Backdraft (1991)

R | 136 mins | Drama, Mystery | 24 May 1991

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HISTORY

The film concludes with the following statement: “There are over 1,200,700 active firefighters in the U.S. today.”
       End credits contain the following cast discrepancies: Kurt Russell plays the role of Stephen and Brian’s father, “Dennis McCaffrey,” in the film’s opening sequence. However, the character is not credited onscreen. The character “Chief John Fitzgerald” is referred to onscreen as “Chief Jack Fitzgerald.” The character “Martin Swayzak” is referred to as “Alderman” by various characters in the film. The term is commonly used in Chicago to denote its city council members.
       According to a 24 May 1991 HR article, screenwriter Gregory Widen pitched the concept for Backdraft to Trilogy Entertainment Group producer Richard B. Lewis sometime in 1987. They sold the idea to De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, but the production company went bankrupt before the project could be developed. Widen and Lewis were able to retain the property, and when director Ron Howard expressed interest in it, Trilogy agreed to produce the film for Imagine Entertainment and Universal Pictures, as noted in a 25 Oct 1988 HR article. The “action-thriller,” budgeted at $15 million and scheduled to begin production in summer 1989, was described by HR as the story of “a rookie fireman who becomes involved in a complex arson investigation.” However, Widen stated in a 17 May 1991 WSJ article that Ron Howard wanted to re-shape the story to focus on the relationship between two brothers. The screenwriter claimed he was “banished for a year as three new writers were assigned to the script.” A 12 Jan 1989 DV news brief indicated that writer Michael Bortman ... More Less

The film concludes with the following statement: “There are over 1,200,700 active firefighters in the U.S. today.”
       End credits contain the following cast discrepancies: Kurt Russell plays the role of Stephen and Brian’s father, “Dennis McCaffrey,” in the film’s opening sequence. However, the character is not credited onscreen. The character “Chief John Fitzgerald” is referred to onscreen as “Chief Jack Fitzgerald.” The character “Martin Swayzak” is referred to as “Alderman” by various characters in the film. The term is commonly used in Chicago to denote its city council members.
       According to a 24 May 1991 HR article, screenwriter Gregory Widen pitched the concept for Backdraft to Trilogy Entertainment Group producer Richard B. Lewis sometime in 1987. They sold the idea to De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, but the production company went bankrupt before the project could be developed. Widen and Lewis were able to retain the property, and when director Ron Howard expressed interest in it, Trilogy agreed to produce the film for Imagine Entertainment and Universal Pictures, as noted in a 25 Oct 1988 HR article. The “action-thriller,” budgeted at $15 million and scheduled to begin production in summer 1989, was described by HR as the story of “a rookie fireman who becomes involved in a complex arson investigation.” However, Widen stated in a 17 May 1991 WSJ article that Ron Howard wanted to re-shape the story to focus on the relationship between two brothers. The screenwriter claimed he was “banished for a year as three new writers were assigned to the script.” A 12 Jan 1989 DV news brief indicated that writer Michael Bortman was collaborating with Widen on the script. Ten months later, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported that production on Backdraft was delayed due to script re-writes. On 17 Jan 1990, DV noted that screenwriter Steven De Souza had been tasked with writing the story of “two firefighting brothers in Chicago … [who] try to sort out their sense of duty and their own relationship to the fire department.” Throughout 1988 and 1989, various contemporary sources gave contradictory statements regarding Howard’s commitment to the film, with some indicating he was “certain” to direct, and others describing his involvement as “likely” or “possible.” Gregory Widen confirmed that, after the other writers “failed” to integrate the numerous plot points, Howard wanted “to move on to something else.” At the last moment, with support from Trilogy producers, Widen spent three intense days “salvaging” the script. Howard was satisfied, and filming was scheduled for summer 1990.
       Principal photography was set to begin 25 Jul 1990 in Chicago, IL, according to an 11 Jul 1990 Var article. The director indicated that the sixteen-week production schedule would entail shooting on “practical locations” throughout Chicago. The lead actors participated in fire training exercises at the Chicago Fire Academy to prepare for the “dangerous fire sequences.” A 20 Jan 1991 NYT article noted that filmmakers closed Michigan Avenue, a major Chicago thoroughfare, to film the funeral procession. Nearly 600 off-duty firefighters volunteered to march in the cortège.
