Where's That Fire? (1940)
Until a copy was found by the BBC television in 1975, this was considered a lost film. Where's That Fire? is an often over looked comedy. Will Hay plays Captain Viking of the Bishop Wallop fire station in his usual seedy incompetent fashion. He and his trusty assistants Albert (Graham Moffatt) and Harbottle (Moore Marriott) run an antiquated Victorian fire tender but seldom put out any fires. After the Town Hall burns down they find that their jobs are on the line. Viking tries to solve their problems by inventing a new fire-retardant foam as well as renting the tender to a film production company, who may not be quite what they seem. It all ends in mayhem, with an attempted robbery of the Crown Jewels at The Tower of London.
More ambitiously staged than most of the team's efforts, Where's That Fire? has several brilliantly orchestrated slapstick sequences. One has our trio trying to install their new firemen's pole, causing a traffic jam in the street, wrecking a china shop, bothering a man confined to bed with gout and finally demolishing his roof. Charles Hawtrey has an amusing cameo as a schoolboy “swot” who provides geometrical and linguistic advice. There is also an elaborate physical FX sequence when a local garage gets set ablaze. Harbottle mistakenly connects the fire hoses to the fuel pump instead of the water mains, with hilarious incendiary results.
Ultimately, the film succeeds because of the timeless characters that have been created. Some of the jokes may have dated somewhat, but the interaction between the three leads is still credible today. Hay's blustering inanity, Marriott's rambling Octogenarian and Moffatt's wide boy are all still accessible archetypes. The dialogue between them is loaded with that unique sense of British irony and sarcasm. Two visitors disbelieve that Hay is the Captain of the fire station. "Tell them what I am" he says to Graham Moffatt. "What? Out loud" he replies. Where's That Fire? is a wonderful piece of cinema, from a quieter, gentler time. Recommended to those seeking nostalgia and to those who may wish to familiarise themselves with the work of Will Hay.