Skip to main content

How high can you squirt?

Where’s That Fire?
(1940)

(SPOILERS) Will Hay’s last film with Graham Moffatt (the tubby young impertinent one) and Moore Marriott (the squeaky old put-upon one) in a relationship that had spanned five years and seven films (albeit not always featuring all three of them). After this, Hay would embark on a series of World War II propaganda comedies, partnered by Claude Hulbert. Where’s That Fire? is a so-so goodbye to the line-up, lacking the sheer inventiveness of the previous year’s Ask a Policeman, and heavily reliant on slapstick rather than Hay’s preferred wit. Perfect foils that Moffatt and Marriott were, Hay might have been right to break up the band.


Where’s That Fire? was out of circulation for a long time owing to a rights issue; the BBC unearthed it in 1975, but until recently it wasn’t available on DVD. It’s public domain, and viewable on YouTube. I hadn’t seen it since the ‘80s, and remembered it as something of an interchangeable equal to Ask a Policeman. While Fire escapes the ignominy of never having been remade by Cannon and Ball, it does very much run with the pedestrian premise of “We made the boys rozzers, why not make them firemen now” without having thrashed out a good storyline first.


Hay is Captain Benjamin Viking, accompanied as ever by Jeremiah Harbottle (Marriott) and Albert Brown (Graham Moffatt), manning the antiquated Bishop’s Wallop (great name) Fire Station. Par for the course, they’re an incompetent/ light-fingered trio, and Viking is preoccupied with his inventions in the basement, developing “a scientific formula for putting out fires”. They completely fail to show up to a huge oil factory blaze because (firstly) they didn’t hear the bell (“How long has that sock been there?”; the item of footwear has muffled the bell “Since you had insomnia” last week) and then because they get lost en route. They failed to put out blazes in 17 properties over the previous six months (they claim 16, which still seems like an awful lot for a little village; perhaps writers Marriot Edgar, J.O.C. Cotton and Val Guest – director of the Cannon and Ball The Boys in Blue debacle – should have gone with an evil arsonist plot).


Given one more chance, they visit a London fire station (where they proceed to pinch a load of equipment) before returning with the motivation to upgrade their own. This introduces the most prolonged and successful sequence of the picture, one that takes it up to the half hour mark (still without the plot “proper” introduced). Attempting to install a fireman’s pole (“All we’ve got to do is elevate the pole in the perpendicular”), the trio get into a terrible bother, interrupting traffic, managing to wedge it across the width of the street outside, and finally attempting to lift it through the first floor window and skylight of house where Albert’s dad lies stricken with a broken foot (“Get that parcel out of the way” instructs Viking as he kicks the invalid’s plastered foot). The tiny room ends up jam-packed with people, including the local doctor and Charles Hawtrey’s know-it-all swot Woodley, who informs Viking he could sort it out very quickly, if only he applied Euclidean geometry to the problem. The confined chaos reminded me a little of the increasingly cosy cabin scene in the Marx Bothers’ Monkey Business.


Hawtrey had earlier appeared with Hay in Boys Will Be Boys and Good Morning, Boys and would later grace The Ghost of St Michael’s and The Goose Steps Out, and seems far more invested in his overgrown schoolboy act than his better known Carry On… persona of 20 years later. He’s an effective source of superior antagonism for Hay, something he doesn’t get from his other associates, and Hay inevitably resorts to threats of violence (“”Well, we did intend to put it up in our fire station, but if you don’t push off, we might change our minds”).


Marriott always walks off with scenes in these pictures, much in the way Harpo steals the limelight from Groucho. My favourite Harbottle moment here is prior to this, when he finishes cutting a hole in the floor for Albert. Naturally, Harbottle is kneeling within the circle of the hole and plunges through the floor on top of an unsuspecting Viking. While Moore is usually insolent, Marriott is perpetually downtrodden, here coming out worst when the promise of £30 finds Hay defeating him from taking his share (“You always pick on me. Anyone would think I’m a boy”; Marriott was known for playing above his age, and he was only three years older than Hay).


Viking: Is it a big fire?
Harbottle: No, I’ve only just lit it.

