“Gasbags” takes a humorous look at war and how the victim in real life can turn out to the the victor in a movie like this one. Released in 1941, one year after the London Blitz, the Crazy Gang is the unlikely winner in stealing a secret weapon designed to commit mass destruction on neighboring nations. The gang encounters a number of adventures when they accidentally come into contact with Germany as the result of being forced to go out of the fish and chips business.
The film opens with the Crazy Gang working at a fish and chips stand, selling meals to servicemen and the neighborhood where they are using a gasbag to advertise their business on. They do quite a good business selling fish until they are forced to close down by the local authorities, who are keeping an eye out for any foreign aircraft from Germany. The gang has to take down the balloon and in doing so, get caught up in a gust of wind that takes away the roof of the stand. Cecil (Jimmy Nervo) steps down the ladder that originally led to the roof on their stand, only to find out they have drifted away into the air. After being several hours in the air, they discover themselves over the North Sea when they notice fighter planes flying in formation above their heads. Getting hungry, they decide to split a fish between all six of them, but are unsure how to cook a fish while floating on top of the gasbag.
When the fish is cut, a hole is formed in the gasbag, causing it to lose air and collapse. The gang lands safely on the ground for the most part, except for Charlie (Charlie Naughton), who has inhaled the air from the gasbag and thus causing him to look like a balloon himself. His friends take advantage of his temporary condition, and use him to provide air for a fire with which to cook the fish. Once they start to look around on the ground, all they encounter are cannons, ground periscopes, and guns, suddenly realizing they are not in Ireland like they initially thought.
Bud, Ches, Cecil, Knoxy, Charlie, and Goldy find themselves following a troop of soldiers, when they are brought to a German Nazi officer and drilled as to why they were on the Siegfried Line. They are considered to be invaders and even spies for the British government, and then carted off to a concentration camp. At the camp, they have to sleep in bunks but fail several times, when two large groups of men come in to take up their bunks, then the space on the floor. The gang eventually winds up sleeping on top of their friend, Jerry Jenkins (Moore Marriott), an elderly prisoner who has a map of the secret location where the weapon is stored drawn on his back. Being huddled onto a small shelf, they are actually able to fall asleep until the morning.
While they stay at the concentration camp, the gang has daily labors to take care of. While scrubbing the floor, they notice a man that looks like Hitler who is watching them through the window. Thinking they are seeing the real deal, they discover there is more than one at the camp: a whole group of them who were created to be lookalikes but went on strike. As punishment for their strike, they were sent to the concentration camp. Knoxy has a talent for doing an impersonation of Hitler, and that gives his friends an idea: that they can get out of the concentration camp if Knoxy can get a job as Hitler, and be free to go to Stutzberg where the weapon is being stored.
Knoxy and his friends are at the concentration camps office where they meet with German officials. The officials are impressed with Knoxy’s impersonation of Hitler and guarantee him a job: to appear at an important state banquet. Unknown to the Crazy Gang, Knoxy’s life is put on the line, for a series of assassination attempts are to take place at the banquet. Knoxy, though, like Hitler in real life, manages to escape every attempt and survive. At the banquet, Knoxy becomes the target of a flower bouquet, poisoned wine and food, and most amusingly, a table centerpiece that is working cannon. The final attempt is made on his life when he is giving a speech to the public from the balcony where the building also held the banquet. The rafter holding up the balcony is yanked loose, but Knoxy and the gang roll down a very long carpet, safely into a car where they take off for Stutzberg. They are followed by the German officials who want to see him dead, however, but manage to evade being captured, even as they are camouflaged as trees in the forest. By luck, they find the weapon, which has mole burrowing capacities, and bring it home to England.
The Crazy Gang engages in their usual banter which still remains humorous to this day. Charlie is the persistently scatterbrained and eldest member of the group who is the target of many of his friend’s remarks. Knoxy, with his lisp, manages to transform that into what is considered to be a perfect German accent. Along with Bud Flanagan, Chesney Allen, and Jimmy Gold, the gang provides non-stop laughter during the entire length of the movie. Moore Marriott is perfect as the elderly prisoner, who is able to compete with the gang’s antics while they try to reach their final destination and eliminate Hitler’s secret weapon at the same time. Bud and Ches perform “Yesterday’s Dream” as they initially settle into their bunks, a rendition that is memorable long after the film is seen. Directed by Walter Forde and Marcel Varnel, and written by Marriott Edgar and Val Guest, “Gasbags” is a film for anyone who enjoys classic comedy that pokes fun at Hitler, and can appreciate how a war can influence the ability for a nation attacked by a hostile force can turn it around into something positive.