Go to Blazes Review
Go to Blazes belongs to that one-time popular sub-genre of British comedy films, the crime caper. Its director, Michael Truman, had previously been an employee of Ealing Studios, serving first as an editor and then as a producer. Fittingly he had a credit of one the most fondly remembered British crime capers of all time, The Lavender Hill Mob, on which he’d been the associate producer. Go to Blazes, made eleven years later, isn’t quite in the same league as the Ealing classic, but it’s a sprightly enough affair powered along by its Technicolor CinemaScope imagery, John Addison score and a succession of familiar faces offering up comic cameos.
The pre-credits sequence sets out the formula: our trio of opportunist thieves (Dave King, Daniel Massey and Norman Rossington) are in their getaway vehicle following a swift jewellery heist, only to prove unsuccessful in their evasion of the law thanks to a fire engine halting traffic; post-sentencing and on their way to Wormwood Scrubs for a two-year stint, they hit upon a new idea for their next getaway vehicle - after all, they won’t have to stop in traffic behind the wheel of one of those distinctive sixties fire trucks. Crime rarely pays in these kind of capers (see also The Ladykillers, The League of Gentlemen, Too Many Crooks, Two-Way Stretch, The Wrong Arm of the Law, The Italian Job, and so on) and so we watch safe in the knowledge that, post-credits, we will see pretty much the same events played out again, only with more twists and interruptions as befits an 80-minute picture. Those credits, by the way, are an attractive Saul Bass-ian design by Chambers and Partners who had the previous year provided the titles for Kubrick’s adaptation of Lolita.
To say that Go to Blazes is a mite predictable is a massive understatement. It lacks the inventiveness of a Lavender Hill Mob or a Ladykillers, but that’s not to say it’s without merit. For starters it looks rather wonderful, making full use of its ’scope frame thanks to the decision to shoot almost entirely on location. Some ropey back projection is in force whenever King and company are racing around the streets in their illegally-acquired engine, but otherwise we have the delights of a Technicolor - and entirely, unashamedly touristic - London circa 1961 to feast our eyes on; bright red double-deckers rarely looked more iconic. Furthermore this a London seemingly populated by a new comic actor every five minutes: there’s Derek Nimmo as a ‘fish fancier’; there’s John Le Mesurier as a fisherman.
It’s tempting to say that Go to Blazes was structured around these cameos. The narrative doesn’t so much progress as move from one familiar face to the next. Miles Malleson, for example, plays a fire engine salesman for a scene that requires a quick point to be made (that the price of a newly purchased engine is too prohibitive for our lowly crooks) and then to move on. Yet, because we have Malleson in the role, that scene instead becomes the perfect excuse for a bit of scenery chewing and comic back-and-forth. Much the same is true of Wilfrid Lawson’s appearance, Finlay Currie’s appearance, David Lodge’s appearance, etc. etc. It is only when Go to Blazes reaches the final straight that it requires a bit more weight behind its plotting and so out come Dennis Price, Robert Morley and a young Maggie Smith to set the caper truly into motion.
In-between times the film finds just enough room to throw in its other major plot strand, namely the one in which King, Massey and Rossington get mistaken for real firemen. The Carry On franchise never extended to Carry On Fireman despite the army, the police and the medical profession getting plenty of look ins. With the exception of intermittent regular David Lodge, there’s little crossover with the Carry On series here (Rossington had appeared in a handful and Kynaston Reeves was in Regardless) leaving James Hayter to pop his head out of a window at one point and deliver a Sid James-alike cackle or too. Nevertheless Go to Blazes does share some of the feel with the franchise which, at least, provides a little extra colour to its more familiar caper framework.
Ultimately this is a film more interesting for its incidental details as opposed to being a great piece of cinema its own right. Certainly it’s slight, but then it’s also hard to dislike a hard that can find the room for Rossington, Massey, Malleson, Morley, Nimmo, Smith and so many more besides. Indeed, I’m sure that the cast list alone is going to prompt a few purchases and rightly so. Go to Blazes isn’t brilliant and few will walk away fully satisfied, though that’s not to say they won’t be entertained. Those performers alongside the chirpy Addison score (presumably happy for a more lightweight commission alongside the British New Wave films he was scoring at the time) and the Technicolor and the Cinemascope can be really quite irresistible if you’re in the right mood.
No extras unfortunately for StudioCanal’s new DVD edition with only optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing accompanying the main feature. This is, however, it’s first time on DVD and, for the most part, the presentation is pleasing enough. For starters we get the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which makes for a nice change to those various pan-and-scan showings across the various British channels over the past few decades. Furthermore, that aspect ratio is anamorphically enhanced and is in place on a print that’s in pretty good condition. The image is free of any overt signs of damage or blemishes owing to age or wear and tear, plus the colours are really quite impressive. (As they should be for a film in which fire engine red features so significantly.) The clarity doesn’t impress quite so much - this isn’t the sharpest standard definition presentation you’ll find for an early sixties colour movie - though that’s not to say it’s in any way unappealing. The soundtrack, meanwhile, is crisp enough that you can identify the odd bits of post-production tidying up. Addison’s score also comes across well and there are no real flaws to speak of other than, on occasion, the vintage of the film and its recording methods becoming apparent. All told, a perfectly serviceable transfer and one that shouldn’t disappoint those who have been waiting to get their hands on a DVD edition.