My Top 60 - No 8: 'Fire!' (1977)
Now here is a rarity for you. Fire! (1977) was actually a made for TV movie that found its way on a theatrical cinema release here in the UK. It went on release to ABC cinemas in 1978 and although you will never see it listed (if at all) as a great film by critics, it did thanks to its outstanding cast have a very gentle and winning charm.
It stars Ernest Borgnine (Bad Day at Black Rock & Marty (both 1955) as Sam Brisbane an all-round good fella who owns a lumber mill who needs to help the local community when nasty villain Neville Brand escapes from jail and decides to indulge himself into a bit of arson in an Oregon forest leading to a potential disaster for the nearby mountain community.
Thrown into this mix is a testy husband/wife relationship between Patty Duke and Alex Cord, a teacher (Donna Mills) who made the fateful decision to take her children onto a class outing and the fact that Sam loves (and has always loved) widowed Vera Miles , who says that it is too late to do anything about it.
Now it shouldn’t be a surprise to find out that Fire! comes from Producer Irwin Allen who was regarded as ‘The Master of Disaster’ after his huge hits The Poseidon Adventure (1972) & The Towering Inferno (1974). Most kids of my generation will recall his TV work such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968), Lost in Space (1965-1968) and Land of the Giants (1968-1970), and Fire follows on from his disaster movie legacy.
What though makes this film stand out from the others is the cracking cast and as they take it seriously, so too do you. The chemistry between Borgnine and Miles is really warm and you can believe that they are aged lovers kept apart from each other until now . As the villain, Neville Brand is at his psychotic best. He was the genuine American character actor- you would see him popping up as a drugs counsellor in Kojak (1973-1978), Bonanza (1960-1970) or in Police Woman (1974-1978) but he was always good as a villain, thug or madman.
As irony would have it, when I saw Fire! the pre programme music in the cinema was Sam , the Olivia Newton John song that was unrelated to the film but acted as a very pleasant warm up –it got to No 6 in the UK charts in 1977.