#159 The Fireman’s Ball
Hoří, má panenko
(1967, Milos Forman)
Czech director Milos Forman is best known for directing One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but long before he worked on that, he worked in his native land making simple comedy movies. And today, we’re looking at The Fireman’s Ball, one of those very same comedy movies.
Unsurprisingly, The Fireman’s Ball is about a fireman’s ball. It’s the former chairman’s 86th birthday, so the whole department decides to throw a big party in honour of him, complete with a raffle and a beauty contest, culminating in the presentation of a decorative fire axe as a gift. But then things don’t go quite as planned, as raffle prizes go missing and they struggle to find contestants for the beauty contest.
The Fireman’s Ball is an odd film. It’s only an hour long, and there isn’t really much of a plot, and research informs me that much of the cast is made up of real fire-fighters instead of professional actors.
The lack of professional acting skills, surprisingly, doesn’t show. Possibly because these people are essentially playing themselves, but even so, it’s reasonably impressive. Sure, the acting isn’t stellar by any stretch of the imagination, but it does the job, and nothing particularly stands out as being outright terrible. The comic timing is also perfectly fine.
The jokes are also fairly amusing at times. From the head of the committee yelling that he isn’t shouting while anxiously fretting over the raffle prizes disappearing to the impromptu and completely unrequested strip tease performed by one of the beauty contestants, there are a few moments to make you smile here.
Sadly, it’s not laugh out loud, and I only acknowledge that the humour works because I recognise that the movie can be funny to some people; however, I personally didn’t find it that funny. Much of the comedy felt either horribly predictable (the guests disappearing when they’re negotiating what to say to them all) or extremely dated (an extended sequence of a teenage boy chasing a girl under a table and clumsily trying to fondle her) and as such, I didn’t really laugh at all.
Well, OK, the beauty contest rehearsal was kind of amusing, particularly when all the girls are awkward and seemingly roped into it through politeness or family badgering. The awkwardness makes the whole thing worthwhile. The leering old men add to this awkwardness, but while it could be a criticism, it’s clear that Forman intended it to be awkward and difficult to watch.
But that’s it. The rest of the movie felt kind of bland in its humour. Some jokes felt like they were stretched well beyond their natural conclusion. In regards to the missing raffle prizes, what should have been a little running gag popping up here and there, it was just a series of long scenes of pointless arguing about where the prizes had gone, and it quickly became tiresome.
It didn’t help that the movie overall felt meandering and confused about what it wanted to do. The scenes all feel disjointed from one another and each one seems fixated on a single gag instead of trying to make lots of jokes in a coherent storyline. Sure, not all comedy needs to be consistent with its storyline (The Naked Gun probably wouldn’t hold up as a straight detective movie, for instance), but everything feels so uncomfortably shoved together that it’s hard to recommend the movie.
With all that said though, I have to admit that maybe I’m not the best audience for this movie. It’s sixties humour, and on top of that, it’s humour in another language. An older Eastern European might find it hilarious, but I just didn’t derive much enjoyment from it at all.
Starring Jan Vostrcil, Josef Sabanek, Josef Valnoha, Frantisek Debelka, Vratislav Kermak, Josef Rehorek, Vaclav Novotny, Frantisek Reinstein & Frantisek Paska
Written by Milos Forman, Ivan Passer & Jaroslav Papousek
Produced by Rudolf Hajek
Music by Karel Mares
Cinematography by Miloslav Ondricek
Edited by Miroslav Hajek
Favourite Scene: The stripping was amusing, if only for the surprised reactions
Scene That Bugged Me: The fire that breaks out seems to break the flow of the entire movie
Watch it if: You like 60s Czech humour
Avoid it if: You don’t