Sunday morning coffee and breakfast viewing. From the same director of the creepy underrated 1980 horror gem DEATH SHIP and with a screenplay co-written by Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY, FOXY BROWN, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS), CITY ON FIRE (1979) is a disaster film from late in that genre's finest decade, and one I have not peviously watched. The disaster here is man-made rather than natural (a disgruntled employee blows up an oil refinery, causing destruction and a massive blaze that sweeps through the city). The requisite all-star line-up cast includes POSEIDON ADVENTURE alumni Shelly Winters and Lelslie Neilsen, Henry Fonda as the retiring fire chief and Ava Gardner as an aging, boozing, tryanical TV host. Barry Newman makes an interesting choice for a male lead in this type of film, but he is pretty enjoyable in his role as a womanizing head doctor at a brand new (but under-equiped) hospital. Always loved watching Newman on TV in PETROCELLI.
CITY ON FIRE isn't up there with the classic disaster films that thrilled audiences earlier in the 1970s, but it's one of the better ones from its period (certainly superior to METEOR or Irwin Allen's WHEN TIME RAN OUT - though I do have a nostalgic soft spot for the former). There's a lot of the usual soap opera elements to stretch out the time between moments of excitement, but the film looks (and sounds) quite impressive for its budget (unlike the other big studio disaster films, CITY ON FIRE was produced by Avco Embassy for a pretty modest $3 million). The explosion sequence at the refinery is particularly gripping and very well orchestrated, highlighted by some pretty spectacular stunt work. The film's original R rating allows it to be a bit more graphic than some of its counterparts (particularly in the depiction of fire victims, as well as the use of some strong language).
Beautiful art by John Solie on the original film poster, also. Solie is one of the absolute giants of 1970s drive-in/exploitation movie art, with posters for PIRANHA, HELL UP IN HARLEM, DEATH RACE 2000, DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY, THE SWINGING BARMAIDS and many more amongst his impressive list of work.