Horí, má panenko (The Firemen's Ball) (1967)




Director:      Milos Forman. 

Starring:     Jan Vostrcil (Head of Committee),   Josef Sebánek (Committee Member #2),  Josef Valnoha (Committee Member),  Frantisek Debelka (Committee Member #1),  Josef Kolb (Josef),  Jan Stöckl (Retired Fire Chief),  Vratislav Cermák (Committee Member),  Josef Rehorek (Committee Member #4),  Václav Novotný (Committee Member),  Frantisek Reinstein (Committee Member),  Frantisek Paska (Committee Member),  Stanislav Holubec (Karel),  Josef Kutálek (Ludva),  Frantisek Svet (Old Man).

political satire of failure of Czech communist rule just before the crushing of the Czech Rebellion, 1968



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

There is a committee of firemen who want to honor their 86 year old manager, named Lojzik, who is retiring from the job, by having a firemen's ball for him and with him as the guest of honor.  They are going to present to him a fancy fireman's hatchet in front of the crowd and in honor for his many years of service. 

The committee argues about why didn't they present the prize to him in his 85th year of life because now in his 86th year he has cancer.  Yes, but they didn't know that he would develop cancer in his 86th year.  They go back and forth about this and about the man's cancer. 

A firemen named Josef goes into the ball room and sees the many gifts from the people who will attend the ball.  The gifts are part of the lottery they will hold at the ball. He notices that on the table there is an empty plate.  He calls over to his colleague Vaclav with the comment:  "What a dumb joke."  He holds up the plate and points out that there was a cake on the plate and now it's gone.  Vaclav defends himself saying the he was holding this ladder steady for Mr. Balcar who is burning the edges of a big drawing of a scene of firemen putting out a huge fire.  He adds:  "I couldn't see what was going on behind my back."

Lojzik is sitting in the ball room,  He comes over and tells the men:  "Then search me, gentlemen."   The two arguing firemen tell Lojzik to sit down, saying:  "It couldn't have been you."  Josef sees that Vaclav is not even touching the ladder now and tells him that his right foot never was in position (although it had earlier been in position) to stop the ladder from falling.  The ladder is standing by itself.  They shout at each other and push each other back and forth. 

The accuser now just walks away from Vaclav.  Vaclav now asks Josef where is he going?  He is so concerned about Josef that he walks away from the ladder.  The ladder comes crashing down on the floor.  Mr. Balcar is now hanging onto a wire screaming for help.  Meanwhile the fire on the drawing is burning it up.  The men on the floor rush to put out the fire on the drawing with an old fire extinguisher.  First one, then another and then Lojzik tries to operate the fire extinguisher, but it just won't work.  Meanwhile, Balcar is holding on for dear life and saying he is about to drop.  And now the entire drawing is being consumed by large flames. 

The firemen's ball appears to be a success because the ball room is filled with lots of people.  The band on the stage sounds good and many people are dancing. 

The committee of firemen is looking over at some kind of photo.  Then we see that it is a two page spread photo of the contestants in their bathing suits at a beauty contest.  The men are going to hold their own beauty contest, even though as of now they have no contestants. 

Josef with a beer comes over to the lottery table.  He tells his wife that he had placed a bottle of cognac on the table and now it is gone.  The wife says that's impossible and comes over to look for the cognac.  She says it wasn't her fault because she has been watching the table the whole time she has been here.  Josef says she wasn't watching the table.  She says she was.  He says she wasn't.  And back and forth they go. 

As the ball goes on, the committee is trying to decide how many contestants do they want to have?  Is it 2 or 10, or perhaps 12 or 6. They final decides on 8.   The committee chairman reminds the men that these girls must be the most beautiful girls that the town has.  Three men are sent out to select the 8 contestants.  They walk around the dance floor looking at the women's faces.  They are not having much luck so they go up to the balcony to look down on the crowd. 

Josef now calls Vaclav over to the lottery table and tells him that the bottle of cognac he put on the table is gone.   Vaclav looks over the items on the table and now asks Josef where is the headcheese that was on the table?  Then Josef says there was a chocolate ball on the table and it's gone too.  The men look like they are totally baffled at the disappearing goods from the lottery table.  Josef asks his wife about the chocolate ball, but she says there never was a chocolate ball on the table.  So now Josef is perplexed and thinks hard about the chocolate.  He tells Vaclav that he's right.  There was no chocolate ball on the table.  It was a headcheese.  Now Vaclav declares:  "But damn it, where is the headcheese?"

