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A Fire Has Been Arranged (1935)
Warning: The full synopsis contains "spoilers" which describe key plot points. If you don't want to know the plot and outcome of this film then please don't read any further.

Selling Holes to the Farmers

Selling Holes To The FarmersThe film begins with a jewellery robbery by Bud, Ches and Hal who then flee to the countryside to bury their ill-gotten gains. The gang need to dig a big hole to bury their loot but also need to establish their location so that they can come back to retrieve it at a later date. This leads to the scene where they try to establish "North" (see Memorable Quotes 1 ) and the extremely surreal and amusing dialogue about digging holes and selling them to the farmers (see Memorable Quotes 2 ). This is not a great film but it is well worth purchasing the DVD for this scene, the later "You've got one, too" and legerdemain scenes and a reasonable early performance from Alastair.

Shuttle & Cutte's Army

Buddy Bradley GirlsAfter burying the loot the gang are arrested (in a very gentile fashion) and are each imprisoned for ten years. However, the jewels are not recovered. the film now moves forwards ten years in time and the Shuttle & Cutte department store shoots up behind the tree close to where the jewels have been buried. Our first experience of the store itself is a musical number entitled "It doesn't cost a thing to smile" sung by the store cast (including the obligatory young male and female romantic leads) and danced to by the Buddy Bradley Girls. The Buddy Bradley girls appear to be part of a huge army of department store personnel who dance in slightly disconcerting marionette-like movements. With the massive number of employees at Shuttle and Cutte's it is no wonder (as we later learn) that the store is about to go out of business.

Cooking the Books

Cutte Cooking The BooksThe department store is in the middle of a Sale; however, Shuttle and Cutte have been called to an extraordinary general meeting by the board to be told of the impending closure of the store due to imminent bankruptcy. Shuttle and Cutte are the department store managers and are cooking the books. Shuttle is Cutte's stooge and Cutte actually seems in quite a buoyant mood in spite of the crisis. Alastair, as Cutte, does a wonderful job of feigned indignation and hurt at the boards comments.

Betty, the female lead, explains to Mr. Raglan, the male romantic lead, that three prisoners are due for release tomorrow. These prisoners are responsible for raiding her father's jewellery store ten years ago and putting him out of business because he was not insured.

The following day opens with a drill by the fire-brigade at the store. The fire-brigade duties are performed by Shuttle and Cutte's female army of employees and provides another opportunity for a song and dance routine by the Buddy Bradley girls. The drill provides Cutte with the inspiration for arson to extricate himself from his current financial irregularity and impending bankruptcy crises. In order to assist the plot, the department store must be razed by lunchtime the following day as the insurance policy is due to expire at 14.30 in the afternoon.

A Fire Must Be Arranged

Our three loveable rogues now attract a great deal of attention to themselves as, on their release, they pace out the number of steps from the tree to where they buried their loot. This happens to be beneath the Shuttle and Cutte department store. A Fire Has Been Arranged - Cutte's Office

They are quickly arrested by in-store detectives, for nothing more than behaving suspiciously, and brought before the department managers. Cutte is intrigued to hear that their criminal past includes arson and feigns being touched by their lack of opportunities in life and offers them work within the store.

Cutte sees to it that they are assisted in trying out a number of different departments within the store to see if they are suited to a particular area. This leads to a number of feeble set pieces and jokes as Bud is quickly deemed unsuitable for each position he tries. The female lead recognises the gang from a newspaper cutting she has retained from ten years ago and becomes immediately suspicious of their presence.

A Fire Has Been Arranged - Two WhistlesCutte summons the gang into his office to "clear the air". Arson becomes the topic of conversation and Cutte soon openly declares that "a fire must be arranged". Cutte offers them £1,000 to raze the department store to the ground (an offer he does not intend to keep). This now gives the gang carte blanche to wander the store in pursuit of their loot under the guise of looking for a suitable place to start the fire. Unfortunately, they are observed by our romantic leads who locate the jewels before them and, in doing so, revenge her father's robbery. There is now a classic scene (which preceded Abbott & Costello's wonderful "Who's on First" sketch) concerning the blowing of two whistles (see Memorable Quotes 3 ). This, and the "Selling holes to the farmer's" scene are worth watching the film for on their own, without the presence of Alastair.


