The Bells Go Down

The East End of London, Ma Turk feeding the neighbourhood from her fish and chip shop, Ma and Pa Robbins running the local pub, it’s a close community where there may not be much to go around but it’s just about enough until September 1939 when war is declared, though as a fireman Ted Robbins will not be called to serve as he is already dedicated to an essential service, his girlfriend Susie alongside him as dispatcher, soon joined by Tommy Turk and his friend Bob Matthews via the Auxiliary Fire Service.

The Great War still fresh in memory for many, the trenches and muddy fields, this is something different, as over the months bombs rain down over the city, explosives and incendiary devices which place high demands on the men and women of the London Fire Brigade, protecting the home front and risking their lives to save others and maintain the infrastructure of the capital, men and woman as vital as any other branch of the military or government.

Originally released in May 1943, the Second World War still raging in Europe although the worst of the Blitz had tailed off two years before, The Bells Go Down was directed by Saraband for Dead Lovers‘ Basil Dearden, starring popular wartime entertainer Tommy Trinder as Tommy and Journey to the Centre of the Earth‘s James Mason as Ted with Meriel Forbes as Susie and Philip Friend as Bob.

The early scenes leaning heavily on the comedy, frivolous and fragmentary in the same way as the similarly themed We Joined the Navy, it requires a tolerance of Trinder’s workshy antics, volunteering to avoid conscription, looking for a way to make an easy quid be it on the races or otherwise and always taking the chance for a sly cigarette, the film improving in the second half as the supporting ensemble are brought to the fore and the uncertainty at the declaration of war resolves itself into action: when the bells ring, they run.

The cast including Horrors of the Black Museum‘s Beatrice Varley as Ma Turk and Doctor Who‘s William Hartnell as Brooks, a more experienced and jaded firefighter who realises just how bad things can be, in contrast to Turk whose insufferable behaviour makes him a liability the other officers are calm and professional, supported by the staging of the action scenes, fires blazing around the actors and cinders raining down on them, and the impressive scale models of buildings and fire tenders which add scope to the film.

Restored for Blu-ray as part of StudioCanal’s Vintage Classics collection, the new edition of The Bells Go Down is supported by a stills gallery, Save Your Shillings and Smile, a contemporary Tommy Trinder short promoting war savings bonds, newsreel footage of the London Auxiliary Fire Brigade parade of 1939 and Humphrey Jennings’ feature length “fictionalised documentary” Fires Were Started, featuring real members of the National Fire Service fulfilling their duties.

The Bells Go Down will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download from StudioCanal from Monday 24th June



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