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Apparently a fire raiser is insurance jargon for an arsonist engaged in
insurance fraud. And there are plenty of fire raisers from all levels of
society in this movie which combines action/adventure with an interesting
Leslie Banks plays a slick insurance investigator who walks both sides of the legal line to make fast bucks in a corrupt industry. Much of the movie is spent in glamorous portrayal of his unscrupulous business activities and trendy lifestyle. One of the main strengths is the fast moving, cynical banter between the characters which creates a sense of their decadent lifestyles lived out against a background of unrestrained, completely amoral capitalism. No doubt this was a powerful image in the midst of the Great Depression when this movie was made.
But so much time is spent tantalizing us with the fruits of dirty business deals that it comes as a sudden surprise near the end of the movie to discover that there is a moral dimension. Because the ground has not been prepared, the main character's late struggles with his conscience may seem a little unconvincing.
For social history enthusiasts, there are some quaint historical shots of the London Fire Brigade and the British horse racing industry in action during the 1930s to lend some authenticity to this morality play.
Any viewer lucky enough to find this wild British gem is is for a major discovery! It turns up on Australian Tv as a late night regular and I only wish UK or USA viewers can be as rewarded as we regularly are. The Fire Raisers is one of the toughest roughest and profane old films you could be shocked to see....the level of gangster violence and the swearing! Made without Hays code restrictions that curtailed US freedoms, we get to hear enemies or cohorts referred to as Dagoes and Bastards which is absolutely unheard of in films from anywhere else at that time. This is one mean movie and a good thriller in its bash'em smash'em blow'em up and burn'em down manner. Maybe only the Hollywood film UNDERWORLD in 1927 or the dazzling German car chase thriller SPIES of 1928 come close. THE FIRE STARTERS is well worth tracking down from the UK and showing your shocked friends what must have been the Brit answer to Scarface or Public Enemy. Believe it or not (you won't but it is true) THE FIRE STARTERS in on Australian National tv directly after the ACADEMY AWARDS telecast on next week ( Mar 1st 2004). Now that's a night of entertainment!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I really like Leslie Banks, I think he was one of England's finest
actors. He could play all parts and play them very well. Thrillers,
("The Man Who Knew Too Much"(1934)), an eccentric policeman ("The
Arsenal Stadium Mystery"(1939)) and a mad "game" hunter ("The Most
Dangerous Game" (1932))- his acting always rose to the occasion.
"The Fire Raisers" was an early writing and directorial credit of Michael Powell.
Leslie Banks plays Jim Bronson, a rogue fire assessor that people don't want to employ. His methods are too questionable. He rises to the top of his profession by beating insurance cheats at their own game. By inviting their confidences (and secretly recording them) he then comes in for a % of their claim.
Carol Goodner plays Helen, the secretary who loves Jim from afar. Bronson falls in love with and marries Arden, a childhood friend and daughter of the head of the top insurance company. She is a spendthrift and proceeds to send him broke - so he starts to take risks. He becomes a "fire raiser" and goes in with Stedding (Francis Sullivan) head of a gang of arsonists. Things go wrong and Bronson is unaware that one of their targets is a passenger liner that explodes during a voyage killing many people. Ben Weldon (Hollywood heavy) made a few British films - in this one he plays - Surprise - one of Sullivan's henchmen.
It is an engrossing film with an unusual subject.
How much does Twist know ,Bates? How many times is this sentence
repeated ? Count' em all! People who are looking for a lost gem of GB's
best director ever will be disappointed;people who are looking for a
"pulp fiction 1934" will be ,too,fortunately ,disappointed too.
"The fire raisers" is a so so thriller ,with some good moments of suspense ("In five minutes ,the place will be yours" as the unfortunate Twist looks at the clock :"six ,no ,four to midnight,too bad nobody can attend your final,Twist!) Francis L Sullivan is perfect as the sadistic villain,a part he would take to its absolute perfection in Dassin's "night and the city" .
A man wants to make his way of life;unlike his respectable father,he seems to be completely unscrupulous .An insurance investigator ,he gets involved in very bad things with a gang of arsonists.But as it causes death to people around,he is stricken with remorse .
They say Michael Powell praised his female star ,Carole Goodnear,who possessed American know-how.
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