A Fire Has Been Arranged - Make Yourself ConspicuousCutte decides that Bud, Ches Shuttle and himself are to go to a hotel/bar to establish an alibi while the 3rd starts the fire at the store. Cutte's car breaks down and there is an amusing interlude where Ches adopts a Jewish persona and haggles over the purchase of a used car with an Irish Jew named Patrick Murphy. Bus and Ches are told by Cutte to attract attention to themselves for an even better alibi. This leads to another delightful scene where Bud and Ches perform a scam at the bar. Ches starts to juggle eggs in order to attract the attention of an audience at the bar. He then asks them if they would like to see another trick. He asks the barman for a £1 note from the cash register behind the bar and asks them to remember the serial number of the note before they hand it to him. He pretends to make the not disappear but with sleight of hand passes the not to Bud. Bud orders a couple of whiskies from the bar with the note. As the conclusion of his trick, Ches tells the barman and audience that the note has mysteriously re-appeared in the cash register. Bud and Ches have a drink and keep the change. Simply magic. Even Alastair seems impressed. Finally, they perform a trick with Cutte's watch. However, it fails horribly dues to Bud's preoccupation with a pretty girl at the bar; in doing so they accidentally re-set the time on Cutte's watch with unfortunate consequences. A Fire Has Been Arranged - Ledgerdemain

Shuttle panics and no longer wants to proceed with the plan. Cutte pretends that he is in agreement but simply rings the store to tell them to proceed with the initial plan of starting the fire and then cutting the telephone lines so that no-one can call the fire-brigade. The bar closes and only then does Cutte realise that his watch is wrong and that it is really 14.30 in the afternoon and the insurance policy has already expired at 14.00. Because the lines have been cut he cannot ring the store to stop the arson.

A Laurel & Hardy Fire

Shuttle, Cutte, Bud and Ches race to the car in order to return to the store and stop the fire. They mistakenly get into two cars. In typical Stan and Olly fashion the car gets stuck between railway lines and loses half its chassis in a collision with a train. Next, the car ends up on a race track in a somewhat unfunny scene.

The fire starts to consume the store. The Buddy Bradley girls start the pump to put out the fire but Bud has connected it to a petrol tanker instead of a fire hydrant.

After the store has been razed to the ground, A Fire Has Been Arranged - Casino or Tea House?Cutte re-opens the building as a tea house/casino. In the final scene, the casino is raided by the police. However, Cutte quickly re-arranges the room into a Christian tea-room disguise and Bud and Ches conclude the film by singing the film theme tune "They're building flats where the arches used to be" (a follow-up to "Underneath the Arches").



Bud: North? That's the north. Ches: How do you know?
Bud: Well he's (sic) watch has just gone West, hasn't it! That must be the North.

A Fire Has Been Arranged DVD Cover

Bud: Because I use to dig holes and sell them to the farmers.
Ches: Dig holes and sell them to the farmers?
Bud: Yes. the other day I dug a hole for a farmer and he wouldn't have it.
Ches: He wouldn't have the hole?
Bud: No. I was two feet too far short.
Ches: Two feet too far short?
Ches: You mean two feet too deep. Well, what did you do?
Bud: I pulled the hole out the ground. I wasn't going to waste a decent hole like that.
Ches: You pulled the hole out the ground?
Bud: Yes, and I bent it as I was getting it out. I bent it.
Ches: You bent the hole?
Bud: Yes, but it was alright cos I sawed it up into little holes and sold it to the farmers.
Ches: Sold it to the farmers? What for?
Bud: So they could put their fence posts in.

Ches: I've brought two whistles. Now then, you've got one and I've got one, too.
Bud: Yeah. . . . eh?
Ches: I say, you've got one and I've got one, too.
Bud: So. You've only got one.
Ches: I know I've only got one and you've only got one, too.
Bud: Well where's the other one?
Ches: Which other one?
Bud: The one I've got.
Ches: You've got one. And I've got one, too.
Bud: Do it again! Do it again!
Ches: There. Two whistles. You've got one and I've got one, too.
Bud: It's done with mirrors, I've seen it, it's done with mirrors.
Ches: Done with mirrors?
Bud: Let me have a go.
Ches: Alright you have a go.
Bud: Now, there's a couple or two whistles.
Ches: Two whistles?
Bud: Now, you've got one.
Ches: And you've got one, too.
Bud: I felt it go . . . I felt it go. Where is it? (searching Ches's pockets) Ah, I can't be bothered.

A Fire Has Been Arranged - Publicity Photograph