It had been a bad day, no, make that a BAD day. I had been caught in terrible traffic and ended up late for an important meeting (with a lawyer, even worse!) which then made me late for a studio recording session, and then I was caught in some more terrible traffic trying to get home again. My fianc?, and erstwhile editing cohort, back home was having an even worse day?she was supposed to be editing a new audiobook but the editing software kept crashing, the new and expensive PC we?d just bought wouldn?t work and generally everything went mammory-glands-up! So as 8pm rolled around we plopped ourselves down on the sofa, both in grumpy moods and tired. It seemed as if this day would end with a dark cloud over it for us both. But then I suggested we pop in the new shiny DVD review disc I?d been sent from the lovely people at studiocanal and see if the film might lighten the mood. And you know what? Cor blimey guv?nor, it only darn well worked, didn?t it, eh? Phwoar!
January 30th 2012 sees the release on DVD of the classic British comedy GO TO BLAZES, on its 50th anniversary. This is a perfect example of how 1960s British comedies, Ealing comedies no less, brought joy and pleasure to millions. It tells the tale of three loveable ne?er-do-wells, Bernard (Dave King from The Long Good Friday), Harry (Daniel Massey from Bad Timing) and Alfie (Norman Rossington from The Longest Day) who keep failing in their smash-n-grab burglaries, but one day come upon the idea to use a fire engine as the perfect getaway vehicle. Of course, being an Ealing comedy, slapstick, japes and a constantly unravelling plan all get in the way of success, as does the gorgeous Maggie Smith (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Harry Potter) who plays a French/Cockney fashion designer. Throw in to the mix a peach of a mad-scientist/pyromaniac played with relish by Robert Morley and plenty of fire engine antics and you have a perfect cure for what ails you.
The story is simple, but a lot of fun. Watching these foolish chaps have to learn to become real firemen is hilarious, while all the time you can enjoy the sights of London in the early 1960s?we played the old favourite game of ?Oooh, that?s, um, that?s?.oooh? while trying to spot streets we knew, or half built landmarks that we take for granted today. Maggie Smith (always a favourite in this household) is sexy and sophisticated, bringing some much needed glamour to an otherwise ?blokey? film, but don?t be fooled, she?s not there just to look pretty, there is a wonderful subplot involving her shop and an insurance claim, and she gets to show off some of those incredible acting chops she is so highly regarded for. This is high farce, true British comedy classic and perfect viewing for all ages. It will bring a big smile to your face, and is just the tonic after a long tough working week. I have to disagree with some other reviewers who say this film doesn?t stand up to many of the other Ealing comedies or the Carry On series. Personally I find this film tighter, more specific in its comedy, better written and broader in ambition than many of those other films. It also has very little of the infantile and sexual ?comedy? that pervades so much of the 1960s British comedy film catalogue?such a nice change, and one for the better.
But but but?a 50 year old film, transferred to DVD in the HD world of today?is someone having a laugh? Well, surprisingly, no. This is a beautiful upscale, with vibrant colours, a killer audio track (mono 2.0 not surround, but it really doesn?t matter) and absolutely no sign of film degradation or noise. To put it bluntly, it is a gorgeous viewing experience. The reds of the fire engines spring out of the TV, with no bleeding or softness. If I had to find fault, it is that on two or three short occasions there is either a strange rippling effect (such as on a close-up of a fire engine bell), or an off-putting wide fisheye lens effect. The first I am sure is an artefact of the up-scaling/restoration process and can be forgiven easily (it happens once) and the second comes from the original film and the lenses used, the odd quality being more manifestly obvious on a large wide HD TV. Again it doesn?t detract from the enjoyment of the film. This is the film?s first ever release on DVD and it is a corker. Well worth watching. Be warned though, the DVD has no extras so it may feel a little expensive in this world of bonus features, triple-play packs and 3D releases. Is it worth buying? If you are a fan of Ealing/British comedies I would say buy it immediately. If you are looking for a good enjoyable film to rent, go for this one. As a casual purchase, the price feels a little steep, but you most certainly get a great movie for your money.
GO TO BLAZES is a wonderful example of British comedic film-making at its finest. Superb actors, fun script, all the fun up there on the screen and no padding in sight. The only downside is you?ll start thinking about buying your own fire engine?now, is there an ebay for old fire engines?