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November 2012

Go To Blazes

cast: Dave King, Daniel Massey, Robert Morley, Dennis Price, and Coral Browne

director: Michael Truman

90 minutes (U) 1962
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Optimum DVD Region 2

RATING: 4/10
review by J.C. Hartley

Go To Blazes

Dave King was a big star in the UK with his own TV show in the late 1950s, and a handful of hit records, before trying his luck in the USA where, despite wide exposure, like many British stars before and since, he failed to make an impact. Compare his career arc with another star that started in British TV: Terry Thomas was something of a TV pioneer, in his mid-1950s show How Do You View? he frequently broke the fourth wall or forced the camera to venture among the gubbins off-set, his establishment of a specific character broke him in America both in television and in film.

King was a more middle-of-the-road entertainer, and even having Mel Brooks as a writer for his time in the US, as well as famous British pair Sid and Dick (Morecambe and Wise's writers before Eddie Braben took them to a different level of creative invention) his act didn't really push any boundaries. By the time he returned to Britain things had moved on, although any review of the output of those early years of the decade would not immediately reveal why public tastes had changed. From the evidence of this film he had a certain felicity with British provincial accents and a pleasant enough personality but he seems an unlikely star.

There was something about playing crooks that obviously appealed to comedians. While Norman Wisdom was making On The Beat, playing a would-be Bobby called upon to impersonate a gang boss in 1962, Go To Blazes followed the more prevalent trend of the times. Peter Sellers did it in Two-Way Stretch in 1960, and in its follow-up The Wrong Arm Of The Law in 1963, and Sid James in The Big Job in 1965. Norman Rossington not only features in Go to Blazes in 1962, but also appeared in Crooks Anonymous that same year.

The thing about this film that makes it a little bit special is the tremendous cast, apart from the main featured artists there are some amazing throwaway cameos in this film from the likes of Arthur Lowe, Hugh Lloyd, John Le Mesurier, Miles Malleson, Finlay Currie, Derek Nimmo and, in his first film role, Dudley Sutton who, in a couple of years, would be one of The Leather Boys.

The film begins with 'city gent' Harry (Daniel Massey), carrying a box of chocolates and a bunch of flowers, approaching a jeweller's shop window. He pitches the chocs through the glass (the box containing a brick), and smashes the rest of the glass with the hammer concealed in the bouquet. He leaps into the getaway car driven by Alfie (Norman Rossington) with boss Bernard (Dave King) in the back, but a police car carrying David Lodge's sergeant gives pursuit. The gang of three are making their escape but are stopped at lights to make way for a fire engine on-call, and are subsequently arrested. In the police van, Bernard has the bright idea that a fire tender would make the perfect getaway vehicle.

On their release after a two-year stretch (no wonder the 1960s are cited by Conservatives as a cesspool of liberal attitudes that continue to blight us today), the un-rehabilitated gang sets about putting its plan into action. Acquiring a fire engine from a provincial Welsh village, they attempt a raid using the same city-gent-with-brick-and-hammer modus operandi as before. Unfortunately, Bernard and Alfie are called upon to pump out a flooded apartment, and Harry is forced to take evasive action from the Sergeant. Harry stumbles into a couture salon run by Madame Colette (Coral Browne), and staffed by attractive French assistant Chantal (Maggie Smith).

Following this debacle, Bernard realises his plan needs modification; the very visibility of their means of escape determines that they should at the very least be able to pass themselves off as legitimate fire officers. They approach an associate, 'Arson' Eddie (Robert Morley), to initiate them, but the task is anathema to his calling. Then they approach a disgraced senior fire officer Withers (Dennis Price, The Earth Dies Screaming), who has been combining putting out fires with a little bit of looting on the side. Harry's fledgling romance with Chantal suggests a new job, combining the fire-fighting skills developed with Withers, and Eddie's particular abilities. Under the pretext of battling a fire in Colette's salon, the gang will gain entrance to the bank next door and use their disguise as the perfect getaway. Inevitably, complications ensue.

As I have suggested, the chief delight in this picture ensues from spotting familiar faces. As soon as Maggie Smith simpers in her French accent you anticipate her dropping the pretence and resorting to strangled Essex vowels at some point in the tale. The comfort offered by the familiarity of the cast is conjoined, of course, with the utter predictability of the plot. King's career continued in film and television, he had his own show in 1964, and, in 1980, writer Sid Green revisited the surrealism of his and Dick Hills' The Strange World Of Gurney Slade (1960), with Fancy Wanders, in which King starred. King is usually remembered now for his role as a bent copper in The Long Good Friday (1980).

Massey had a distinguished film and TV career ahead of him before his premature death from Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1998. Rossington enjoyed a career of supporting roles, playing pretty much the same amiable scouser in every part; in 1962 he was only two years away from playing the Beatles' road manager in A Hard Day's Night, after which, we are told, the world would never be the same again.



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