       Backdraft received tremendous praise for its visual and special effects. Various contemporary sources, including 29 May 1991 LAT and 9 Jun 1991 NYT articles, described how the special effects and design teams overcame the challenges of filming fire, which would produce so much smoke and ash that actors would be obscured from view. Filmmakers used a “white, haze-like effect” to give scenes the appearance of being filled with smoke. Falling bits of ash were created from cardboard and carefully controlled with an air mover, a technique that allowed filmmakers to capture the ash in specific, dancelike ways. To dramatize the fires viewed from a distance, diesel fuel was added to the propane typically used by Hollywood pyrotechnicians, generating a rich black smoke. Additionally, flames were colored by various chemical compounds. Throughout Backdraft, the fire presents itself as a personality with motive and intent, moving across ceilings and down walls in ways that defy the laws of physics. Filmmakers achieved this by building a set upside down and filming the fire in slow motion as it traveled its natural course along the floor and up the wall. A similar “upside-down effect” was used to film smoke that appears to retreat of its own accord. In a 29 May 1991 full-page DV advertisement, cinematographer Mikael Salomon praised the specially designed Clairmont Camera Fireboxes used in production. With the camera safely protected in the box, trails of glue and flammable substances were laid so that flames raced straight into the camera lens. The LAT indicated that $1.25 million was spent on fire effects. Backdraft received Academy Award nominations for Visual Effects, as well as for Sound and Sound Effects Editing. However, it did not garner any awards.
       Although the LAT listed a $35 million budget, the WSJ journal indicated that the film likely cost $40 million. The picture opened 24 May 1991, and grossed $15.7 million over its Memorial Day weekend opening, an industry record for a “non-sequel” film at that time, according to a 29 May 1991 LAT box-office report. A year after the film’s opening, a 5 May 1992 HR news brief noted that Backdraft had earned $147 million worldwide. Critics were generally impressed with the fire sequences, and lauded the film’s technical execution. However, reviews faulted the meandering script.
       On 5 May 1992, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported that two New York fireman had filed a federal lawsuit against Imagine Entertainment, claiming copyright infringement of a script they had written in 1988 and 1989. Four years later, on 10 Jun 1996, DV indicated the court ruled in favor of the two men, because attorneys for Ron Howard and Imagine Entertainment had failed to comply with a request for documents. Judge William M. Skretny asserted that Imagine had acted in “willful and bad faith non-compliance” with court orders. The New York firefighters won by default. The judge did not address issues related to copyright infringement, including the alleged “100 similarities” between the claimants’ script and the finished film. Filmmakers planned to appeal the ruling, and the final outcome of the lawsuit is not known.
       The LAT announced, on 24 Jun 1992, that a $10 million Backdraft attraction was due to open at Universal Studios Hollywood that summer. On 21 Jul 1992, DV reported that the attraction, which was part of the Studio Tour, included a short introductory film featuring Ron Howard, Scott Glenn, and Kurt Russell. Universal Studios marketed the show as an introduction to “the art of pyrotechnic special effects,” with a “terrifying,” two-minute, warehouse-inferno finale. Temperatures inside the soundstage reached 2000 degrees. The Backdraft attraction closed in Sep 2009.
       End credits include: “LIFE magazine logo and trademark used with permission of the Time Inc. Magazine Company," and, "Special thanks to Tic Tac Dough and Barry & Enright Productions."
       End credits include the following acknowledgments: “The cooperation of The City of Chicago Fire Department is gratefully acknowledged, specifically the following persons: Commissioner Raymond Orozco; First Deputy Edward Altman; Chief Patrick Kehoe; Chief William Alletto; Chief Charles Burns; Roy E. Dean, Sr.; Lt. Jack Connors; Lt. Steve Chikerotis; Bill Cosgrove, O.F.I. Inspector; Donald Rimgale, O.F.I. Inspector; and Chief Stanley Span.” “Grateful appreciation to: Suzy Kellet, Illinois Film Office; Charles Geocaris, City of Chicago Office of Film and Entertainment; Mayor Richard M. Daley; Kathy Osterman, Mayor’s Office of Special Events; Marge Frantz, The Chicago Park District; Lt. Peter Schurla [and] Officer Tom Flanagan, City of Chicago Police Department; Suzanne Vestuto, Village of Oak Park; Park District of Oak Park; Village of Hinsdale; Baldoni Entertainment; Helene Curtis, Inc.” More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
Aug 1991.
---
Chicago Tribune
19 May 1991.
---
Daily Variety
12 Jan 1989
p. 1, 51.
Daily Variety
17 Jan 1990
p. 1, 63.
Daily Variety
29 May 1991.
---
Daily Variety
21 Jul 1992
p. 4.
