City on Fire (1979 film)

City on Fire (1979 film)
City on Fire

City on Fire movie poster.
Directed by Alvin Rakoff
Produced by Claude Héroux
Written by Jack Hill
Dave Lewis
Céline La Frenière
Starring Barry Newman
Susan Clark
Shelley Winters
Leslie Nielsen
James Franciscus
Ava Gardner
Henry Fonda
Music by Matthew McCauley
William McCauley
Cinematography René Verzier
Studio Astral Bellevue Pathé
Telefilm Canada
Distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures
Release date(s) Canada August 29, 1979
United States August 31, 1979
Running time 106 min.
Country  Canada
 United States
Language French/English
Budget $5,300,000 (estimated)
Box office $784,181[1](USA)

City on Fire is a 1979 disaster film directed by Alvin Rakoff and featuring an “all-star cast,” as was the custom for that time. The film’s plot revolves around a disgruntled employee who sets fire to an oil refinery, setting off a blaze which engulfs an entire city. Various people try to either fight or flee the fire as it spreads throughout the city. Some elements of the disaster depicted reflect the infamous Texas City Disaster of 1947.

The film was partially financed by the government agency Telefilm Canada and was thus filmed in Montreal, Canada, although the name of the city is not mentioned in the film. Although American stars Henry Fonda, James Franciscus, Shelly Winters, and Ava Gardner, all veterans of the numerous disaster flicks of the 70's, appeared in the film, albeit in relatively supporting or minor roles, the majority of the rest of the cast originated from Canada. Filmed on a confined budget some of the fire sequences utilized stock footage from both existing movies and news footage. City on Fire was ultimately a unsuccessful venture for the company and had a limited run at the American box office. The film was resurrected from obscurity by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1989, and has since been known as an example of campy disaster B-movies.



William Dudley (Leslie Nielsen) is a corrupt mayor of a nameless Midwestern U.S. city who has allowed a oil 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 (Jonathan Welsh), 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 Whitman (Barry Newman), and his staff treat thousands of casualties from the fire while the city fire chief Risley (Henry Fonda) keeps in constant contact with the fire companies fighting a losing battle against the fires, and Maggie Grayson (Ava Gardner), an alcoholic reporter, sees it as her chance to make it nationwide with her coverage of the story of the "city on fire".

Primary Cast


  • The city used in the movie was Montreal.
  • City On Fire was featured on a 1989 KTMA-era episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
  • Leslie Nielsen would go on to star in Airplane!, a spoof of disaster films.
  • Many of the fire scenes were stock footage.
  • Although set in a unnamed American city, identifiable because of the appearance of American flags in a few scenes, the television station setting for the movie has the call letters listed as CETV. In the United States, all television and radio station call letters begin with either the letter K (for states west of the Mississippi River), or the letter W (for states east of the Mississippi River). The letter C is used for all of Canada's provinces.


See also

External links

Mystery Science Theater 3000

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