The search committee of three are on the balcony looking down over the women.  One of the fellows says that he can't see any legs and he wants to see legs.  So now they go back down to the floor.  One of the fellows picks out a young woman and asks what the others think?  Not much.  A wife yells over at committee man Otto to put Blanka Truhlarova on the list of contestants.  So they write the name down on their list.  Meanwhile, one of the firemen, Ludvik, sees what's happening and decides to do something similar.  Otto says Blanka is a nightmare.  Take her off the list!

The man who now wants to put his daughter's name, Ruzena, on the list sends over three drinks to the three judges.  The judges now look around for Ruzena.  They find her but at not very impressed.  The three judges send six drinks over to Ruzena's father with the message that the gentleman is to send no more drinks to the judges. 

They see another girl who they like and they go over to her to ask her to be in the beauty contest.  It's hard for them to get the question out because they are all talking over each other.  The judges asks the man, named Ludvik, to get away from them.  A friend of the girl comes over and asks what is going on?  When her girlfriend tells her, the young lady laughs and asks:  "Jesus Christ, why us?"  Otto tells the new girl that they have only chosen her friend as of now. 

Ludvik tells one of the judges, a bald man named Franta, to put Ruzena on the list, so she will leave him in peace about the matter.  The two other judges call Franta back over to them and tells him to put two names on the list:  Vrsecka and Matejickova.  Now Otto's wife calls for her husband again.  She tells him to take Blanka off the list.

Josef and his wife are still arguing about whether or not the wife was watching the table or not.  Ludvik is still harassing Franta about his Ruzena.  Franta tells him to stop this, but Ludvik replies:  "Frantisek, I won't until you take our Ruzena." 

Ruzena's dance partner appears to be a bit drunk and he breaks her pearl necklace on the dance floor.  The little pearls go all over the place.  The young man starts to pick them up.  Vaclav steps on some of them, loses his balance and falls on the floor.  Ruzena is a rather big girl and she now fishes more pearls out of her cleavage and bra letting more pearls fall on the floor. 

Ruzena is now on her hands and knees picking up pearls.  She goes under the lottery table after the pearls.  Her partner follows her under the table.  He starts grabbing at Ruzena's breasts.  She pushes him away, but he's not going to give up. 

The lottery table starts shaking and some of the gifts tip over.  He looks under the table and sees Ruzena and her partner tussling with each other. He isn't really sure of what he should do.  He sits down and then yells under the table:  "Cmarada!  Is that you?"  The young people just ignore him. 

The committee of three judges corner a young girl and ask her to be in the contest.  The drunk boyfriend of the girl comes over asking what these gentleman want from his girl?  Franta tries to tell him that they want her to be in the beauty contest, but the guy is too inebriated to understand.  Franta tries to explain again and again to the young man.  Finally, the older men get fed up with the fellow and throw him out into the snow.   

Crawling out from underneath the lottery table, comes the fellow Zindulka.  Josef is amazed to see Zindulka.   He laughs and says:  "Yes, Zindulka!  You never even crossed my mind, man."

Franta is on his hands and knees looking at women's legs.  He explains to the other two judges that he is looking for the list of names he had. 

Josef yells for the young girl to come out from beneath the table.  While he decides to look under the table, Ruzena slips out at the other end of the table.  So Josef doesn't see anyone under the table, but he does see a big bag with a zipper.  He pulls the big bag out and puts it on the table. He now looks inside and finds the headcheese.  His angry wife rushes over to him and starts berating him:  "What are you looking for in my bag?  What business is it of yours what I've got there?"  She scolds him saying:  "Everyone is stealing here and you only watch, you old honest idiot." 

The judges have to recreate the list of names.  Ludvik stands there looking at them, so they add Ruzena's name. 

The spokesman reads a message.  "I ask all the chosen candidates for the beauty queen contest . . . all these comrades should come to the room behind the bar." 

The committee waits for the girls to show up.  In comes Ludvik and Ruzena.  Ruzena stay and dad leaves.  Next a mother comes in to ask if this contest really is on the up and up?  Her daughter is inexperienced and mom doesn't want her to be taken advantage of.  They assure her of this and mom brings her daughter Hana in to see the judges.  She has Hana stand next to Ruzena. 

Mom is not leaving the room and this upsets the judges somewhat.  The chairman tells her she can go down, but she says she's staying here to see what's going to happen.  A third girl comes in.  A fourth contestant comes in.  And a fifth.  Then a girl with larges breasts comes in and the chairman livens up a bit.  Now they have six.  The chairman says they said 8 contestants, not 6.  So Franta says he will go out there and find some girls. He grabs a pretty girl out of the arms of her father and brings her in. The girl protests:  "I wasn't chosen."

