Quick Fire

THE FIRE RAISERS is a Michael Powell quota quickie with a couple of familiar names in its credits —

Alfred Junge on art direction: Junge designed several of the great Powell-Pressburger films of the forties, before Powell decided to replace him with costume designer Hein Heckroth. (Junge’s reluctance to place a Coke machine in the anteroom of the afterlife in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH decided Powell that the man was no longer on his wavelength. Still, for a while, Junge was one of the key Germans in Powell’s team.)

Derek Twist on editing: Twist rescued EDGE OF THE WORLD from disaster, in Powell;s view, and later got a directing gig on END OF THE RIVER, although jungle sickness meant he didn’t actually direct for much of it.

Leslie Banks as leading man: apart from being THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH for Hitchcock, Banks would later appear in THE SMALL BACK ROOM. In that mature masterwork, Banks’ prominent facial scarring works fine for his character, an old-school army general. In the Hitchcock, his scar is ignored — British films often seemed indifferent to such things as scars, bad teeth or what we might think of as general physical unsuitability for leading man status. But here, Powell seems to see the scar as a problem, so he shoots Banks’ right profile more or less continuously. Banks always drives his car from left to right, always sits on the left of screen, only turning around in long-shot, and when his face is featured in three-quarter view, Powell has him adopt this pose —

The constant side-views get a bit Dick Tracy for my liking.

The movie itself is entertaining, with Banks as a roguish insurance investigator whose unethical practices eventually slip into wholesale criminality, when he hooks up with arsonist and fraudster Francis L Sullivan (later of NIGHT AND THE CITY fame). Sullivan gives the best performance (oily villainy was his stock-in-trade) but Banks is very good. The detective on their trail, named Twist in order of the film’s cutter, is played by Lawrence Anderson, father of Michael Anderson, who directed THE DAMBUSTERS, LOGAN’S RUN, etc.

Francis Sullivan (right) gets all the best bits.

Powell shows signs of real creativity a few times. “It’s time we did a fade-out,” says Anderson at one point, and Powell fades to black, a po-mo touch reminiscent of the famous “One is starved for Technicolor up there,” in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. And in this scene, we get a torture-by-mantra moment that recalls the “Is it safe?” routine in MARATHON MAN, as well as the montages of villains that would feature in Sergio Leone’s westerns.

This was Powell’s eleventh film in four years, and he’d hardly had a moment to absorb the lessons being flung at him, but we can definitely see him start to flex his muscles in this one — even if the results are a little ridiculous at times.

12 Responses to “Quick Fire”

  1. David Boxwell Says:

    Ben Welden (Bellini) sure got around in his 96 years on earth (Imdb lists 232 credits): UK quota quickies and ubiqitous thug at Warners in Hollywood.

  2. David Boxwell Says:

    Welden was “Mickie” in Lee Wilder’s “The Pretender,” providing the degree of separation between this entry and the previous one. That’s how much Welden was the original Kevin Bacon.

  3. Leslie Banks at his most devestating —

  4. Gee, I admired Welden in both films, but didn’t realize it was the same guy (he put on the pounds in between)! He barely features in the Powell, but adds villainy as “the dago,” while in the Wilder film he’s very amusing indeed.

  5. I love The Hounds of Zaroff, it’s flamboyant, gruesome and exciting as heck.

  6. It was also shot simultaneously with King Kong on the same set.

  7. Off topic, but my latest post on a fascinating Japanese film-maker I’ve been interested in lately.

    I loved Leslie Banks in The Small Back Room beaucoup. I haven’t seen any of Powell’s quota-quickies yet…I’ve heard about The Phantom Light.

  8. The Yoshida looks fantastic! I think I maybe have a copy somewhere, now I have to see it!

    Bernard Vorhause made the best quota quickies, somehow getting a sense of the breathless pace of production INTO the movies themselves, which Powell never quite managed. But Phantom Light is lots of fun.

  9. It’s not easy to see quota quickies where I am. I don’t think I’ve seen more than maybe a half-dozen.

  10. That’s probably more than me — I’ve seen a few Powells and two Vorhauses, nothing else. Hitchcock’s Number 17 is like a really good QQ movie, though.

  11. Well, they were represented as quota quickies, and I don’t remember any Michael Powell among them. Years ago someone just gave me a few tapes of it to watch, and what of it I remember was pretty undistinguished. It didn’t make me seek out more.

  12. For some reason the speed of production usually translated into stodginess and a lack of visual variety — they didn’t have time for coverage. Powell tries a few tricks and is aiming for the energy of Warner Bros with this one, I think, but the actors can’t provide that. But Vorhaus’s The Ghost Camera and The Last Journey are just incredible, and I really want to see his other British films.

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