It’s Harbottle who resorts to arson (“If I can’t get paid one way, I’ll take it another”) ill advisedly setting a fire at the petrol statin, which can’t end well (Viking, like David Bowie, ends up trying to put out the fire with gasoline).


So the plot the firemen eventually become embroiled in is a rather perfunctory afterthought. A crew of thieves rent their fire engine (for that £30) because it’s a near double for the one used at the Tower of London; they’re planning to steal the Crown Jewels. All that’s left is for Viking, Harbottle and Albert to go looking for their missing engine and muck about in an enormous array of foam (courtesy of Viking’s lucky/unlucky experiments with homebrew). Harbottle in particular gets smitey with a sceptre. Their overcoming the villains is quite by accident (“This is our fire. We were here first” announces Viking as he engulfs them in foam), and the thieves have cause to issue a suitably Scooby Doo grievance (“We would have got away with them too, if it hadn’t been for this muck”).


Hay’s great crabby, and mercenary, fun of course (charged five shillings for the oats given to their horse, he tells the desk sergeant “You should have given him sawdust. He doesn’t know the difference”) and the three even come out on top this last time, with interest shown in using the fire fighting formula employed during their foam party finale.


Comments

  1. I found this webpage while looking for a still of Charles Hawtrey's character "Woodley" in "Where's That Fire".
    I'm somewhat of a hat collector, and had noticed the character's unusual school cap with a seven point star atop, and now...I want one.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Welcome to the future. Life is good. But it can be better.

20 to See in 2020
Not all of these movies may find a release date in 2020, given Hollywood’s propensity for shunting around in the schedules along with the vagaries of post-production. Of my 21 to See in 2019, there’s still Fonzo, Benedetta, You Should Have Left, Boss Level and the scared-from-its-alloted-date The Hunt yet to see the light of day. I’ve re-included The French Dispatch here, however. I've yet to see Serenity and The Dead Don’t Die. Of the rest, none were wholly rewarding. Netflix gave us some disappointments, both low profile (Velvet Buzzsaw, In the Shadow of the Moon) and high (The Irishman), and a number of blockbusters underwhelmed to a greater or lesser extent (Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Terminator: Dark Fate, Gemini Man, Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker). Others (Knives Out, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) were interesting but flawed. Even the more potentially out there (Joker, Us, Glass, Rocketman) couldn…

It’s like an angry white man’s basement in here.

Bad Boys for Life (2020)
(SPOILERS) The reviews for Bad Boys for Life have, perhaps surprisingly, skewed positive, given that it seemed exactly the kind of beleaguered sequel to get slaughtered by critics. Particularly so since, while it’s a pleasure to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence back together as Mike and Marcus, the attempts to validate this third outing as a more mature, reflective take on their buddy cops is somewhat overstated. Indeed, those moments of reflection or taking stock arguably tend to make the movie as a whole that much glibber, swiftly succeeded as they are by lashings of gleeful ultra-violence or humorous shtick. Under Michael Bay, who didn’t know the definition of a lull, these pictures scorned any opportunity to pause long enough to assess the damage, and were healthier, so to speak, for that. Without him, Bad Boys for Life’s beats often skew closer to standard 90s action fare.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

How many galoshes died to make that little number?

Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)
(SPOILERS) Looney Tunes: Back in Action proved a far from joyful experience for director Joe Dante, who referred to the production as the longest year-and-a-half of his life. He had to deal with a studio that – insanely – didn’t know their most beloved characters and didn’t know what they wanted, except that they didn’t like what they saw. Nevertheless, despite Dante’s personal dissatisfaction with the finished picture, there’s much to enjoy in his “anti-Space Jam”. Undoubtedly, at times his criticism that it’s “the kind of movie that I don’t like” is valid, moving as it does so hyperactively that its already gone on to the next thing by the time you’ve realised you don’t like what you’re seeing at any given moment. But the flipside of this downside is, there’s more than enough of the movie Dante was trying to make, where you do like what you’re seeing.

Dante commented of Larry Doyle’s screenplay (as interviewed in Joe Dante, edited by Nil Baskar and G…

Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …