Monday, 29 November 2021

Lukewarm? The Fire Chasers (1971)


This film get’s damned with faint praise on IMDB… made for US TV and a budget second tier feature made by Lew Grade’s ITC etc, but I tell you one thing, there are some splendid building fires on display. At the start the film credits the fire authorities of Buckinghamshire, Glamorgan, Glasgow, and Liverpool which made me sit up and wonder how many fine Victorian docks were sacrificed to provide the scenes of these fires? You can pick on a script that delivers only gentle tension and pacey if predictable direction from Avengers’ alumnus Sidney Hayers, but the infernos are all too real and whilst the buildings were no doubt scheduled for demolition… this was part of a period in which so many architectural treasures were lost.

Even Reel Streets is stumped on the locations used for the fires, acknowledging the above references and asking for more information… so if anyone knows? Other than the flames, the film is firmly set in London and the surrounding area nearer to Pinewood with Slough and Brentford prominent according to the site as well as numerous locations in London. As usual it is always fascinating to see the capital from so long ago and The Fire Chasers gives good locations.

A warehouse burning in an unknown location

The story features a firebug being investigated by an attractive woman journalist Toby Collins played by the demure Anjanette Comer, and American actress with a lengthy IMDB entry mainly involving US TV work although she did star in the Terry Southern scripted film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved Ones (1965) and with Tony Curtis in the 1975 crime caper, Lepke. She’s an intelligent performer and brings a good deal of charm and wit to the role, filling in the gaps in Philip Levene’s script.

She’s assisted by fearless photographer Jim Maxwell (Keith Barron, who adds so much with his ability to add intensity to humour) who is obsessed with catching the events as they happen and is as relentlessly “snappy” as any Millennial with a decent smart phone, capturing anything that moves, including Tony who he photographs up a ladder – an “upskirt” he justifies in terms of it being an unique moment…

Anjanette Comer

The two come up against snazzy insurance investigator Quentin Barnaby portrayed by another well-travelled American Chad Everett whose career stretched for fifty years including Mulholland Drive and pretty much every TV detective series. He makes for a good leading man and has good chemistry with Lois… sorry, Tony as their initial distrust turns to determined teamwork as they try to second guess the twisted firestarter.

The arsonist has the odd M.O. of using a household electrical device to start fires in their absence and he – or she – always returns to the scene of the fire the next day to retrieve the evidence although why this is necessary let alone even possible is never quite explained. At least it’s a “McGuffin” that allows for some tense moments and provides the opportunity to capture the mad mischief maker… but whoever it is, they are always one step ahead of Quentin and Toby although they and Jim get there in time to spot the highlights and the newspaper benefits even as Quentin’s company has to keep on paying out.

Excellent stunt work too!

At one fire the night watchman is knocked out by the firebug and Jim, followed by Quentin, rush into the flames to try and rescue the man. Again, these flaming moments are well captured with the actors running through flames that appear all too threatening. Jim and Quentin get trapped on the roof but are able to leap to safety into the water below.

There’s a London taxicab painted in flower power colours which seems to be at every fire and Quentin’s chief researcher Valerie Chrane (Joanne Dainton) manages to follow it to a houseboat in Hammersmith, she calls her boss and they find a painter, Roscoe (the legend that is Roy Kinnear, you know, Rory’s dad!) who specialises in painting fiery conflagrations… It can’t be that simple, can it?

Dusty Verdict: The Fire Chasers is entertaining if undemanding entertainment but is well made from the direction to cinematography and music from the great Laurie Johnson who sound-tracked many an ITC show including The Avengers, World in Action, Whicker’s World and the junior Avengers, The Freewheelers as seen recently on Talking Pictures TV. 

No one does shifty quite as well as Roy!

There’s also some great supporting work from Rupert Davies, authoritative as Tony’s long-suffering editor and Joanne Dainton as Valerie Chrane whilst we get to see Allan Cuthbertson as a Fire Officer. There’s also the rare sight of early film star John Loder who started his career in silent film and was in Anthony Asquith’s classic The First Born (1928), in what was his last film.

Sadly, whilst the film has been on DVD, it’s currently hard to find until Network issue a re-release. Here’s hoping, it’s fun!


John Loder
Car could be a clue...
Collectors of classic toys weep...

Lotus One: a Super Seven
Lotus Two: an Elan


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