• City On Fire

    Released by: Scorpion Releasing
    Released on: August 23rd, 2016.
    Director: Alvin Rakoff
    Cast: Barry Newman, Susan Clark, Shelley Winters, Leslie Neilson, Ava Gardner
    Year: 1979
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    The Movie:

    City On Fire was directed by Alvin Rakoff and takes place in an unnamed city (if you pay attention you’ll figure out pretty quickly that it’s Montreal) where a working class guy named Herman (Jonathan Welsh) heads out to work for the day. When he doesn’t get the promotion he wanted and is instead pink slipped, he opens up some of the valves at the oil refinery that just laid him off. This causes gas to get into the city’s water supply, and when some dastardly kids start a fire with a cigarette butt, soon enough things start to heat up.

    Meanwhile, wealthy widow Diana (Susan Clark) returns to her home city with philanthropy on her mind. She arrives just in time to celebrate the opening of the new hospital she just helped to bankroll. Dr. Frank Whitman (Barry Newman) is concerned about the place, because skinflint Mayor William Dudley (Leslie Nielsen) has insisted they save some pennies by using subpar building materials. This doesn’t stop Diana from fooling around with the Mayor, but she does have to wonder if maybe Whitman is on to something here.

    As the fire picks up and the city becomes engulfed in flames, an aging alcoholic TV news program host named Maggie (Ava Gardner) does what she can to keep people informed. The hospital soon starts to fill up, leaving a nurse named Andrea Harper (Shelly Winters) in a bit of a panic. The firefighters do everything they can, but those flames are getting bigger… and closer!

    This one doesn’t deviate from the tried and true disaster movie formula too much, but it doesn’t need to. Despite the fact that it drags a little bit in the middle this is a fun watch. The optical effects are clearly that – optical effects – and they don’t look particularly realistic but they have their own sort of charm and are actually pretty impressive in their own dated way. If nothing else, they make for a ridiculously colorful film with the city pretty much completely awash in reds and oranges and yellows in the last half of the movie. It’s quite a sight to see.

    The performances here are pretty enjoyable as well, thanks to the efforts of a fun cast. Leslie Nielson is a kick as the shifty mayor. It’s amusing to see him shift in to hero mode once the crisis begins. Barry Newman is well cast as the noble doctor. He’s a legitimate good guy, a hero in the true sense of the word, and Newman plays the part well. Shelly Winters is Shelly Winters, she’s not stretching much here but you’ve got to love her as the nurse. Jonathan Welsh plays the weird disgruntled guy responsible for all of this quite effectively. There’s something off about him, as there would be with anyone responsible for something like this. Throw lovely Susan Clark into the mix as the female lead and this shapes up nicely.

    This might not be the world’s most realistic disaster movie – the script (co-written by Jack Hill) is a bit far-fetched and dependent on clichés and conveniences – but it doesn’t need to be. This is unabashed popcorn fodder, just solid entertainment.


    Scorpion Releasing brings City On Fire to Blu-ray on a 25GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer that looks quite good. Framed at 1.78.1 widescreen, the picture shows really nice detail and strong texture as well. There’s plenty of depth to the image and while this was put together using a few different sources the end result is surprisingly consistent. There’s some minor print damage here and there but nothing so serious as to take you out of the movie. Skin tones look nice, black levels are fine and the disc is well authored. As such, there are no problems with compression artifacts. The transfer is also quite film-like, showing a nice, natural amount of film grain and appears devoid of any obvious edge enhancement or noise reduction.

    The only audio option for the disc is a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track in English. No alternate language options or subtitles are provided. Dialogue is clean and clear and the levels are properly balanced but things are a bit flat at times. The score sounds pretty decent though and there are no issues with any serious hiss or distortion.

    Aside from static menus and chapter selection we get a TV spot for the feature and bonus trailers for a few other Scorpion Releasing properties.

    The Final Word:

    City On Fire is very definitely a product of its time, but those who an affinity for seventies disaster movies should get a kick out of this one. A bigger budget and a tighter running time would have helped, but this one remains a pretty entertaining watch with some neat effects work and a fun cast. Scorpion Releasing’s Blu-ray is light on extras but the movie looks really good in high definition. Lots of fun to be had here – recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!