October 22, 1979 12:00 PM

It’s not every disaster film that will cause audiences to long for the realism of The Towering Inferno, the well-drawn characters of the Airport series or the convincing effects of Earthquake. This movie even makes The Swarm look good. It’s about a Midwestern city (it was actually shot in Montreal) where an oil refinery fire touches off a municipal conflagration. Director Alvin Rakoff (a Canadian who is unknown here and deserves to stay that way) has given the film a pace so slow, however, that the city never seems threatened. The ineptitude of the firefighters is a slander. Indifference grips the cast, which includes a painfully old-looking Henry Fonda, a puffy Ava Gardner and a trio of ex-leading men, Leslie Nielsen, James Franciscus and Barry Newman. Only Susan Clark (perhaps because she’s relatively young) and Shelley Winters (who doesn’t mind looking old) show any spark.

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