The Flaming Urge is an odd little film for a number of reasons. Perhaps its biggest appeal is the chance to see Harold Lloyd Jr in the first of his two leading roles in feature films – the other would come a decade later in Married Too Young.
The narrative would have us believe that the film is about a young man called Tom Smith who is a “fire-chaser”. In other words, he likes to watch fires. However, this goes beyond a liking on his part, for this is an urge, an addiction. Tom becomes known as a fire-chaser in the town he has chosen to make his home and is the major suspect when an arsonist goes on the rampage. Tom knows that he has to find out who the real “fire bug” is in order to clear his name.
The film seems to be coded in order to be read as about something other than fires, however. Firstly we have the title, The Flaming Urge, with the word “flaming” synonymous with homosexuality. Furthermore, Tom is not the only “fire-chaser” in town – in fact they seem to crop up with alarming regularity. What’s more, we’re even told at one point that the “fire-chaser” can be cured by the love of a good woman, which is rather convenient. Finally, we have the fact that Harold Lloyd Jr was a homosexual himself (and led a rather short, tragic life by all accounts). Bearing all of this in mind, and the brief whodunit element aside, this little poverty row movie seems to be a film about homosexual urges rather than about urges to chase fires.
This sounds like a clumsy, pretty awful little film. However, it’s actually rather enjoyable whether you choose to believe it’s about fires or being gay. The script is really quite good compared to other cheapies of the period, and even the direction has some interesting touches, and it’s rather a pity that Harold Ericson (whoever he is) didn’t direct more. The major surprise, though, is Lloyd Jr himself, who acquits himself remarkably well, putting in a believable and rather charismatic performance. It’s certainly a shame that he didn’t get the chance to act in more prestigious movies over the following decade.
This little curio is available from Alpha Video in a perfectly watchable print, but is also available in full on YouTube. At just over an hour, it moves along at a fair lick, and is certainly worth seeking out if you fancy a cheap and cheerful undemanding little movie that is either about fires or being gay. Or both. And it’s got a cute dog. What more could you want?