Monday, March 30, 2015

A Fat Kid and a Thin Kid

For years, I wanted to see Fireman Save My Child (1954).  The film was developed as a vehicle for Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, but Costello got sick before principal photography began and Universal executives decided to continue production with other actors.  The actors that replaced Bud and Lou were fresh-faced studio contractees, Buddy Hackett and Hugh O'Brian.  O'Brian said that not much thought went into their casting.  He said that an executive essentially said, "Let's get the fattest kid and the thinnest kid."  The idea of Hackett and O'Brian acting as junior stand-ins for this iconic comedy team made this a film that I had to see.

Last month, I was excited to find a DVD of Fireman Save My Child available on eBay.  After waiting forty years to see the film, all that I needed to do to get a copy was to click on the "Add to Cart" button.  I have to report, after finally seeing the film, that it was not worth the wait.  The film is sadly dull and predictable.

The film, which is set in San Francisco during the 1910s, involves a rookie firefighter who has invented a fire extinguisher that he is sure with revolutionize firefighting.  Its comic business relies on every prop that you would expect to find in a firehouse.  Hackett first tangles with a fire pole, then a hose, and finally a trampoline.  The film has one original routine, which centers on a married couple played by former wrestler Henry Kulky and former beauty queen Adele Jergens.  Every time the fire truck swerves around a sharp curve outside the couple's apartment building, one of the firefighters is sent soaring into the couple's home.  The fact that these strange men keep turning up in his home increasingly upsets the hot-tempered husband, who is convinced that his pretty wife is having a multitude of affairs.

Hackett does his best to approximate Costello's attitude and mannerisms, but he fails to be as funny or sympathetic as Costello.  Hackett convinced the director, Leslie Goodwins, to let him do part of his stand-up act during a dinner party scene.  This grim monologue may have gotten laughs in a nightclub, but it is out of place with the rest of the light-hearted film.  The pudgy, marble-mouth comic abruptly stands up in the middle of dinner to tell the other guests about his childhood.  He starts out talking about his birth.  He gripes that he and the other babies were not allowed to smoke in the nursery.  Then, he describes his poor relationship with his parents, who were always trying to get him to run away from home or jaywalk into a busy street.

O'Brian said that the film made money for Universal and he and Hackett were asked to team up for a series of films.  Hackett's response was unequivocal.  "I work solo," he grumbled.  O'Brian, himself, told the executive that he wanted to be a serious actor.

I mentioned on Facebook that I could not find anything about this film worth writing about.  Bart Rosenberg, a Facebook friend, pointed out that the film has the distinction of featuring two future cast members of the Batman television series.  Madge Blake plays the fire commissioner's wife and Stafford Repp makes a brief appearance as a coachman.  That's about as notable as Fireman Save My Child gets.

Here are a couple of lobby cards for the film.

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