When Will met Walter

Walter Forde in the 1920s
The glorious Will Hay

In the UK, Talking Pictures TV continues to delight with unexpected rarities I never thought I’d see on the box. This week, they’re raiding the Imperial War Museum’s film archives to bring us GO TO BLAZES. This 1942 war office short stars master comedian Will Hay with Muriel George and a young Thora Hird. It was directed by former silent comedian Walter Forde.

After Forde moved away from his own career in front of the cameras, he became the premier  director of British comedies in the late 20s and early 1930s, and Will Hay was one of the top 1930s stars, so it is perhaps surprising that they only crossed paths once, on this short. Forde came to specialise in comedy mysteries/thrillers – a genre into which Hay’s masterpieces OH! MR PORTER, ASK A POLICEMAN and THE GHOST OF ST MICHAELS fit snugly. Hay’s regular director Marcel Varnel handled Hay’s films excellently, but it is surprising that Forde never worked with Hay before or since.

GO TO BLAZES was one of several shorts made by The Ministry of Information during WW2. They made a habit of enlisting comics to help sugarcoat the pill of serious wartime messages – amongst others, Claude Hulbert tackled careless talk in DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM TALKING, and Tommy Trinder extolled the virtues of British restaurants. GO TO BLAZES deals with how to put out incendiary bombs, in Hay’s usual blundering style.

Hay’s bluffing pedagogue is the perfect character for one of these sort of films, typifying the ineffectual know-it-all who makes a mess of things, and providing the perfect excuse for George and Hird to demonstrate the proper way of doing things.

In a film like this, the message inevitably takes precedence over the comedy, but GO TO BLAZES manages to be an amusing little film, as well as effectively conveying the information it needs to. Sadly, both Hay’s and Forde’s careers ended prematurely within a few short years, but GO TO BLAZES remains an interesting crossing of paths.

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