Daily Variety
10 Jun 1996
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Oct 1988
p. 1, 73.
Hollywood Reporter
20 May 1991
p. 5, 16.
Hollywood Reporter
24 May 1991
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
5 May 1992.
---
LA Weekly
24 May 1991.
---
Long Beach Press-Telegram
18 Nov 1989
Section B, p. 2.
Long Beach Press-Telegram
5 May 1992.
---
Los Angeles Times
24 May 1991
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
29 May 1991
Section F, p. 1, 3.
Los Angeles Times
29 May 1991
Section F, p. 4.
Los Angeles Times
24 Jun 1992.
---
New York Times
15 Jun 1990.
---
New York Times
20 Jan 1991.
---
New York Times
24 May 1991
Section C, p. 14.
New York Times
9 Jun 1991.
---
Screen International
9 Jun 1990.
---
Variety
11 Jul 1990.
---
Variety
27 May 1991
p. 76.
WSJ
17 May 1991
Section B, p. 1, 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
William Baldwin
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Imagine Films Entertainment presents
a Trilogy Entertainment Group--Brian Grazer production
a Ron Howard film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
2d unit dir, 2d unit
1st asst dir, 2d unit
2d asst dir, 2d unit
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog/Aerial photog/Visual eff photog, 2d
Cam op/Steadicam
1st asst cam
Addl 1st asst cam/Asst cam
2d asst cam
Addl 2d asst cam
Film loader
Film loader
Gyrosphere op
Video playback eng
Chief lighting tech
Chicago gaffer
Elec best boy
Elec
Musco lighting tech
Still photog
Key grip
Key grip, Chicago
Dolly grip
Dolly grip, Chicago
Best boy
Titan crane op
2d unit dir of photog, 2d unit
Cam op, 2d unit
1st asst cam, 2d unit
Addl 1st asst cam, 2d unit
2d asst cam, 2d unit
Addl 2d asst cam, 2d unit
Video playback, 2d unit
Gaffer, 2d unit
Chicago gaffer, 2d unit
Elec, 2d unit
Key grip, 2d unit
Best boy grip, 2d unit
Dolly grip, 2d unit
Grip, 2d unit
Frontline film processing
2d unit lighting and grip equip by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
1st asst ed
Asst ed, Chicago
Asst ed, Chicago
Asst ed, N.Y.
Asst ed, N.Y.
Apprentice ed
Post prod supv
Negative cutter
Post prod facility
SET DECORATORS
Set des
Set des
Set dec
Set dressing leadman
Leadman, Chicago
Swing gang
Swing gang
Prop master
Const coord
Chicago coord
Const foreman
Const foreman
Const foreman
Const foreman
Const mold foreman
Mold foreman
Const cost coord
Const buyer
Const buyer
Head painter
Stand-by painter
Sign painter
Paint foreman
Loc paint foreman
Greens
Prop master, 2d unit
Asst props, 2d unit
Standby painter, 2d unit
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
Asst cost des
Set costumer
Set costumer
Seamstress
Set costumer, 2d unit
MUSIC
Mus supv, Magstripe Entertainment
Mus supv, Magstripe Entertainment
Mus coord
Mus ed
Orch/Cond
Addl orchestrations
Addl orchestrations
Mus scoring mixer
Mus contractor
Mus admin
Score wrangler
SOUND
Sd mixer
Cable
Cable
Sd mixer, 2d unit
Post prod sd services provided by
a division of LucasArts Entertainment Company
Re-rec mixer, Skywalker Sound North
Re-rec mixer, Skywalker Sound North
Re-rec mixer/Sd des, Skywalker Sound North
Re-rec mixer, Skywalker Sound North
Supv sd ed, Skywalker Sound North
Sd eff ed, Skywalker Sound North
Sd eff ed, Skywalker Sound North
Sd eff ed, Skywalker Sound North
ADR ed, Skywalker Sound North
ADR ed, Skywalker Sound North
ADR ed, Skywalker Sound North
Dial ed, Skywalker Sound North
Dial ed, Skywalker Sound North
Foley ed, Skywalker Sound North
Foley ed, Skywalker Sound North
Foley ed, Skywalker Sound North
Asst sd des, Skywalker Sound North
Sd eff asst, Skywalker Sound North
Sd eff asst, Skywalker Sound North
Sd eff asst, Skywalker Sound North
ADR asst, Skywalker Sound North
Dial asst, Skywalker Sound North
Dial asst, Skywalker Sound North
Foley asst, Skywalker Sound North
Foley artist, Skywalker Sound North
Foley artist, Skywalker Sound North
Foley rec, Skywalker Sound North
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff and pyrotechnics created by
Spec eff foreman
Spec eff foreman
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Titles des
