City on Fire (1979)

R | 101 mins | Drama | 1979

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HISTORY

The film begins with a written prologue: "What you are about to see could happen to any city, anywhere."
       The end credits include the following acknowledgements,"We wish to thank for their co-operation: Ciments Canada Lafarge Ltee, Region du Quebec; Shell Canada Limited; Town of Montreal East; Montreal East Fire Department; CFTM-Channel 10, Montreal; New York Fire Department; Los Angeles Fire Department; Mobile Video Services, N.Y.; Vermont Army National Guard; Dominion Gallery-Montreal; Liberty Furniture Industries Ltd.; Rougier Inc., Place Bonaventure." The end credits also include the written statement: "Produced with the participation of The Canadian Film Development Corporation and Famous Players Film Company."
       Requiring several urban blocks that could be set on fire, the filmmakers scouted Atlanta, GA; Edmonton, Canada; St. Louis, MO; and Cincinnati, OH, as reported in a 30 Nov 1977 LAT news item. Montreal, Canada, was eventually selected to represent a fictional American city engulfed in flames. A 4 Sep 1978 news item in Box mentioned that the entire film was shot in Montreal. Principal photography was scheduled to begin 10 Aug 1978, as noted in a 9 Aug 1978 Var brief. One of the largest film sets in Canada to that date, costing approximately $400,000, was constructed in the east end of the city. 45,000 gallons of fuel were required to set it ablaze during shooting.
       Executive producer Sandy Howard stated in a 8 Sep 1978 HR column that because the script depicted the dangers of locating oil refineries near cities, he was not anticipating cooperation from Shell Oil, who owned a $600 million refinery that the filmmakers were interesting in shooting. ... More Less

