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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
Fire! One of mankind's oldest and most devastating natural enemies already resulted especially during the peak of disaster movies throughout the 70's decade in a couple of very memorable movies, like the superior "The Towering Inferno", the more obscure TV-production "Fire!" and this criminally underrated and unjustly bashed "City on Fire". Okay, admittedly this isn't one of the most supreme and overwhelming entries in the disaster sub genre (shaped by all the notorious Irwin Allen productions), but all the terrific trademarks are definitely represented: perilous situations/incidents that go beyond the wildest proportions, an impressive all-star ensemble cast, irrelevant sub plots and character intrigues and last but not least numerous of truly astonishing special effects and spectacular action footage. Moreover, since this film was scripted by B-movie legend Jack Hill ("Spider Baby", "Death Ship", "Foxy Brown"), we're also treated to something that usually doesn't feature in standard disaster movies, namely nasty and grueling images of repulsive gore! Leslie Nielsen, still in the period before he became typecast as a slapstick actor, stars as the corrupt and power hungry mayor of a nameless large city. He arranged for a large hospital to be built in the city center, but the building is ramshackle and the equipment is outdated. Worse even, he is under pressure because he also allowed for a massive oil refinery to be constructed right in the heart of the city. When a frustrated employee of the refinery sabotages some of the installations and causes fuels to leak into the city sewers, it doesn't take long for a gigantic fire to burst out and spread itself throughout the entire metropolis. Pretty soon the new hospital is overrun with casualties, but given its location, the hospital itself is guaranteed to be destroyed by the unstoppable inferno. Never mind all the harsh and downright negative reviews around here, and the fact that "City on Fire" got parodied in MST3K, because this is one helluva entertaining motion picture! The script undeniably suffers from errors in continuity and a handful of illogical plot twists, but this is more than widely compensated by the non-stop spitfire (pun intended) of action and brutal violence. There are a lot of stunt people running around with their clothes in flames, falling from refinery pipelines or getting squished underneath collapsing buildings. At a certain point in the film, news anchor lady Ava Gardner mentions the inferno already led to more than 3000 casualties; how's that for a death toll? Nielsen gives away the best performance as Mayor Dudley, but also Barry Newman ("Vanishing Point"), Shelley Winters ("The Poseidon Adventure") and Susan Clark ("Airport 1975") are memorable. Henry Fonda has relatively little to do as the senior fire department chief, but he gets to deliver the philosophical "this-could-happen-to-any-city-anywhere-in-the-world") speech at the end.
*title review inspired by the song "Fire!", courtesy of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
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