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Hilarious Broadway skit
15 April 2002 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

"The Still Alarm" was originally written by George S. Kaufman as a brief skit for a Broadway revue starring Fred Allen and Clifton Webb. This film version preserves the skit and the original performances.

"The Still Alarm" relies on a single brilliant idea which is quite funny for the duration of this 10-minute comedy short, but which could never be sustained much longer. Basically, an hotel is on fire ... but the residents of the hotel, and the firemen, are all very calm and civilised about it. The firemen even arrange a violin recital...

Clifton Webb plays one of two businessmen sharing an hotel room. When smoke starts pouring in and alarm bells start ringing, they remain perfectly calm. So do the firemen who arrive, led by fire chief Fred Allen. Everyone is quite "laid back" (to use the modern term) and their calm behaviour gets more and more hilarious as the fire rages steadily around them.

One of the firemen has brought his violin case along, so that he can practice his violin solos inside burning buildings. "You're not anti-symphonic, I hope?" Fred Allen asks the businessmen ... and, instead of evacuating the building, they all sit down amid the flames to enjoy a good violin concert.

The great radio comedian Fred Allen made very few films, so it's delightful to see him here at the top of his form. He and Webb play against each other very well here. I'm disappointed that they never made a film together during the period when they were both under contract to Fox in the early 1950s.

George S. Kaufman was a master of stagecraft, so he was careful not to write any dialogue for the fireman who plays the violin. Kaufman knew it would be difficult to find a competent violinist who could be plausibly cast as a fireman, and who could ALSO handle dialogue. Kaufman had a similar problem a few years later, in his Broadway play "You Can't Take it With You" (and Frank Capra's film version) which required a young actor who could play the xylophone while speaking credible dialogue.

I'll rate "The Still Alarm" 9 out of 10. It's a classic piece of Broadway history and very funny.

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