The film begins with a written prologue: "What you are about to see could happen to any city, anywhere."
       The end credits include the following acknowledgements,"We wish to thank for their co-operation: Ciments Canada Lafarge Ltee, Region du Quebec; Shell Canada Limited; Town of Montreal East; Montreal East Fire Department; CFTM-Channel 10, Montreal; New York Fire Department; Los Angeles Fire Department; Mobile Video Services, N.Y.; Vermont Army National Guard; Dominion Gallery-Montreal; Liberty Furniture Industries Ltd.; Rougier Inc., Place Bonaventure." The end credits also include the written statement: "Produced with the participation of The Canadian Film Development Corporation and Famous Players Film Company."
       Requiring several urban blocks that could be set on fire, the filmmakers scouted Atlanta, GA; Edmonton, Canada; St. Louis, MO; and Cincinnati, OH, as reported in a 30 Nov 1977 LAT news item. Montreal, Canada, was eventually selected to represent a fictional American city engulfed in flames. A 4 Sep 1978 news item in Box mentioned that the entire film was shot in Montreal. Principal photography was scheduled to begin 10 Aug 1978, as noted in a 9 Aug 1978 Var brief. One of the largest film sets in Canada to that date, costing approximately $400,000, was constructed in the east end of the city. 45,000 gallons of fuel were required to set it ablaze during shooting.
       Executive producer Sandy Howard stated in a 8 Sep 1978 HR column that because the script depicted the dangers of locating oil refineries near cities, he was not anticipating cooperation from Shell Oil, who owned a $600 million refinery that the filmmakers were interesting in shooting. However, the company granted permission to the production as a gesture of raising awareness about safety issues.
       A budget of $5.6 million was mentioned in a 1 May 1978 HR article. A 9 May 1979 Var article reported that producers presold the film to the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) for just over $2.6 million.
       According to a 2 Aug 1979 HR article, the film’s stunt coordinator, Grant Page, performed “‘human torch’” tricks as part of a national tour in Aug 1979 to promote the film’s U.S. release. Page’s fire stunts were considered particularly daring since he wore only a gel material for protection rather than safety clothing. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
4 Sep 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 May 1978
p. 1, 13.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Sep 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Aug 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Aug 1979
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
30 Nov 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
31 Aug 1979
Section IV, p. 20.
New York Times
14 Sep 1979
p. 11.
Variety
9 Aug 1978.
---
Variety
9 May 1979
p. 448, 460.
Variety
23 May 1979
p. 25.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Sandy Howard and Harold Greenberg Presentation
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
3rd asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog and op
2d unit cam
2d unit cam
Focus puller
Focus puller
Focus puller
Focus puller
Clapper/loader
Gaffer
Best boy
Dolly grip
Key grip
2d grip
Geny op
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Asst set dec
Const mgr
Asst props-set
Asst props
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Ward mistress
Dresser
Dresser
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Visual eff
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Television photographic eff supv by, Sonex Interna
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup asst
Makeup asst
Makeup asst
Spec makeup
Hairdresser
Asst hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Post prod supv
Unit mgr
Asst unit mgr
Prod secy
Asst prod secy
Los Angeles prod mgr
Scr supv
Casting
Casting
Casting
Casting asst
Video des/coord
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Medical adv
Unit pub
Unit pub
Unit pub
Prod exec
STAND INS
Stunt coord
DETAILS
Release Date:
1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 31 August 1979
New York opening: 14 September 1979
Production Date:
began 10 August 1978 in Montreal, Canada
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Panaflex® camera and lenses by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
101
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
Canada, United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In a present-day American city, Dr. Frank Whitman arrives for work as chief surgeon at Brockhurst Hospital, a newly constructed facility downtown. Although the hospital is open for business, head nurse Andrea Harper complains about a generator that is not fully operational. Meanwhile, widow and wealthy heiress Diana Brockhurst-Lautrec, whose $3 million dollar endowment made the hospital possible, arrives in town for the dedication ceremony. In her hotel suite, Diana greets Mayor William Dudley, who is eager to resume his extramarital affair with her, while she appears ambivalent. From a rooftop across the street, freelance celebrity photographer Terry James takes a snapshot of the mayor kissing Diana. At the studios of Channel 10 television, host Maggie Grayson reports on the top news stories, including coverage of the hospital dedication. Elsewhere in the city, Herman Stover arrives at the Manson Refinery, the ninth largest oil refinery in the world, where he has worked for the last twelve years. That morning, he hopes for promotion to foreman, but instead the supervisor offers him a position in Research and Development. Upset, he declines the transfer and is laid off. While cleaning out his locker, Stover admires an old newspaper clipping he saved about Diana Brockhurst-Lautrec, who has become an obsession for him. Although he does not know Diana, Stover brags to an uninterested co-worker that he and Diana grew up in the same poor neighborhood and attended Sycamore High, before she married a wealthy, older man. Tired of being ignored, Stover decides to get the attention of Diana and everyone else by sabotaging the refinery. He quickly runs through the ... +


