A professional magician, "The Great Spumoni", fires his male assistant and his female assistant insists that he hire another one. The young man he hires turns out to have no aptitude whatsoever for a magic act. Complications ensue.
Elmer Doolittle (Buster Keaton), an apprentice seaman doing training at the U. S. Navy's San Diego Training Station, can't seem to keep out of trouble or the brig. Most of his problems ... See full summary »
During the shots when Keaton is up the ladder tackling the fire (presumably shot indoors on a sound-stage), the sky is dark and it appears to be night-time. Every time the film cuts away to show people arriving in the street outside, the sun is shining and it's broad daylight. See more »
Proof that Buster made some halfway decent talkies
As a kid I first knew of Buster Keaton as a grizzled old guy who appeared on TV variety shows and in commercials. I was vaguely aware that he'd once been a famous movie comedian in the ancient past, but his silent work was very rarely shown on television in those days. It wasn't until later that I had access to his classic comedies thanks to the occasional museum screening, or through 8mm prints borrowed from the library. Along the way I learned that Keaton had had a rough time when talkies came in, and that his comedies of the 1930s and '40s were generally considered to be awful, but those movies were even more elusive than the silent films had once been.
Cable TV brought all kinds of obscure oddities back into circulation, and one afternoon I happened to catch one of Buster's talkies, a two-reel comedy called Blue Blazes that was made for the Poverty Row studio Educational Pictures. Maybe my low expectations gave the film a boost, but it proved to be surprisingly enjoyable. Buster plays an inept city fireman who manages to get left behind during an emergency, and is therefore demoted to a remote outpost in the suburbs. He eventually redeems himself when a fire breaks out at the fire chief's home, and he rescues the chief's daughter. Mind you, this is no unsung masterpiece; it's obviously a low-budget film with spare (i.e. "cheap") sets, and a couple of the supporting players are barely competent, but Blue Blazes is nonetheless a passably fun short that displays odd flashes of Keaton's offbeat sensibility and great physical skill.
As heard here, Buster's husky voice already has that four-pack-a-day rasp familiar from his later TV appearances. He was about 40 when this film was made, but still quite capable of performing great flying falls, as he reveals when he flies off the back of a fire-truck as it takes a corner at high speed. As for dialog, there's an amusing scene where Buster winds up at the wrong home and attempts to call his headquarters for instructions while the sarcastic lady of the house gives him a hard time. It's not brilliant or anything, but it's a sequence that demonstrates Buster could deliver the goods as a talking comedian when he had the right kind of material, i.e. when he wasn't forced to recite lame wisecracks. Perhaps the funniest bit in this film, certainly the most unexpected, comes when Buster is transferred to the suburban fire station that never sees any action. The firemen there have been idle so long that -- how can I phrase this? -- they've all turned sissy, spending their time arranging flowers and mending dolls for little girls. This sort of gag was more typical of the silent era, but surprising in a film made in the mid-'30s after the stringent Production Code had kicked in.
Since happening upon Blue Blazes I've managed to see several of Buster's other comedies made for Educational, and some of them are surprisingly good. This is one of the better efforts, well worth a look for Keaton fans.
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