Film Review: City On Fire! (1979)

Also known as: La Cité en feu (Canadian French title)
Release Date: May 24th, 1979 (Germany)
Directed by: Alvin Rakoff
Written by: Jack Hill, Dave Lewis, Celine La Freniere
Music by: Matthew McCauley, William McCauley
Cast: Barry Newman, Susan Clark, Shelley Winters, Leslie Nielsen, James Franciscus, Ava Gardner, Henry Fonda

Astral Bellevue Pathé, Astral Films, Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC), AVCO Embassy Pictures, 106 Minutes


“All it takes is one man, could be anybody… your neighbor, my neighbor… one man to destroy a city.” – Chief Albert Risley

How can a movie that boasts the talents of Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters, Ava Gardner and Leslie Nielsen be absolutely abominable? Well, if it’s an all-star ensemble thrown into a ’70s “made for TV” disaster movie, there’s your answer.

These things were rarely good. Actually, I don’t think they were ever good. Now some disaster movies are fun but those were the big Hollywood blockbusters for the big screen and only the first few at the beginning of the 1970s obsession with urban apocalypse pictures.

This one sees some disgruntled worker deliberately cause a fire at an oil refinery, which is apparently enough to burn down an entire city. Well, if you can suspend disbelief and watch this thing unfold like an unfunny version of Curb Your Enthusiasm where the city is Larry and the fire is spread by everything going wrong that could possibly go wrong at every turn.

City On Fire! is a compilation of brain farts captured on celluloid. There isn’t much about it that is worth anyone’s time and it has no redeeming factors. It’s boring, dumb and you’ll only feel sadness for the talented actors wedged into this flaming shit show.

But hey, it was lampooned on the first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when it was still on local TV in Minnesota. They never resurrected this once the show went national on Comedy Central or the Sci-Fi Channel and that’s probably for the best. It was alright to sit through once and didn’t need to be dusted off and replayed like a few other films from that inaugural season.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other terrible “made for TV” disaster movies.

Film Review: Avalanche (1978)

Release Date: August 30th, 1978
Directed by: Corey Allen
Written by: Corey Allen, Gavin Lambert (as Claude Pola)
Based on: a story by Frances Doel
Music by: William Kraft
Cast: Rock Hudson, Mia Farrow, Robert Forster, Jeanette Nolan, Rick Moses, Steve Franken, Barry Primus

New World Pictures, 91 Minutes


Avalanche is exactly what you would expect it to be, a 1970s run-of-the-mill disaster flick where nothing happens for the first 75 percent of the picture other than developing characters you won’t care about when they are guaranteed to die before the show’s over.

In this particular picture, Rock Hudson plays a prick that bullies his wife around and doesn’t get why she can’t stand him. Mia Farrow plays the wife and she is probably more boring than she has ever been. Robert Forster is also there to be a possible second love interest for Mia Farrow but he just plays it cool because Robert Forster is always cool.

If you haven’t already guessed, the annoying people in this film are on the verge of being run over by an avalanche. As is customary in these pictures, one guy foresees the disaster and warns the important people. However, the important people ignore the warning because they “don’t want to create a panic”, which means, they want to collect money from the clueless saps who are in danger.

We get an hour or so of douchey people and their lame swanky parties until the avalanche finally kicks off. When it does, good bye ski resort!

The action isn’t very exciting and some of the avalanche special effects are pretty bad. The resort gets run over pretty quickly and it seems like we wasted an hour waiting for the destruction that was promised only to see it happen too quickly.

The film sort of makes up for that though, as everything after the avalanche becomes even more dangerous. I’m not sure why but the film makes everything after the avalanche a death trap. An ambulance, for no apparent reason, crashes through a building. Then we get things falling over, things exploding, bridges collapsing, people fall off of ski lifts only to miss the rescuers holding their safety trampoline thingy, it’s a real shit show.

Ultimately, this film is boring, lame and full of at least a couple gallons of liquid suck. It should definitely be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. So let’s see the results… Well, what we have here is Avalanche categorized as a Type 5 stool, which is defined as “Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).” Whatever, I couldn’t pass it that easily.

Rating: 3/10

Film Review: SST Death Flight (1977)

Release Date: February 25th, 1977
Directed by: David Lowell Rich
Written by: Robert L. Joseph, Meyer Dolinsky, Guerdon Trueblood
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: Lorne Greene, Peter Graves, Susan Strasberg, Doug McClure, Barbara Anderson, Bert Convy, Burgess Meredith, Tina Louise, Robert Reed, Billy Crystal, John de Lancie, Brock Peters, Regis Philbin

ABC Circle Films, American Broadcasting Company, 89 Minutes


In the 1970s, America loved its disaster movies. They also loved TV movies with big ensemble casts made up of the stars from various television shows. So green lighting SST Death Flight was a no brainer, right?

A lot of the disaster films of that era didn’t hold up well at all. Now I am not sure what people thought about SST Death Flight when it aired on ABC in early 1977 but it is a friggin’ turd.

I almost feel bad for most of the cast that is in this. Burgess Meredith deserves better and Lorne Greene has done his fair share of cheese but both men are pretty accomplished and respected and have a certain gravitas that puts them above a picture like this. I can’t fault Billy Crystal, he’s pretty damn young here and was looking for that big break.

70s celebrities seemed to love being in these big disaster ensembles though, and to be honest, despite the movie being terrible, it was probably a hell of a lot of fun to make and to hang out on the set with a bunch of really cool colleagues. I wouldn’t have said “no” to it, if I was in the same position.

SST Death Flight is unexciting, uninteresting and is just a cookie cutter plane in danger picture. This formula has been done to death and this movie offers nothing really new or captivating. In fact, it plays like more of a parody but without the clever jokes.

Ultimately, a bunch of people die, some survive but no one really cares. It has the most predictable scenario, with the most predictable twists and turns all leading to the most predictable ending.

But you can watch it get riffed in the first pre-cable era season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That version is currently streaming on YouTube.

Rating: 2/10