Cast & Crew
Joe E. Brown
Fireman Smokey Joe Grant is dedicated to putting out fires and has invented an extinguisher bomb which he is convinced will change the way fires are fought. The hometown baseball team wants ace player Joe to pitch for them, but he refuses, feeling his place is watching for fires. When the men convince him that the ball field is the best place to watch for fires, he agrees to play. Joe is about to strike out a batter when he hears the fire bell. The old pickle factory is on fire and because the water hose is broken, it burns to the ground. Joe is sure that his bomb would have extinguished the fire if he had been able to prepare it. After returning to the game, Joe strikes out the batter. Joe's pitching attracts an offer from a baseball scout, but he will not leave his first love, fighting fires, until his fiancée, Sally Toby, points out that he will earn enough money playing ball to promote his fire bomb. Keeping this in mind, Joe signs with the St. Louis team. Two of his fellow ball players present him to June Farnum, a gold digger, hoping to rid themselves of her. By offering to obtain a patent for his invention, June persuades Joe to withdraw all his money from his savings, then tricks him into getting engaged. Joe tries to break off his engagement to Sally by letter, but she arrives in town before he can mail it. June tells Sally about their engagement, but Joe, realizing that he really loves Sally, tries to break his engagement to June but cannot quite say the words. Then he receives a note from Mr. Platt, the president of a fire extinguisher company, and after waiting all night, he finally persuades Platt to let him demonstrate his invention on a real fire. By accident, he picks up the wrong briefcase and finds himself without his bomb. After the fire appears to be burning out of control in Platt's office, however, he retrieves the bomb and puts out the fire, impressing Platt into giving him a contract. The firemen who arrived to fight the fire then rush Joe to the last game of the World Series, which he is scheduled to pitch. Joe steals home, wins the game, and marries Sally.
Joe E. Brown
Ben Hendricks Jr.
Leo F. Forbstein
C. Dave Forrest
Fireman Save My Child (1932)
Where most young men might dream of getting the chance to pitch in the World Series at all, Joe is cut from a different cloth. He is a reluctant baseball god, who dreams instead of fighting fires ("fires" pronounced to rhyme with "bars.") At every opportunity, he reminds his manager and teammates that the only thing he values is putting out fires--specifically, putting them out using his own invention, a baseball-shaped gas bomb packed with fire-fighting chemicals. Joe needn't even say such stuff--it is evident enough whenever he abandons a game to chase after fire engines.
And on the eve of game seven, Joe has been granted an opportunity to pitch his invention to the head of a major extinguisher manufacturer ("pitch" meant in this context both figuratively and literally). He won't be showing up on the mound until he sorts that out--and even then he'll have to be coaxed to the stadium with enticements such as a chance to wear the fire chief's big hat.
If this, the plot of Fireman, Save My Child (1932) sounds more than a little ridiculous, well, it is a comedy. More than that, it is a comedy made by people who knew baseball.
Joe E. Brown paid his dues as a struggling itinerant vaudeville and circus performer, but he alternated these gestures towards show business by also working as a semi-professional baseball player. When Brown was ultimately signed to Warner Brothers as one of their top comedy stars, his contract stipulated that he was guaranteed a personal baseball team, paid for by the studio. Brown's All Stars' games, played against other movie baseball nuts like Buster Keaton, became the stuff of Hollywood legend.
Fireman, Save My Child shows off Brown's baseball prowess--that is really him, pitching, catching, hitting, sliding. It is clearly Brown, not a stunt double or special effect, doing those things on the diamond--the man is fairly unmistakable.
Brown's distinctive square face, squinty eyes, and enormous shark-like mouth have been widely caricatured in cartoons and movie memorabilia, such that modern audiences may recognize him without ever having seen any of his films. Newcomers to Brown's films will find that Fireman, Save My Child is a representative example, tailor-made to his personality. In addition to its focus on baseball, Fireman also conforms to Brown's gentle, conservative nature.
Movie comedy in the early 1930s was an unruly place. Early comedians were the rock-n-rollers of their generation: Defiant, hard-partying personalities who got rich by bucking conventions. Off-screen, they were prone to scandals, and on-screen they pushed boundaries. Perhaps from today's jaded perspective, even the most ribald of Pre-Code comedies seems quaint and tame, but the sexually charged aspects of early '30s comedies helped usher in a new era of censorship.
It was against this backdrop that Joe E. Brown rocketed to stardom as a comedian who insisted on keeping his act clean. He played an all-American, corn-fed boy with an "aw-shucks" drawl and naïve outlook on the world. Audiences ate him up.
Consider him in Fireman, where he never even figures out how a gold-digging blonde is trying to use him as a sugar daddy. He just thinks she's being extra-nice. His complete lack of perspective drives the comedy--as he variously injures those closest to him (his long-suffering hometown sweetheart Evalyn Knapp, or his exasperated manager Guy Kibbee), while thinking nothing of spending all night waiting outside the office of extinguisher manufacturer Frederick Burton, in the belief that a casual offer to "stop by sometime" constitutes a firm appointment.
The screenplay is credited to Ray Enright, who is better known as a director, and primarily the director behind many of Joan Blondell's comedies at that. It may be that Enright developed the project but was later removed and replaced by the credited director Lloyd Bacon--such behind-the-scenes details are not well recorded for us today. Both Bacon and Enright were comedy veterans who learned their craft in the shadows of Chaplins: Bacon was one of Charlie Chaplin's stock company of players on films like The Rink (1916) while Enright worked on the production teams for films made by Charlie's brother Syd Chaplin.
Twenty years later, B-movie director Leslie Goodwins dusted off the old Enright script and remade Fireman, Save My Child as a 1954 programmer, presumably to cater to those audiences who were clamoring for more comedies about nutty inventors who would rather fight fires than play baseball. The remake was planned as an Abbott and Costello vehicle ("Who's on first?" "Sorry, no time for that now--I think I hear a siren!"), but eventually went before cameras with Buddy Hackett taking the Joe E. Brown role, and Hugh O'Brian and Spike Jones in prominent supporting roles.
The original Fireman, Save My Child is rarely screened, and even appreciative film historians who set out to chronicle Joe E. Brown's comedy career tend to dodge around discussing it, uncertain of its content, favoring better known Brown vehicles like Earthworm Tractors (1936). Fireman, Save My Child is, like its protagonist, an unreliable and reluctant hero--you can never be sure it'll be there when you want it.
by David Kalat
William Cahn, The Laugh Makers.
Leonard Maltin, The Great Movie Comedians.
James Robert Parish and William T. Leonard, The Funsters.
David Robinson, The Great Funnies.
Fireman Save My Child (1932)
According to modern sources, Lloyd Bacon contributed to the story.