Titles des
TItles and opticals by
Process compositing by
Spec visual eff by
a division of LucasArts Entertainment Company Marin County, California
Visual eff supv, ILM
Visual eff prod, ILM
Visual eff cam op, ILM
Model supv, ILM
Pyrotechnic supv, ILM
Stage mgr, ILM
Visual eff art dir, ILM
Opt photog supv, ILM
Visual eff ed, ILM
Visual eff coord, ILM
General mgr, ILM
Exec in charge of prod, ILM
Exec in charge of post prod, ILM
Cam asst, ILM
Model eng, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Model maker, ILM
Pyrotechnician, ILM
Pyrotechnician, ILM
Pyrotechnician, ILM
Key grip, ILM
Best boy grip, ILM
Best boy grip, ILM
Best boy elec, ILM
Elec, ILM
Elec, ILM
Elec, ILM
Const, ILM
Const, ILM
Digital eff, ILM
Digital eff, ILM
Matte painter, ILM
Opt cam op, ILM
Opt cam op, ILM
Opt line-up, ILM
Rotoscope artist, ILM
Rotoscope artist, ILM
Negative cutter, ILM
DANCE
Choreog
Dancing girls at retirement party
Choreog, Trinity Academy of Irish Dancing
MAKEUP
Key makeup artist
Prosthetic makeup
Mr. Russell's makeup
Mr. De Niro's makeup & hair
Ms. Leigh's makeup & hair
Key hairstylist
Key hairstylist
Addl makeup & hair
Addl makeup & hair
Hair and makeup, 2d unit
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Prod assoc
Chicago casting
Spec tech advisor
Scr supv
Prod coord
Asst to Richard Lewis
Asst prod coord
Prod secy
Housing coord/2d unit loc asst
Prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
2d asst prod accountant
Asst loc mgr
Los Angeles casting assoc
Chicago casting assoc
Chicago casting intern
Extras casting, Holzer Roche Casting, Inc.
Extras casting, Holzer Roche Casting, Inc.
Extras casting, Holzer Roche Casting, Inc.
Extras casting, Holzer Roche Casting, Inc.
Voice casting
Voice casting
Helicopter pilot
Ground safety coord
Fire safety officer
Fire eng
Fire eng
Fire eng
Fire eng
Fire eng
Fire eng
Tech advisor to Mr. De Niro
Tech advisor to Ms. Leigh
Transportation coord
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Co-capt/Driver
Co-capt/Driver
Prod office driver
Catering
Catering
Cook/Driver
Cook/Helper
Craft service
Craft service
First aid
Animal trainer/Handler
Dialect coach
Dialect coach
Mr. De Niro's trainer
Film intern
Prod office asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Scr supv, 2d unit
Craft service, 2d unit
First aid, 2d unit
Prod asst, 2d unit
Prod asst, 2d unit
Prod asst, 2d unit
Transportation coord, 2d unit
Transportation co-capt, 2d unit
Extras casting asst, 2d unit
Caterer, 2d unit
Stages and loc equip supplied by
Scott Air-Packs by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
"Set Me In Motion" [and] "The Show Goes On," performed by Bruce Hornsby and the Range
"I Walk Alone," written by David Hidalgo and Louis Perez, performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records/Warner Bros. Records, Inc. by arrangement with Warner Special Products
"A Girl Like You," written by Pat DiNizio, performed by The Smithereens, courtesy of Capitol Records, Inc. by arrangement with CEMA Special Markets
+
SONGS
"Set Me In Motion" [and] "The Show Goes On," performed by Bruce Hornsby and the Range
"I Walk Alone," written by David Hidalgo and Louis Perez, performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records/Warner Bros. Records, Inc. by arrangement with Warner Special Products
"A Girl Like You," written by Pat DiNizio, performed by The Smithereens, courtesy of Capitol Records, Inc. by arrangement with CEMA Special Markets
"Sunshine Of Your Love," written by Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce & Peter Brown, performed by Cream, courtesy of Polygram Special Products, a division of Polygram Records, Inc.
"(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave," written by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier & Brian Holland, performed by Martha and The Vandellas, courtesy of Motown Records Company, L. P.
"War," written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, performed by Edwin Starr, courtesy of Motown Record Company, L. P.
