Fire Sale was the second film directed by actor Alan Arkin after his gloriously unhinged black comedy Little Murders. It’s so bad that it basically killed off Arkin’s once-promising directorial career, with Arkin the opportunity to make just a couple of shorts and TV episodes in the 45 years since. It was based on the novel by Robert Klane. Klane adapted his own books—he wrote the Arkin vehicle Where’s Poppa? (both the book and script), and would find success years later when he wrote Weekend at Bernie’s.
Fire Sale is one of those ’70s comedies where they just threw everything at the screen to see what sticks without any rhyme or reason. It’s a nonsense plot involving arson, a possibly dead father, the deeply racist adoption of a black athlete, a trip to Florida and mental illness. The result is pretty hideous, with the incredibly dodgy attitude to race that lots of these ’70s and early ’80s comedies thought was progressive and hip, but wasn’t (another example would be The Jerk.)
Arkin is perfectly fine doing his usually zany stuff this time, but what’s the point when you can watch pristine Blu-Rays of Little Murders or The In-Laws (which still plays like gangbusters) today? Rob Reiner plays Arkin’s brother, who is asked to look after their parent’s shop when they go on a trip to Florida. It’s mildly amusing to just see Reiner so unbelievably young. Sid Caesar plays a mental patient whom their father convinces to burn down the shop because he believes he is still fighting WW2 and the store is a Nazi headquarters. Absolutely hilarious, ain’t it?
Fire Sale deserves to be in its own fire sale, so if you’re are thinking of picking this up, wait for it to be on offer for a fiver or less. It ends up just being an aimless mess where all these disparate storylines never quite come together. Arkin can direct, and maybe one day he will direct another feature before he croaks, but we have Little Murders and you only need the one great film as a director—ask Charles Laughton! I also didn’t laugh once during the entire film and for a comedy, that’s a serious problem.
The disc from Signal One is barebones except for a gallery of three stills from the film and three different poster designs.