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

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

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 …

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).