"In The Unpromised Land" & "The Granuille Reels," written by Michael S. Kirkpatrick, performed by The Drovers
"Nothing For You," written by Michael S. Kirkpatrick & Kathleen Keane, performed by The Drovers
"The Show Goes On," written by B. R. Hornsby, performed by Bruce Hornsby and the Range, courtesy of The RCA Records Label of BMG Music
"Gotta See Your Eyes," written by Thomas Guzman-Sanchez, performed by Rhythm Tribe, courtesy of Zoo Entertainment
"Balmoral," arranged and performed by The Emerald Society
"Set Me In Motion," written by B. R. Hornsby & John Hornsby, performed by Bruce Hornsby and the Range, courtesy of The RCA Records Label of BMG Music.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
24 May 1991
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 24 May 1991
New York opening: week of 24 May 1991
Production Date:
25 July--early November 1990
Copyright Claimant:
Universal City Studios, Inc., & Imagine Films Entertainment, Inc.
Copyright Date:
11 December 1991
Copyright Number:
PA547018
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Kodak
Lenses
Lenses and camera by ARRI®
Duration(in mins):
136
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
31130
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1971 Chicago, Illinois, seven-year-old Brian McCaffrey and his twelve-year-old brother, Stephen, play in the firehouse where their father, Dennis McCaffrey, works. The alarm sounds, and Dennis invites Brian to ride along to an apartment building fire. There, the boy watches his father rescue a child from a top floor unit. Moments later, however, a broken gas line causes a massive explosion, and Brian witnesses his father’s death. Twenty years later, Chicago Fire Academy graduates celebrate their station assignments at a local bar. When a fire truck speeds down the street, the curious young men run to the sidewalk. There, Brian encounters Jennifer Vaitkus, a former love interest, and asks her out, before heading to the fire with his pals. Although disturbed by the remains of a victim in front of the posh brownstone home, Brian tries to appear nonchalant when his brother, Stephen “Bull” McCaffrey, the lead fireman, greets him. Stephen informs Brian they will be working together at the station where he is lieutenant. Brian is shocked. He had asked to be assigned elsewhere. Later, fire inspector Donald “Shadow” Rimgale examines the charred brownstone interior. The next day, Brian stops by his brother’s house, but Stephen’s wife, Helen, informs him that Stephen moved out several months earlier. Brian locates Stephen on their father’s dry-docked boat and demands to know why his brother interfered with his station assignment, but Stephen refuses to give a reason. The next day, Brian arrives at the firehouse just as the trucks leave for a department store fire. En route, veteran fireman John “Axe” Adcox helps Brian suit up. The fire is worse than reported, and Stephen calls for backup. On learning that ... +


In 1971 Chicago, Illinois, seven-year-old Brian McCaffrey and his twelve-year-old brother, Stephen, play in the firehouse where their father, Dennis McCaffrey, works. The alarm sounds, and Dennis invites Brian to ride along to an apartment building fire. There, the boy watches his father rescue a child from a top floor unit. Moments later, however, a broken gas line causes a massive explosion, and Brian witnesses his father’s death. Twenty years later, Chicago Fire Academy graduates celebrate their station assignments at a local bar. When a fire truck speeds down the street, the curious young men run to the sidewalk. There, Brian encounters Jennifer Vaitkus, a former love interest, and asks her out, before heading to the fire with his pals. Although disturbed by the remains of a victim in front of the posh brownstone home, Brian tries to appear nonchalant when his brother, Stephen “Bull” McCaffrey, the lead fireman, greets him. Stephen informs Brian they will be working together at the station where he is lieutenant. Brian is shocked. He had asked to be assigned elsewhere. Later, fire inspector Donald “Shadow” Rimgale examines the charred brownstone interior. The next day, Brian stops by his brother’s house, but Stephen’s wife, Helen, informs him that Stephen moved out several months earlier. Brian locates Stephen on their father’s dry-docked boat and demands to know why his brother interfered with his station assignment, but Stephen refuses to give a reason. The next day, Brian arrives at the firehouse just as the trucks leave for a department store fire. En route, veteran fireman John “Axe” Adcox helps Brian suit up. The fire is worse than reported, and Stephen calls for backup. On learning that none is available, he rallies his men to attack the inferno. Inside the building, Brian hears a cry for help. He separates from the group, and carries a body to safety outside. However, he discovers that he only “rescued” a department store mannequin. Later, Inspector Rimgale arrives, but before entering the building, he is confronted by Jennifer Vaitkus, who works as a secretary for Alderman Martin Swayzak, an aspiring mayoral candidate. She asks why Rimgale has not yet filed a report on the