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Fans of Armageddon might see one or two resemblances between that 1998 box office hit and Hellfighters, a 1968 action film by Andrew V. McLaglen, one of John Wayne's favorite directors in his late career. (Their joint ventures included Chisum, Cahill: United States Marshal, and McLintock!) Wayne plays an oil well firefighter in the mold of Red Adair, turning up anywhere in the world where a geyser of fire is shooting up from a once-profitable gusher. His right-hand man (Jim Hutton) has questionable judgment about safety matters and is a scoundrel with the ladies--and neither fact is lost on Wayne when Hutton's character marries his long-lost daughter (Katharine Ross, a mere year after The Graduate). The film is an early entry in the disaster-meets-soap-opera genre that flourished in the '70s with such titles as The Towering Infernoand The Poseidon Adventure. McClaglen gets a lot of crackle out of his action scenes (many of the firefighting sequences are still startling in their intensity) and turns twin love stories (Hutton and Ross, Wayne and Vera Miles) into frothy studies of adult manners, with equal hints of Howard Hawks and Sidney Sheldon. The cast and sundry thrills make this film highly enjoyable, and easily forgivable for indulging in such inanities as a subplot concerning--hold on--Venezuelan terrorists! The Duke lives! --Tom Keogh
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