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Thursday, July 1, 2010

The City On Fire (released in 1979) - starring Barry Newman, Henry Fonda, Ava Gardner and Shirley Winters - a disaster thriller that was a super flop

This is a disaster thriller which is directed by Alvin Rakoff, starring Barry Newman, Henry Fonda, Ava Gardner and Shirley Winters. Have you ever heard of a movie which brought down its production company ? Well City On Fire did just that. It was one of the biggest flops of the day and finds its way in the dubious list of “the worst movies of the century”. This movie had a limited run at the box office and is one of the movies which is never released on the DVD circuit. The Telefilm Canada company, a government agency had financed this movie.
The nameless city which goes up on fire is run by a corrupt Mayor who flaunts all the rules in planning the city. A petrochemical plant is built bang in the center of the city and all the toxic wastes are not removed. There is no river or any other water body to wash away the filth. A series of interconnected tubes leads the inflammable material in to the storage vats which are then discarded.
One very hot summer day, one of the disgruntled employee's, Herman Stover gets fired. This mentally de-stabilises him and he looks for revenge. An act of sabotage follows, with Herman opening all the valves and throwing on every switch, causing the inflammable waste to flow in to the sewers. The men working on the welding does start the inevitable. The sparks soon start the fire which in turn becomes a towering inferno.

Soon the entire city is engulfed in the fire. Many victims are shown to be burning to cinders. This is one part of the movie which may please a sadist. You can actually see many residents who burn horribly to death. The make up of the burns are so real that a normal person may turn his head in revulsion. But soon a list of characters like a funny paparazzi who runs to his burning house to get the roving socialite's picture, guys in the street, an old man et all.., all get burnt to cinders on screen. Those who don't get burnt fall down the buildings and get mowed down by cars. Well in a nut shell horrible, horrid, horror sequences are all around.
Now the real action or the story happens within the hospital at the city center near the inferno. A dashing surgeon Frank Whitman and goody goody nurse Shelley winters nurse the poor burnt citizens. They struggle to find supplies in the poorly managed hospital. On the other hand an honest fire fighter chief Albert Risley is struggling to control the fire. He co-ordinates with the doctor to protect the hospital and the citizens.
Apart from the corrupt Mayor and a mad cap employee, another doofus character that is irritating, is the publicity hungry Maggie Grayson, a local TV reporter who sees the fire as a ticket to a great career. She is an a alcoholic who reports the carnage in a dead pan voice and is seen swigging spirits when she is relaxing. So these bunch of heroes work hard to control the inferno and some die for their selfless acts. This movie was made in Montreal and passed on as a US city. The falseness is prevalent in the entire sequences and does nothing to lift the spirit of the audience. Nothing missed if you give it a miss.

The City On Fire (released in 1979) - starring Barry Newman, Henry Fonda, Ava Gardner and Shirley Winters - a disaster thriller

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