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The Firemen's Ball (1967)
"Horí, má panenko" (original title)

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The fire department in a small town is having a big party when the ex-boss of the department celebrates his 86th birthday. The whole town is invited but things don't go as planned. Someone ... See full summary »



(screenplay), (screenplay), 2 more credits »
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 nomination. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Jan Vostrcil ...
Head of Committee
Josef Sebánek ...
Committee Member #2
Josef Valnoha ...
Committee Member
Frantisek Debelka ...
Committee Member #1
Josef Kolb ...
Jan Stöckl ...
Retired Fire Chief
Vratislav Cermák ...
Committee Member
Josef Rehorek ...
Committee Member #4
Václav Novotný ...
Committee Member
Frantisek Reinstein ...
Committee Member
Frantisek Paska ...
Committee Member
Stanislav Holubec ...
Josef Kutálek ...
Frantisek Svet ...
Old Man
Ladislav Adam ...
Committee Member


The fire department in a small town is having a big party when the ex-boss of the department celebrates his 86th birthday. The whole town is invited but things don't go as planned. Someone is stealing the prizes to the lottery and the candidates for the Miss Fire-Department beauty contest are neither willing nor particularly beautiful. Written by Mattias Thuresson

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


A Masterpiece from Czechoslovakia


Comedy | Drama


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

29 September 1968 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Firemen's Ball  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Czechoslovakia's official submission to 41st Academy Award's Foreign Language in 1969. See more »


Featured in Golden Sixties: Milos Forman (2009) See more »


From Me to you
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Played by the band at the ball
See more »

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User Reviews

Appealing More as a Historical Example Than a Film In and Of Itself
2 December 2008 | by (Cincinnati, OH, United States) – See all my reviews

Milos Forman's $65,000 black comedy, which clocks in just above one hour, takes place as small town firemen reckon on their festivity, are present at it, and endure it. They've arranged the titular ball in honor of their former chief, though it may be in the chief's eleventh hour. The beginning scene seems to promise an airy screwball comedy with lines like, "We should have given it to him last year, when he was 85 instead of now when he's about to die." As is made clear while the simple men theorize on the reasoning contrary to that observation that the antiquated fireman, diagnosed with cancer unbeknownst to himself, will be awarded a princely little fire ax in a velvet-padded box. Following this opening scene, a fireman balances carefully on a high ladder to carefully singe the sides of a paper banner until his ladder loses its footing, he is left dangling, and the poster bursts into flames. Beyond these actually quite underplayed scenes, the comic feel diminishes in consistency.

One scene which stands out is easily one of the funnier moments, but even still it could have been funnier: In the course of the ball, a local barn catches fire, and the firemen rush the rest of the town to the scene. But their truck getting stuck in the snow is much more pivotal and potentially funny than its execution here, as by the time they get there, the barn is overcome by an inferno. Nonetheless, there are laughs to be had at this point: The sullen farmer is staring longingly at his blazing barn, the firemen heed the suggestion that his chair be turned away from it, but the farmer simply turns his head to continue staring longingly at the barn. And when the farmer whines that he is cold, the firemen do the only thing they really can and move his chair closer to the fire.

The swelling to that scene consists of the firemen's struggle for a beauty pageant, with the queen deputized to bestow the ax. They fill a table with raffle prizes that are salivated over, as implied in a very restricted sense within the context of the film's time and place. So, the prizes begin to depart a bit too early from sight. The beauty pageant is a catastrophe of ignorance and disorganization, and not least owing to hardly any of the neighborhood girls, none of whom are beauties, have any desire to be involved.

Siding very much with the film itself concerning its treacherous political history, Forman is not scoffing at his characters, but at the system they populate. Frankly, I think the censors knew this when they condemned it as a damaging picture of Czech society, because that is the reactive approach in a fragile system that panics about criticism. Censors have always feigned the role of patriots, regarding any criticism as unpatriotic, when in effect criticism is a patriotic responsibility. Even now here in America, when the media is judged for disapproval, it most often merely signals that someone has had the nerve to probe the guiding principles of the party in power.

So, this presently obscure installment in the tremendous Criterion Collection appeals to me as a historical example, particularly with which to further open the elements of the Bush administration, and not so much for the film's content in and of itself. As a raucous comedy by Milos Forman, it today sponges no oomph from its hazardous time, as it clearly did then. And it is as a indirect topical commentary where this film gains momentum, and alas Forman cleverly for the sake of his film's spirit did not urge his political arguments, leaning back with a grin to let them make themselves, insinuating with poise from the histrionics.

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