Tonight's Awful Bedtime Movie: City On Fire (1979)

If there's one thing the 1970s did better than Bigfoot movies, it was all-star disaster movies.


The Poseidon Adventure.


The Towering Inferno.

City on Fire?

On paper it sounds great. Henry Fonda, Ava Gardner, Leslie Neilsen (an accomplished dramatic actor) and "Poseidon Adventure" star Shelley Winters.

But on film we end up with "City On Fire," a 1979 bomb about a city that bursts into flames because of the oil refinery that's located in the heart of downtown for some reason.

Neilsen is the mayor of a generic Midwest city who decides to build an oil refinery in the middle of his city. A disgruntled employee sabotages the equipment and several reels of stock footage and a pneumatic catapult rental later the entire city is in flames.

It's up to a hard-drinking reporter trying to get her career back on track (Gardner,) an in-charge fire chief (Fonda) and a sassy nurse (Winters) to save the survivors who are now trapped in a hospital surrounded by the firestorm.

Despite the talented cast, even they can't save the film from hammy acting, bad special effects and tons of stock footage. Filmed in Montreal, this "Midwestern" features French language signs and TV stations whose call letters start with "C."

Thankfully it's so bad it's fun to watch.

The film was produced near the end of Neilsen's distinguished dramatic career. He would go on to even greater fame the next year in "Airplane!," a spoof of 1970s disaster films.

What I Learned Today: Midwesterners build their cities out of flash paper and oily rags.


  1. Jonathan SargentJanuary 12, 2011

    Great takeaway. I will make sure to leave my Zippo at home when I visit Indianapolis...

  2. Sounds like one of those MST3K movies.

  3. They did it their first season, but I can't tell if it's the Comedy Channel season or Minnesota local season.