Sunday, June 24, 2012

Flood! (1976) & Fire! (1977)


          After the success of his lavish blockbusters The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974), producer Irwin Allen tried to keep the disaster-movie momentum going, but most of his subsequent flicks ended up getting made for television on pathetic budgets. Therefore, it’s not surprising that Allen refused onscreen credit for producing the first of these also-ran projects, Flood!—the exclaiming title of which promises more excitement than the movie delivers.
          A random gang of actors, most of whom were on their way down the Hollywood ladder at the time, portray residents of a small town called Brownsville, which gets submerged when the local dam succumbs to pressure after heavy rainfall. Since the movie features an idiot politician who refuses to acknowledge the potential for danger until it’s too late, calling Flood! trite would be giving the thing too much credit. Furthermore, the special effects, normally Allen’s hallmark, are laughable. One silly gimmick involves placing a container of water in front of the camera, then shooting over the container toward a nearby building, as if this bargain-basement illusion can persuade viewers they’re beholding a catastrophe of Biblical proportions. Worst of all, the movie is dull and slow, despite the hearty efforts of actors including Richard Basehart, Robert Culp, Barbara Hershey, Martin Milner, Cameron Mitchell, and Poseidon Adventure survivors Carol Lynley and Roddy McDowall.
          Allen’s next TV endeavor, for which he actually did take onscreen credit, nearly earns its exclamation point. Fire! stars Poseidon Adventure veteran Ernest Borgnine, whose campy acting style always enlivens silly movies, and the simplistic plot gets the job done: When a convict on a labor crew working in a mountaintop forest starts a fire to obscure his escape attempt, the conflagration spreads toward a resort town, forcing guests and locals to flee. Meanwhile, easygoing local Sam (Borgnine) sticks around to help with the evacuation because he’s in love with the local hotelier (Vera Miles). The cast is unimpressive (Alex Cord, Patty Duke, Erik Estrada, Donna Mills, Lloyd Nolan), but Allen and his director, Earl Bellamy (who also helmed Flood!), get the formula right in terms of meshing melodrama with nature-gone-wild tragedy. It helps that the movie relies on practical effects, with real buildings and trees burning on camera, rather than chintzy tricks. Fire! is terrible, of course, but it delivers the goods.
          Clearly, however, the bloom was off the rose, so even though Allen oversaw three additional made-for-TV disaster flicks, they suffered ignoble fates. With C-listers like Bert Convy starring, Allen’s production Hanging by a Thread, in which people flash back to their pasts while trapped in a cable car, aired to no acclaim as a two-night miniseries in late 1979. Next, the self-explanatory The Night the Bridge Fell Down was shot in 1979 but not broadcast until 1983. Then, after Allen’s final big-screen disaster movies, The Swarm (1978) and When Time Ran Out . . . (1980), the end of his cycle finally came with Cave-In, a long-winded TV movie about just what the title suggests, which aired in 1983, shortly after The Night the Bridge Fell Down. (All made-for-television titles available at WarnerArchive.com)

Flood!: LAME
Fire!: FUNKY

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