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City on Fire (1979)

R  |   |  Action, Drama  |  31 August 1979 (USA)
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Ratings: 3.5/10 from 680 users  
Reviews: 24 user | 11 critic

A pyromaniac, ex-employee of a city oil refinery creates an explosion at the facility which starts a chain-reaction of fires that engulf the entire city.


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Dr. Frank Whitman
Diana Brockhurst-Lautrec
Nurse Andrea Harper
Mayor William Dudley
Maggie Grayson
Fire Chief Albert Risley
Jonathan Welsh ...
Herman Stover
Hilary Farr ...
Mrs. Adams (as Hilary Labow)
Richard Donat ...
Fire Captain Harrison Risley
Mavor Moore ...
John O'Brien
Dr. Matwick
Terry Haig ...
Terry James
Cec Linder ...
Councilman Paley
Ken James ...
Andrew - Deputy Fire Chief


William Dudley is a corrupt mayor of a nameless Midwestern U.S. city who has allowed a chemical refinery to be built right in the center of town, far from any river, lake or reservoir. On one typical hot summer day, Herman Stover, a dangerously disturbed employee at the works has been denied an expected promotion and in addition, finds himself fired. He then decides to take his revenge against the works by opening the valves to the storage vats and their interconnecting pipes, flooding the area and sewers with gasoline and chemicals. It doesn't take long for this act of petty vandalism to start a fire, which starts a chain reaction that causes massive explosions at the refinery, destroying it and spreading a mushroom-cloud of flame that soon engulfs the entire metropolis! The drama focuses on a newly built hospital which, like the refinery and all civic buildings that went up during the mayor's crooked administration, is shoddily built and poorly equipped where the head doctor, Frank ... Written by Alfred Jingle

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


What Happened to Them Could Happen to You ... In Any City Anywhere!


Action | Drama


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:







Release Date:

31 August 1979 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

City on Fire  »

Filming Locations:

Box Office


$5,300,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The opening credits show closeups of several buildings. They are the Royal Bank Plaza (Toronto), recognizable with its gold-bronze windows, Place Ville-Marie (Montreal), a cruciform skyscraper, and Complexe Desjardins (Montreal), a shopping mall and office building. See more »


Several French language signs can be seen around the "American" city in the film. See more »


Mayor William Dudley: What's eating you now? You have a new job and the city has a beautiful new hospital.
Dr. Frank Whitman: That's right, some new hospital. It looks really good on the outside. But thanks to your political favors here and there of saving money and cut backs, I'm stuck with the patch-up job!
Mayor William Dudley: Well nothing is perfect. Everything's compromised. Now, if you were the mayor of a big city and you have to get things done, you have to learn to give and take.
Dr. Frank Whitman: Try talking to a surgeon about compromise during an open-heart ...
See more »


Referenced in Bad Movie Beatdown: Meteor (2009) See more »

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User Reviews

Barry's All Fired Up
29 January 2010 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

Not the lemon it's often branded, "City on Fire" is an entertaining Canadian disaster movie with a capable cast, some good sets and special effects, and better than average dialogue. Two separate fires converge to create an inferno of biblical proportions, with various notables becoming victims. The plot focuses on a disgruntled oil refinery employee (Welsh) who triggers one of the blazes, while in another part of the city, pre-pubescent kids discover that cigarettes really do kill. Local surgeon's (dependable Barry Newman) disenchantment with bureaucracy, goes on temporary hiatus as he tries to save his hospital, that lies in the path of destruction. His valiant efforts hampered by the mayor's (Nielsen) ill advised attempts to achieve martyrdom, spurred on by the lure of the polls.

Sad Ava Gardner plays an alcoholic has-been news anchor, a timely reflection of her status as a faded Hollywood star at the time, while James Franciscus is wasted in a frivolous supporting role as her line producer. Many recognisable local faces fill out the peripheral roles (Donat, Linder, James), and heavyweights Winters and Fonda provide nice human touches to their dedicated civil servant types. Overall, there's plenty of coverage and a nice symmetry between the righteous and the wrongdoers. Unlike "Towering Inferno" the varnish has been stripped by the flames, and there's no holding back on special effects - as such, expect to see a few gory burns victims.

Not overlong, perhaps not unrealistic (so the tag-line warns anyway), and certainly not as clichéd as most disaster movies, "City on Fire" is an involving film with some impressive credentials and doesn't warrant the unfavourable response it often garners. It's not as sophisticated or indeed convoluted as "Backdraft", but is perhaps an improvement on the Irwin Allen production line that had a mortgage on this genre throughout the 70's. So give this so-called lemon a try and I think you'll find the juice is worth the squeeze.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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