Ah, the 1960's; it was a more innocent time. It was a time when crafty cockney criminals wore bowler hats and jokingly traded quips with the bobbies arresting them – or at least, it was in the universe that Go to Blazes exists in. This relentlessly jaunty caper sets out to recapture the tone of the Ealing comedies director Michael Truman learned his trade on as an editor, such as It Always Rains on Sunday and Passport to Pimlico, or 1951's The Lavender Hill Mob, which Truman produced. Go to Blazes is a very slight affair, however, and one can easily see why it has slipped from the nation's memory while the films it tries to emulate remain so widely beloved.
One of the prime strengths of the film lies in the rapport between the three central characters, Alfie (Norman Rossington), Bernard (Dave King) and Harry (Daniel Massey), whose crimes have landed them in jail so often they're on first-name terms with the guards and can recite the judge's rulings word-for-word. Their latest arrest came after their escape stalled in a traffic jam, but when Alfie hears sirens blaring and notes that, "everything stops for a fire engine," and idea quickly forms. The gang decide that their next getaway car will be a fire engine – they just need to procure the vehicle itself as well as some uniforms – but their best-laid plans are rather hampered by the fact that people expect firemen to occasionally put out fires.
Go to Blazes is a slight affair and little effort has been expended on building the script into anything more than it needs to be. Proceedings are enlivened somewhat by an appearance from Maggie Smith, as a shop assistant with a wobbly French accent with whom Harry strikes up a relationship. The fashion house she works in, by the way, is conveniently located directly next to the bank the crooks have their eye on, which indicates the level of plotting we're working with here. The other actor who really brings makes the most of his small role is Robert Morley, as the criminal mastermind the gang turn to as they prepare their big heist. He is at the centre of the funniest scene in the film, when he visits the shop Smith works in and attempts to start a fire with one of the many cigarettes he's carrying; attempts that are consistently thwarted by the unwitting shop assistants.
This scene possesses a sense of invention and a comic sharpness that is sadly absent in much of Go to Blazes. As a director, Truman is competent but no more than that, and while the cinematography is generally handsome throughout, his compositions show little flair. Perhaps in an effort to keep the viewers' attentions fully engaged, the picture is full of comic cameos – Dennis Price, John Le Mesurier, Derek Nimmo, Arthur Lowe – but these only distract from the underpowered plot, which barely has enough about it to sustain the film's 80 minutes, and although the film has its charms, it's ultimately something of a damp squib.
There are none.
Go to Blazes will be released on DVD on January 30th
Buy Go To Blazes here