previous fire, and asks if the delay is due to his disapproval of her boss. Rimgale retorts that his work has nothing to do with politics. Stephen McCaffrey, however, blames the government official’s cutbacks for the shortage of backup firefighters. Later, at the firehouse, Brian and his friend, Tim Krizminski, serve lunch to the company, and Axe toasts the two probationary firemen. That night, the McCaffrey brothers attend Chief Jack Fitzgerald’s retirement party. There, Jennifer introduces Brian to Alderman Swayzak, who offers him a position assisting Donald Rimgale with investigations. Brian is dismissive of what he considers a “safe” job. Meanwhile, a drunken Stephen gets into a fight with his estranged wife’s date. After Axe breaks up the brawl, Brian escorts his brother back to the boat, and Stephen passes out. In the weeks that follow, Brian and Tim train to become full-fledged firemen. When the company is called to a tenement building blaze, Stephen takes the lead and charges inside, even though the hose team is not prepared to cover him. Brian follows. At the top of the stairs, smoke and flames knock him down, and he cries out to his brother. Stephen emerges from a room with a child under his arm. Afterward, Brian decides to take the job working with Donald Rimgale. On his first day as an investigative assistant, he attends the parole hearing of arsonist Ronald Bartel. Rimgale goads the psychopath into confessing that he still wants to light fires, sending him back to prison. Later that day, Rimgale and Brian go to an historic theater, where a fire killed the owner during off hours. They determine that a slow-burning fire consumed all the oxygen in the back rooms of the theater. When the owner opened the backstage door, the dormant fire roared to life with the influx of oxygen, causing a fiery explosion. The phenomenon, known as a “backdraft,” was also a feature of the brownstone fire. At the morgue, Brian and Rimgale learn that an uncommon chemical substance was found on both fire victims, as well as on the doors they opened. Brian is excited to declare both cases arson, but Rimgale says they must wait to see what happens next. A few nights later, Stephen’s company responds to a fire alarm in a high-rise office building. However, they cannot locate the fire. Firemen prowl through the building, checking doors for heat. However, Tim forgets the safety precaution, and is consumed by a fiery gust when he takes his axe to a door. Although he survives, he is horribly burned. At the hospital, Axe argues that they should have waited for backup, but Stephen angrily defends his call to proceed with the few available men. The next day, while pestering Rimgale about the arson case, Alderman Swayzak reveals that another victim, a businessman, was found in the high-rise fire. The fire inspector wonders how the politician came by the information, which had not been made public. After investigating the office suite with Rimgale, Brian meets Jennifer and asks her to procure Swayzak’s files. Though reluctant, she provides the documents. Rimgale and Brian learn that by needlessly cutting funding to the fire department, Swayzak ensured firehouse closures. Later, he profited from the redevelopment of those properties. They go to Swayzak’s house, intent on confronting him. However, an intruder is there, sparking a fire in an electrical outlet. Rimgale, Brian, and Swayzak barely survive the ensuing explosion. The next day, Brian seeks advice from Ronald Bartel. The arsonist refuses to share his insights about the backdraft fires until Brian talks about witnessing his father’s death. When Brian admits he idolized his father, and was entranced watching him fight fires, Ronald Bartel asks who would have access to the peculiar chemical compound found at the three fires? In disbelief, Brian goes to his brother’s boat, where he finds containers of the chemical. Just then, Stephen arrives, but Brian does not mention his discovery. After he leaves, Stephen also notices the chemical containers, and realizes why his brother was acting strangely. Meanwhile, Brian searches his brother’s locker at the firehouse. Finding nothing, he turns and notices Axe glaring at him. The fire alarm sounds. Brian locates Stephen, who claims that Axe brought the chemicals to his boat. The brothers deduce that the veteran fireman masterminded the backdraft fires. In the midst of a dangerous chemical plant blaze, the McCaffrey brothers confront Axe, who angrily defends himself. As the fire tears through the building, it causes the roof to collapse, and Brian falls down an elevator shaft. After rescuing Brian, Stephen again challenges Axe. With fire everywhere, the two men succumb to the inferno, despite Brian’s heroic efforts to save them. A few days later, hundreds of firemen march through the streets of Chicago in honor of the dead firefighters. Following the funeral service, Rimgale and Brian present reporters with proof of Alderman Swayzak’s criminal activities. With newfound confidence, Brian returns to active duty as a fireman with his brother’s company. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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