The chairman walks over and shakes the hands of the girls welcoming them.  They have been chosen to compete as the most beautiful girl at the ball.  Now one of the three selection judges starts to talk, but he is bothered by the presence of the mom.   He goes over to the chairman asking him to get rid of the mom.  One committee man is told to go out and dance with the mom on the dance floor.   Mom wants to stay, but the men tell her not to hurt the man's feelings.  So out the couple goes. 

The man speaking to the girls doesn't know what to say, so he barks out with  "Attention!"  The father of the non-chosen girl comes in and grabs his daughter away.  So now they are back to just six contestants.  The chairman now tells the girls the winner of the contest will have the great honor of giving a special hatchet to the 86 year old man retiring from being a fireman. 

The third judge, a short heavy man, says he is going to show the girls how to walk so they won't look like a herd.  The girls laugh.  He has them take one step forward, then turn to the right and turn to the left.   Now rushing into the room comes one of the pair of girls, Vrsecka and Matejickova.  She apologizes for being late.  She says she had to go home to get her bathing suit.  She starts taking off her dress and then her slip to show the committee her bathing suit.  Now the judges are wondering is there a bathing suit contest in the competition?   The big girl gets down to her bathing suit, but it just looks like she's wearing her underwear and a bra.  The chairman asks Franta and Otto if they asked her to wear a bathing suit?  They both say no.  So the chairman asks:  "Tell me, miss, who told you to bring a bathing suit? " She says nobody did.  All the other girls agree that no one asked them to wear a bathing suit.

The chairman has the young lady strike a pose and then strike another pose.  The committeemen don't seem to know what to do.  So now they have the girls walk around in a circle.  They ask the girls to be happy and smile.  All of a sudden there is a knock on the door.  The chairman tells the girl with the "bathing suit" to get dressed in a hurry.  She does. 

Now they open the door.  It's just the committeeman who danced with the mother.  He says another person took charge of the mother. 

Now the contest starts.  The people clap loudly.  Then they clap for the 86 year old fellow.  The announcer asks for the first contestant to come out.  But it's the old man who comes walking out.  Vaclav has to rush out and grab him and take him back to his seat.  The music strikes up again.  None of the girls come forward.  Finally Ruzena comes walking out.  The audience claps enthusiastically for her and she starts bowing again and again to the audience.  The announcer asks the audience not to clap and for the contestant to stop bowing to everyone.  Finally, they get Ruzena up on the podium. 

Once Ruzena is on stage, Vaclav releases the old man to walk to the stage.  The old fellow really has a funny-looking saunter as he approaches the stage.  This time the chairman and two judges on the selection sub-committee rush out to grab Lojzik.  None of the other girls come out, bur after a bit of a delay the large bosomed girl comes out.  She gets half-way up, gets scared and runs for the upstairs bathroom.  The next contestant runs into the bathroom.  The guys now just start grabbing any girl and carry them toward the stage. They even grab older women.  Ruzena leaves the stage and she and many others with her run to the bathroom.   

Now the committeemen bang on the bathroom door telling the women to come out.  Meanwhile, up on stage an older woman with a good sense of humor is crowned the queen.  The audience goes wild with clapping for her.  The queen laughs and blows kisses to the crowd.

The band is asked to stop playing music and the people in the audience are told to be quiet.  When everything quiets down, everyone can hear the sirens of the fire truck blazing away.  The chairman quietly says:  "Fire!  Fire!"  A house near the ball room is being burned to the ground.  The crowd runs out and over to watch the fire.  The fire truck gets stuck in the snow. 

The firemen try to get things, people and animals out of the burning house and barn. The waiter tries to collect the money from the patrons of the ball.  Some firemen with shovels start throwing snow onto the fire, but it doesn't seem to do much good.  The waiter gets a table and starts charging people for drinks.  Everyone just keeps watching the fire until the fire peters out.  Some people go back to the ball room. 

The people feel bad about the old man losing his house and barn.  So a collection goes up where the people give up their lottery tickets so the prizes will go to the victim of the fire.  Josef''s wife comes to tell her husband and Franta that someone should stop the collection of all the lottery tickets.  Why?  "Because the prizes were all stolen."

