Tag Archives: Susan Clark

City on Fire (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Title says it all.

When Herman Stover (Jonathan Welsh) gets fired from his job at an oil refinery he decides to get his revenge by opening the valves on the storage vats, which sends gasoline spewing out into the water system that soon sets the entire city on fire. Dr. Frank Whitman (Barry Newman) realizes that his hospital is in line of the approaching blaze and tries desperately to get the place evacuated.

Despite the American cast the film was financed by a Canadian production company and filmed on-location in Montreal with a few shots done in Toronto. While the movie bombed at the box office and later got mocked in an episode of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ it’s actually decent on the special effects end.

In fact I found the effects to be quite impressive particularly at the beginning where two firefighters find themselves trapped in an apartment building in an actual blaze where the flames literally leap towards the camera and make the viewer feel like they are being engulfed by it. Most movies will show people set on fire, but only while wearing a protective body suit, but this one has them set ablaze while wearing regular clothes and with flames not only shooting out from their clothing, but their hair as well, which looked dangerous to film. It also graphically captures the charred burned skin of the victims.

The eclectic cast of old Hollywood veterans is fun for the most part with Ava Gardner hamming it up as an alcoholic newswoman trying to cover the disaster. It’s also nice seeing Shelley Winters playing a ‘normal’ person for once instead of a kooky, eccentric and she does it so well that she ends up not standing out at all, which never happens in any of her other movies.

Watching Susan Clark play a wealthy socialite who suddenly becomes a Florence Nightingale incarnate after the victims start piling up is too much of a dramatic arch and the film should’ve just had her as a regular nurse from the start. The part though where she helps with a delivery at least has the baby coming out of the womb with an umbilical cord as too many other movie births never show this.

Outside of the effects there’s little else to recommend. The scenes dealing with the culprit, played by Welsh, are dumb. For one thing he doesn’t seem unhinged enough to do what he does and in fact comes off as quite bland and even tries helping the victims later on. Also, when an employee gets fired they are usually escorted out of the building by security especially in a refinery and not allowed to just run around the facility freely and unmonitored like here.

It would’ve worked better had the number of characters been cut down to just a few and the story focused solely on their efforts to survive instead of coming off more like a news report trying to capture the chaos as a whole.  The idea of mixing pyrotechnic special effects with a lame storyline and hallow characters doesn’t work and becomes just a poor excuse for a movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 29, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Nobody’s Perfekt (1981)

nobodys perfekt 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Crazies fight city hall.

Dibley (Gabe Kaplan) who suffers from unpredictable memory loss, Swaboda (Alex Karras) who thinks his mother is still alive and with him at all times even when she really isn’t and Walter (Robert Klein) who has a split personality that can turn him from a gangster to Bette Davis at any given moment decide to steal an army tank and use it to force the mayor (Arthur Rosenberg) to pay for a new car when their old one gets damaged after driving through one of the city’s potholes. They get Dibley’s girlfriend Carol (Susan Clark) to go along with the scheme and in the process get caught up with a robbery of an armed bankroll truck.

If it was possible to give this thing a negative number rating I would and I seriously considered it, but decided to be generous and give it a 0 even though this thing has to be one of the dumbest comedies ever made. I’ve seen a lot of them, but at least they usually had one or two funny gags even if the rest fell flat, but this one has none. The humor is at a 6-year-old’s level and is painfully stupid from beginning to end without a shred of believability. It also features what has to be one of the slowest, most drawn out and boring car chases ever to be put on film

Mental illness is no laughing matter and the way it gets portrayed here could be considered offensive. Screenwriter Tony Kenrick, who also wrote the novel from which this film is based as well as director Peter Bonerz have clearly not done any research on the topic and portray those afflicted with it in the most sophomoric and benign way possible. In reality these characters would not have been able to hold down regular jobs like they do here and even if they did they would have been quickly fired once their mental problems became easily apparent. They would also most likely be on medications and even institutionalized instead of freely gallivanting around and only seeing an inept shrink (portrayed by Paul Stewart in a very clichéd send-up of Sigmund Freud) once a week who seems to have no insight on how to help them.

The ‘normal’ characters are just as annoyingly stupid. When the trio decide they want to steal a tank from a local plant that makes them they have Kaplan pretend to be from a ‘top secret’ government organization that tricks one of the employees, which is played here by director Bonerz, into believing that his company is secretly selling the tanks to the Soviets without him ever demanding any evidence or proof.

Kaplan may have been a great stand-up comedian and in recent years a good poker player, but as an actor he is one of the worst. In fact I always felt he was  the weakest link in the Welcome Back Kotter show as he always said his lines like he was reading them off of cue cards while constantly conveying a sheepish grin and here he is no better. Former football player Karras and fellow comedian Klein are equally weak. Only Clark is good, but why she would choose to do this after appearing in so much critical acclaimed stuff during the 70’s is a mystery, but she most likely did it to stay close to her then husband Karras and still manages to look great in a bikini.

If the filmmakers really thought that the American public would find this funny then they are the ones suffering from mental illness as only a mentally ill person could possibly find it amusing and if you watch it all the way through you more than likely will become one.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Bonerz

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video