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Fires Were Started (1943)

A tale of firefighters in London during the Blitz.

Director:

Humphrey Jennings
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A tribute to the courage and resiliency of Britons during the darkest days of the London Blitz.

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Cast

Uncredited cast:
Philip Dickson Philip Dickson ... Walters (uncredited)
George Gravett George Gravett ... Dykes (uncredited)
Fred Griffiths Fred Griffiths ... Johnny Daniels (uncredited)
Johnny Houghton Johnny Houghton ... S.H. Jackson (uncredited)
Loris Rey Loris Rey ... J. Rumbold (uncredited)
William Sansom William Sansom ... Fireman Playing the Piano (uncredited)
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Storyline

A new man joins the civilian firefighters at a London unit during the Second World War. He meets his fellow firemen and firewomen, manages to enjoy some leisure time with them, and then goes on his first mission with the crew as it attempts to save an explosives warehouse on Trinidad Street near the London docks. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | War

Certificate:

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Details

Country:

UK

Language:

English

Release Date:

12 April 1943 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

I Was a Fireman See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Crown Film Unit See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Trivia

Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider. See more »

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User Reviews

 
Not the film I was expecting - but superbly made
1 February 2006 | by MrGeorgeKaplanSee all my reviews

I'd been trying to track this movie down for a while so I had high expectations of it, and on some counts it disappointed and on others it actually excelled. I was expecting a propaganda film with a plummy BBC voice-over intoning: 'Here we see the lads of Heavy Unit one, sector c 14, enjoying a pint of bitter and a sing song before their shift.' Instead, I was presented with a proper film with characters and a plot and everything! This struck me as particularly extraordinary having seen the first film on the DVD which was a motley collection of clips of Britain at work for the War Effort, inter-spliced with a lunchtime concert (blitz spirit etc.) featuring Myra Hess wearing what looked like a lab-coat playing piano rather animatedly.

To make a film with such high production values in wartime, with everything seriously rationed is quite extraordinary. Okay, it portrays the firemen as heroes, but it presents them in a light that is far from uplifting. They are men who work tirelessly and they take great risks, and then they go and do it all over again the next night – none of this wandering off into the sunset with a girl on your arm. By 1943, when the film was made, the blitz was pretty much over, but the horror and uncertainty of the V1s and V2s was yet to come and although the tide seemed to have turned, there was no end in sight at this point. Jennings' stroke of genius was to create a film that identified with its audience and was honest with them, while actually having the humour to keep morale up.

The use of actual firemen for the characters has its pros and cons – some of them are decent actors, others are very poor, but I should imagine that in 1943 people in possession of an equity card were rather few and far between. There is obviously some stock footage used in the long shots of the burning warehouses, giving a broader picture of what the crew of one pump were up against, which is no bad thing. The stock footage is actually pretty important as it gives a reality that would otherwise be lacking (see also Malta Story).

All in all this is a triumph of realistic, humanist film-making from the darkest days of our darkest hours.


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