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Where's That Fire

Where's That Fire
Capt Viking and his incompetent fire crew accidentally foil a plot to steal the crown jewels.


John Chard
The Engine That Never Made It! Where's That Fire? Is directed by Marcel Varnel and jointly written by Marriott Edgar, Val Guest and J.O.C. Orton. It stars Will Hay, Graham Moffatt, Moore Marriott and Charles Hawtrey. The little town of Bishop's Wallop is home to a fire brigade, three stoic members of the community, Captain Viking (Hay), Jeremiah Harbottle (Marriott) & Albert (Moffatt). Trouble is is that they are completely inept and their record of putting fires out averages out at 1 in 17! Could Captain Viking's new foam formula save their jobs? Is it time that they got up to date and do away with their horse drawn engine? And is that really a film studio wanting to borrow their engine for a movie? The questions will be answered in chaotic fashion. Where's That Fire? Would be Will Hay's last film for Gainsborough Pictures, it would also be the last film that the so called "holy trinity of the British studio system" (Hay, Marriott & Moffatt) would work together. Hay was growing tired of the film making process and started to feel that the comedy provided by the three men was formulaic, the material getting weaker by the picture. To that end, the film carries a tinge of sadness about it, while there is no doubt about it, Hay was right about the formula, because this is the little brother of the far superior Ask A Policeman that the trio made the previous year. Yet although it's not the grand comic masterpiece the three of them deserved to go out on, it's still a film chock full of one line zingers, crazy set-pieces and slapstick a go go. The plot is standard stuff, serving only as a backdrop to the guys bumbling their way thru a number of situations that arise. But it's the execution from the guys that makes Where's That Fire? so much fun. In turn there's a riotous long sequence involving a fireman's pole, where the town inevitably comes to a stand still and chaos reins supreme, a scene where they attempt to put out a fire at a petrol station; only not with water, and the cracking finale that sees our "heroes" at The Tower of London involved in potential robbery and neck deep in Vilking's magic foam. Classic Hay, Moffatt & Marriott fare. Then there is of course the number of comic character interactions that come as part of the script, be it a man with bad foot laid up in bed, or the wonderful appearance of Charles Hawtrey as school swot Woodley (there's something refreshingly funny seeing Woodley getting kicked up the backside), it's simple comedy given a golden touch. As this was also the first Gainsborough Film to be produced with 20th Century Fox's backing, the budget was a decent one, meaning that props, locations and extras were not in short supply. For example the model of The Tower of London that was used for the film's climax cost 300 guinea's to build, taking its creator, John Thorpe, six months to make. To think they let this motley bunch loose around it! While the antique fire engine used, pulled by Percy the Horse, can be seen as a cousin to Gladstone the shunt engine used in Oh Mr. Porter! (1937). Not only a damn fine comedy, then, but also a picture with good production values. Hay didn't like slapstick, he preferred the oral side of comedy, wisecracking, and he often complained that going into film's turned him into a slapstick comedian. Fact is, is that against his better judgement, and certainly against his plans, he was bloody good at slapstick. Where along with his two sidekicks he made a handful of truly great British comedy movies, Where's That Fire? rests neatly in the middle of that pack. 8/10

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