The old man is brought into the ballroom to applause.  On the lottery table there is very little left and those gifts that are there are not worth taking.  But the committee goes ahead and offers all the tickets to the old man.  The fellow says these tickets are just tickets.  What he needs is money with which to buy things.

The chairman now starts to speak to the crowd.  He says that most of the lottery goods have been stolen.  He now says they will turn off the lights.  Under the cover of the darkness he wants everyone who took something to put it back onto the lottery table.  The lights go out.  After too short of a wait, the lights come back on.  Nothing has been returned, but what was left is now almost all gone. 

The chairman says this is some kind of bad miosunderstandilang.  He asks for the lights to go out again.   When the lights come back on, Josef is caught returning the headcheese to the lottery table.  When he is caught he just throws the headcheese on the lottery table.  He stands there, gets light-headed and falls to the floor. 

The committeemen grab Josef and take him back to the committee room.  One of the committeemen is really angry at Josef.  The other fellows have to push him back.  The angry man asks:  "Why did that fool return it?  . . . He shouldn't have returned it!  It will make everyone laugh at us!  It makes it look as if we had taken and eaten everything!"   Franta scolds the man saying he would have done the same as Josef because the protestor is an honest man too.  The man shouts back:  "Never!  In this situation, never.  Remember that.  The good name of the fire brigade means more to me than any honesty, you pighead!"

A fireman says if the people stole it, than the people are responsible for it.  Another man says, however, a lot of the people didn't steal anything!  Joska says:  "They should have stolen.  Whoever didn't steal must understand it as if he just didn't win anything." 

The question now is what are they going to say to the people and who will say it?  While they are discussing this issue, the chairman says quiet.  He listens and hears nothing.  Maybe everyone has already left the building?  Franta sticks his head out of the door to look around.  He sees only two men still there, not counting the workers. 

Now all the firemen come out.  Poor old Lojzik is still waiting there.  He stands up.  The men rush back to get the case with the hatchet in it. Then they walk over to Lojzik.  The chairman apologizes for the lateness of the presentation.  They are ready to give Lojzik the gift. 

Lojzik now delivers his sweet message:  "Friends, I would like to thank the fire brigade of which I have been the chairman for many years.  I would like to thank all  of you for this present and honor.  I am very happy that at the end of my life, I have received such a great honor.  Thank you all for the kind help and support you gave me in my work.  . . . " 

Lojzik opens the case and finds it empty.  Someone has stolen the hatchet.  He doesn't mention this to anyone. 

Outside the fire victim surveys what's left of his burned house.  He then walks over to the bed out on the lawn and lays down in it.  He, however, has to share it with another man who is already sleeping in the bed. 


This is really a funny film.  It's a black comedy.  The committee of firemen looks like it's filled with good men.  They are trying to do a good job, but they can't because their approach is all wrong.  Their system doesn't work.  They try to plan a good firemen's ball, but everything is done wrong so everything wrong that can go wrong does go wrong.  The committeemen do sincerely ask themselves what's the right thing to do, but the damage has already been done and can't really be fixed.  All they really can do is apologize for the whole foul-up.

It's the genuine sincerity of the committeemen that makes this so funny.  Despite their best efforts, everything still goes wrong.  For instance, because the committee doesn't even appoint a sub-committee of men to select some pretty girls to take part in a beauty contest, the contest is a huge flop.  Given that they start the process of selecting contestants only when the ball has already started, means that whatever they do is going to result in a foul-up.  The entire approach of the committee is wrong and almost ensures that nothing will go right.  And it doesn't. 

The whole ball is one embarrassment after another for the committeemen.  And because the men are likeable, you can't help but feel sorry for them, even though you are laughing at what happens to them. 

Milos Forman, the director and co-writer, said the movie staff was getting very frustrated with the movie.  So they decided to take a break and go to a firemen's ball that was taking place.  At the ball, Forman says the movie people had a blast.  And the next day all the talk among the movie people was how interesting and great was the firemen's ball.  So they decided to set the movie at the firemen's ball and they used the actual firemen and villagers in the movie. 

At the time, the film had to go through the censors and the communist board did not look favorably on the film.  At a higher level of censorship, the movie was banned forever.  The only thing that saved the film was that they screened it before an elite crowd in France and the audience basically came up with the money to save the film. 

Forman said that in Czechoslovakia under communism people were widely stealing from the communist state.  No wonder there was little funding for important projects.  Stealing is a big problem in the film too.  In fact, some people saw the stealing as normal  -- as just a part of the overall system.

I really liked the ensemble cast and their acting.  They were regular people and they seemed like regular people. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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