Monday, April 15, 2013

#973. The Towering Inferno (1974)

Directed By: John Guillermin

Starring: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden

Tag line: "The world's tallest building is on fire. You are there on the 135th floor... no way down... no way out"

Trivia: Faye Dunaway was often late to the set or didn't appear at all, which caused some of the other actors to become quite upset. William Holden reportedly shoved her against the wall one day and threatened her. For the next month, she had a perfect attendance record

As much as I love The Poseidon Adventure, 1974’s The Towering Inferno is my favorite of the ‘70s disaster films. Featuring a plethora of stars fighting for their lives inside a burning skyscraper, The Towering Inferno packs action, excitement, and a whole lot of fun into 165 minutes.

It is opening night for San Francisco’s Glass Tower, the world’s tallest building, and on-hand to celebrate is its designer, architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman). After doing a bit of research, Roberts discovers that Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain), the electrical engineer and son-in-law of the building’s owner, James Duncan (William Holden), cut corners when installing the Tower’s electrical system, thus putting the entire structure in harm's way. 

Ignoring Roberts’ warnings of impending doom, Duncan decides to go ahead with the dedication ceremony, set to take place on the 135th floor. But when a small fire breaks out on a lower levels, it results in an all-out blaze that threatens not just the Tower, but the lives of everyone inside. 

With the help of Chief Michael O’Halloran (Steve McQueen) of the San Francisco Fire Department, Roberts works to save as many people as he can, a task that grows increasingly more difficult as the fire spreads to the other floors.

Part of what makes The Towering Inferno the “granddaddy of disaster films” is its phenomenal cast. Along with Newman and McQueen, both of whom were huge box-office draws at the time, there’s William Holden as the owner who soon sees the error of his ways, and Faye Dunaway as Susan, the girlfriend of Paul Newman’s character, who is one of many trapped inside the building. Other employees of the Glass Tower include Dan Bigelow (Robert Wagner), the public relations chief and one of the first to be cornered by the fire (his attempt to escape the blaze is perhaps the film’s most poignant moment), and Security Officer Harry Jernigan (O.J. Simpson), who works with Roberts to get as many people to safety as he possibly can (including young Mike Lookinland, who played Bobby Brady in the T.V. series The Brady Bunch). 

Among the many guests on-hand to celebrate the opening are Senator Parker (Robert Vaughn) and Harlee Claiborne (Fred Astaire), a con man trying to bilk lonely widow Lisolette Mueller (Jennifer Jones) out of her inheritance. Even singer Maureen McGovern, whose tune “The Morning After” became a hit when it was featured in The Poseidon Adventure, shows up as herself, entertaining guests during the ill-fated shindig on the 135th floor.

Featuring a number of tense sequences and a finale that is out of this world, The Towering Inferno set the bar high for every disaster film that would follow. And in my opinion, very few came close to matching it.

1 comment:

robb1138 said...

I think what also made this film great was not just the cast but the interaction of the cast as their characters. Specifically, Steve McQueen's resentment towards Paul Newman and their long going competition. You can see it come out on screen. I still like the 'Poseidon Adventure' more. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I liked to see Gene Hackman & Ernest Borgnine go at it. Besides, Shelly Winters sacrifice, was a real tearjerker.