A Fire Has Been Arranged (1935)
Director: Leslie S. Hiscott
Cast: Chesney Allen, The Buddy Bradley Rhythm Girls, Bud Flanagan
Synopsis: A pair of friends rob a jewelry shop and bury their loot in a country field only to find, after serving ten years in prison, that a large department store has been built on the site of their hiding place.
A Fire Has Been Arranged is a fine example of that archetypal ‘relic from a bygone age’, which remains surprisingly solid while containing little to get excited about. Featuring the old-time music hall duo of Flanagan and Allen (ask your grandparents), this effort is easily the equal of, say, any of the mid-to-late Carry On flicks (albeit minus the saucy jokes). It’s difficult to find a present-day equivalent to these two because their kind of act died sometime in the early eighties, when the standard of British comedy had fallen to the woeful depths of the likes of the dire Cannon and Ball or Little and Large. In fact, so outdated is Flanagan and Allen’s brand of comedy that they were lampooned with wicked accuracy by Paul Whitehouse et al on The Fast Show.
The story revolves around a trio of hapless villains (Flanagan and Allen, and sidekick Robb Wilton) who bury the swag from the robbery of a jewellery store in a field only to find, after serving ten years for the crime, that a department store now sits on the site. The store, which trades under the dubious name of Shuffle & Cutte is in dire financial straits however (although it’s difficult to see why considering the skimpy outfits of the shopgirls who, bizarrely, also double as the store’s fire-fighters and co-ordinated dancers), thanks to the financial shenanigans of its owners (C. Denier Warren and a young Alastair Sim), and the trio are soon involved in an arson plot and insurance scam.
If the plot sounds old hat, that’s because it is, but in 1935 it was probably quite fresh, as, no doubt, were many of the duo’s routines. Although they often sound as if they are rehashing skits they have performed a thousand times on stage, there are still laughs to be gained. Some of their routines — such as the ‘hole’ piece early on, border on the surreal while the ‘one, too’ routine while similar to Abbott & Costello’s famous ‘Who’s on first’ act, precedes it by a good three or four years (on screen at least). A clever third set-piece, in which the duo craftily gain themselves free drinks while entertaining bar-staff with a trick involving a one-pound note (again, ask your grandparents) was still being performed in the bars of London by comic magician Paul Zenon more than sixty-five years after this film was made.
It’s interesting to consider that, given that all the villains in this film get off scot-free — and even prosper — this film could never have been made in the States at the time. But then, it’s highly probable that our friends across the water really wouldn’t have known what to make of a pair such as this anyway.
(Reviewed 1st April 2010)