In a present-day American city, Dr. Frank Whitman arrives for work as chief surgeon at Brockhurst Hospital, a newly constructed facility downtown. Although the hospital is open for business, head nurse Andrea Harper complains about a generator that is not fully operational. Meanwhile, widow and wealthy heiress Diana Brockhurst-Lautrec, whose $3 million dollar endowment made the hospital possible, arrives in town for the dedication ceremony. In her hotel suite, Diana greets Mayor William Dudley, who is eager to resume his extramarital affair with her, while she appears ambivalent. From a rooftop across the street, freelance celebrity photographer Terry James takes a snapshot of the mayor kissing Diana. At the studios of Channel 10 television, host Maggie Grayson reports on the top news stories, including coverage of the hospital dedication. Elsewhere in the city, Herman Stover arrives at the Manson Refinery, the ninth largest oil refinery in the world, where he has worked for the last twelve years. That morning, he hopes for promotion to foreman, but instead the supervisor offers him a position in Research and Development. Upset, he declines the transfer and is laid off. While cleaning out his locker, Stover admires an old newspaper clipping he saved about Diana Brockhurst-Lautrec, who has become an obsession for him. Although he does not know Diana, Stover brags to an uninterested co-worker that he and Diana grew up in the same poor neighborhood and attended Sycamore High, before she married a wealthy, older man. Tired of being ignored, Stover decides to get the attention of Diana and everyone else by sabotaging the refinery. He quickly runs through the plant, adjusting dials and levers. Soon, the operators in the control room notice unusual smoke patterns from the stacks and an increase in the pressure gauges. As alarms sound, Stover continues to inflict damage by opening fuel pipes. Before the dedication ceremony, Dr. Whitman takes a moment to reunite with Diana, a former lover with whom he still has a rapport, and then complains to Dudley, blaming city politics for the unfinished hospital construction. Leaving the refinery, Herman Stover changes into a new suit and appears at the outdoor dedication in time for Diana’s speech. Meanwhile, engineers stabilize the refinery, but the fuel leakage remains undetected and pours into the city’s sewer system. When two welders begin work inside a disposal area, their torches ignite a fire, engulfing them in flames. The blaze quickly spreads through the sewer and causes a chain of explosions that level the refinery. The massive blasts are felt as violent tremors throughout the city, collapsing buildings and triggering additional fires. Taking charge, Dr. Whitman instructs the crowd at the ceremony to help move the injured into the hospital and implements an emergency plan for the facility. Unable to reach the mayor, Fire Chief Risley assumes command and issues orders to mobilize the National Guard and tanker planes. Trapped at the hospital with no working telephone and an ailing colleague, Mayor Dudley, who has ambitions to be governor, worries about the political fallout from the crisis since he supported the refinery despite public protests about its dangerous proximity to the city. As burn victims crowd the corridors, Dr. Whitman instructs Nurse Harper to clear out non-essential personnel to make room for incoming wounded. Meanwhile, Diana does her best to assist the medical staff, while Stover remains near and also volunteers, hoping that Diana will notice him. From the television studio, Maggie reports that the casualties number over 3,000, water pressure is falling and looting has begun. The photographer, Terry, is badly injured after retrieving the pictures of Diana and the mayor from his burning darkroom. As Terry is loaded into an ambulance, the envelope of photos remains tucked underneath his shirt and later falls into Stover’s hands after Terry dies at Brockhurst Hospital. While updating a councilman about the nearly 200 fires burning across the city, Risley emphasizes that the people at Brockhurst are at risk of suffocating from the firestorm, which will siphon oxygen from the air. Risley’s office contacts the television news crew on the roof to set up a broadcast signal with the mayor, who confirms that breathing is becoming more difficult. Then, a series of explosions occur, making the street leading to the hospital impassable for rescuers. Since changing winds prevent the use of helicopters, Risley devises a plan for firefighters to create a “water tunnel” outside the facility. However, the hospital’s fire hoses must cover the first one hundred yards from the doors. As people leave the hospital, the mayor soaks everyone with water, including those on stretchers, so that they will have some protection from the uncontrollable flames until they reach the firemen’s tunnel. Tirelessly, Dr. Whitman directs the medical staff and patients towards the exit while continuing to treat the injured. In another area of the hospital, Diana assists Mrs. Adams, who is about to give birth. During the delivery, Stover approaches Diana to discuss the incriminating photographs, and she promptly dismisses him. As the final group of evacuees gather at the door, Dr. Whitman finds Diana with Mrs. Adams and her newborn baby and prepares them for evacuation. Feeling rejected amid all his efforts, Stover walks out in a daze and is killed when a scaffolding collapses. Nurse Harper tries to save him, but is also struck down by burning debris. As the last person to leave the hospital, Dr. Whitman must roll in puddles to keep his clothing wet when the water from the hose runs out, and he is nearly trapped by flames on the street, but Mayor Dudley guides him toward an opening before the hospital explodes. Later, at the rescue camp, Mayor Dudley’s reputation is restored when Maggie calls him a “hero” on television. Nearby, Diana and Dr. Whitman kiss and renew their relationship. +

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

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.