Plot – At the opening party of a colossal, but poorly constructed, office building, a massive fire breaks out that threatens to destroy the tower and everyone in it.
Director – John Guillermin
Released – 1975
There was a time in the mid-70s when big-budget disaster films were all the rage, with The Poseidon Adventure both Eatchquake finding success at the box office, but for me, it was The Towering Inferno headed up by two of the biggest stars of the day, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, that perfected the formula of combining all-star casts with a larger than life disaster, more than making back the $14 million dollars it cost to make and grossing over $116 million dollars which was quite a princely sum in 1974.
When it comes to the acting, Newman and McQueen both give the charismatic and polished performances you’d expect from stars of their calibre, but it’s the supporting cast where the true heart of the film can be found, with excellent performances from the likes of Fred Astaire, Robert Wagner and Faye Dunaway reminding the audiences that this tower is filled with individuals each trying to survive and resulting in a series of harrowing scenes, the most striking of which is where Lorrie (Susan Flannery), trapped by the fire has to make the heartbreaking decision to jump rather than let the flames consume her, bringing back memories of watching the news coverage of 9/11 and seeing people forced into the same desperate choice.
Despite the abundance of talented actors in the film, the true star of the Towering Inferno is the disaster itself, with Irwin Allen using his skills to direct the extensive action sequences, while John Guillerman took care of the rest, with most of the action taking place inside the fire-ravaged building and the penthouse restaurant, with most of the characters trapped in claustrophobic and quickly deteriorating conditions. Sure some of the effects are clearly models, but for the most part the practical work holds up excellently and gives the film a grittiness you don’t find in modern CGI heavy actions films such as 2012 or Skyscraper.
Allen also does well at piling on the suspense and keeps you on edge for long moments, with such things as a long climb up a flaming stare well and a long descent down a scenic elevator that will have you wringing your hands. The fire sequences are all well-staged as you can almost feel the flames leaping through the screen and smell the smoke circling around the room.
All these years later, The Towering Inferno will still give you 165 minutes of entertainment, providing you with action, suspense and heart-pounding spectacle from a relatively simple plot, which to this day has yet to be duplicated.
If you liked: Skyscraper, Volcano, San Andreas