’t necessarily translate to the big screen, possibly because the material had been toned down by the then-censors; this may have been the time of the Lady Chatterly court case as well, but that seismic shift in what was considered decent and permissible was only going to gradually trickle down, so to speak, into the national cinema. Therefore the most you got here was Joan Greenwood chased around the estate by horny American Robert Beatty, and his pal Robert Nichols canoodling with a giggly Liz Fraser every chance he got, she showing off her hourglass figure in scenes requiring her to be stripped to her lingerie.
Essential to the plot, of course. But for all this fumbling towards a greater frankness in what you could depict, at its heart The Amorous Prawn in its screen incarnation belonged less to the Carry On style of comedy – no innuendo and wordplay here, more’s the pity – and more to the strain of services-based humour that as National Service was being wound down about then dated this all the more. The top billed star wasn’t Greenwood or Parker (his character disappears on a missile testing reconnaissance for most of the story), but Ian Carmichael as Corporal Green, who is supposed to order his subordinates but finds himself ordered by Lady Dodo to make the stately home look and operate like a hotel, all the better to fool the rich Americans who the happier they are, the more cash they flash. This led to predictable scenes of the military in question, including a curiously effeminate Derek Nimmo, frantically trying to keep the secret from their colleagues and countering a bekilted Finlay Currie who rumbles them, all perfectly painless, but hilarity was absent though exposed male genitals were not, bizarrely. Music by John Barry, the same year as Dr. No, too.
[Network's DVD from The British Film has a nice print and a gallery as an extra.]