Experiment K16: City On Fire

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The KTMA SeasonMST3K Story: The Mads have received notice from the Mad Scientists’ League that they are actually “mildly peeved researchers” and may have their licenses revoked. Dr. Forrester worries that they will have to re-enter the private sector. Dr. Erhardt doesn’t want to go back to fruit inspection. To illustrate to Dr. Erhardt how the movies they show utilize science, the Mads watch City On Fire at the same time they send it to Joel. The Bots set up a telescope so they can run the old “black ink on the eyepiece” joke on Joel. When Joel tries to demonstrate a new invention, the Hell-In-A-Handbag, the Bots begin to lose themselves in their roles. The successful test scares the bejeezus out of Crow, which is sweet revenge for Joel. Later Joel has the Bots perform a “double time” march to a chant about their situation on the Satellite of Love. After the movie, Gypsy shows up, having been working on the newsletter and fan club materials. Joel shows the stuff off and suggests people write in to join.

City On Fire Story: A series of events play out around the opening of a new hospital. The Mayor, William Dudley, is attempting to set up a run for Governor while at the same time wooing Diana Brockhurst-Lautrec, the widow of the previous Governor. Dr. Frank Whitman, the head of the new hospital and a figure from Diana’s past, is dealing with the fact that government cutbacks have left the hospital poorly equipped to serve its purpose. Herman Stover, a worker in the local refinery who went to school with Diana, loses his job. This, combined with his obsession with Diana and growing resentment, leads Herman to sabotage the refinery. This causes a massive fire that spreads quickly, consuming whole neighborhoods and eventually threatening the hospital itself. Following the action are the fire chief, Albert Risley, and an opportunistic news reporter, Maggie Grayson. Things take a turn for the worse when the fire surrounds the hospital, causing a firestorm, which begins to consume the oxygen inside. A desperate plan to rescue the patients mostly succeeds, although many lives are lost.

MST3K segments written by Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, Jim Mallon & Kevin Murphy
MST3K segments directed by Todd Ziegler
City On Fire written by Jack Hill & David P. Lewis and Céline La Frenière
City On Fire directed by Alvin Rakoff
City On Fire music by William & Matthew McCauley

MST3K Guest Cast: none

City On Fire Cast: Barry Newman (Frank Whitman), Susan Clark (Diana Brockhurst-Lautrec), Shelley Winters (Nurse Andrea Harper), Leslie Nielsen (Mayor William Dudley), James Franciscus (Jimbo), Ava Gardner (Maggie Grayson), Henry Fonda (Chief Albert Risley), Jonathan Welsh (Herman Stover), Hilary Labow (Mrs. Adams), Richard Donat (Capt. Harrison Risley)

LogBook entry by Philip R. Frey

Notes: For the second week in a row, Joel is not in the opening segment. There’s no “Movie Sign” this week, just the intro from the Mads, which cuts to the theater.

Crow correctly guesses that City On Fire was filmed in Canada. Montréal, Québec, to be exact.

Poor bossing skills and pre-teen smoking both can lead to tragedy.

Barry Newman’s early career featured many television appearances, including popular shows like Get Smart! and The Edge of Night. He made an impact in the lead role in 1971’s Vanishing Point and the 1974 TV series Petrocelli. Never achieving true stardom, Newman has continued to work steadily with recent work including 1999’s Bowfinger and The Limey.

Susan Clark is best known for her work as an adoptive mother on TV’s Webster, but has a career that includes such diverse projects as Columbo, Airport 1975 (1974), and Porky’s (1982).

Shelley Winters’ career spans over sixty years, seeing her go from a Hollywood glamour gal to over-the-top exploitation actress to a boisterous, flamboyant character actress. She has been nominated for an Academy award four times, winning twice; supporting actress awards for The Diary Of Anne Frank (1959) and A Patch Of Blue (1965). Genre work includes Pete’s Dragon (1977) and the 1985 TV movie Alice In Wonderland.

Leslie Nielsen’s long career as a dramatic leading man in such films as sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (1965) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972) took a turn in a new direction when he appeared in the 1980 disaster film spoof Airplane! This led to a whole new career in comedy that includes the TV series Police Squad! and its spin-off film The Naked Gun (1988) and its sequels.

James Franciscus is perhaps best known to genre fans for his role as Astronaut Brent in Planet Of The Apes‘ first sequel, 1970’s Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (and for not being Tony Franciosa).

Ava Gardner has been called the most beautiful actresses in the history of Hollywood. Although highly regarded for work in films such as Whistle Stop (1946), On The Beach (1959) and The Night Of The Iguana (1964), Gardner was never satisfied with her film work. In the end, she admitted she accepted roles purely to make money. Love brought little solace as marriages to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra all failed. Gardner died in 1990, shortly after completing her autobiography, “Ava, My Story”.

Henry Fonda is likely the most celebrated actor to appear in a MSTied film. His significant roles are too numerous to mention, but include work in such films as The Grapes Of Wrath (1940), My Darling Clementine (1946), Mister Roberts (1955), and Once Upon A Time In The West (1968). His work resulted in few awards or nominations until 1981’s On Golden Pond, for which he won an Oscar, among other major honors.

Notable Riffs: “He pitted out that shirt already and it’s first thing in the morning.”
“He couldn’t even handle a cigarette. How’s he going to walk his way through a blazing hell?”
“Notice how the cars in that stock footage are at least ten years older than the film itself.”
“You’ve got to light a fire pretty early in the morning to burn Barry Newman.”

City On Fire original release date: 1979