This is junk, but it’s star-studded junk, with some of Hollywood’s greatest actors forced to team up with some of its worst to rescue trapped VIPs from a burning 136-storey skyscraper in San Francisco during its inauguration ceremony.
The fire traps the various luminaries gathered there for the dedication ceremony, including owner William Holden, his daughter Susan Blakely, conman Fred Astaire, senator Robert Vaughn, and Security Officer O.J. Simpson (whose presence, as with the concept of people trapped in one of the world’s tallest building as it collapses in flames, makes it a rather more uncomfortable experience to watch today).
Decent architect Paul Newman comes to the rescue, aided by Fire Chief Steve McQueen (who could have told them this was going to happen), and the whole movie proves that giving the contract for electrical wiring to the lowest bidder does not always pay.
There were probably a number of reasons for this; Towering Inferno had two big stars, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, so the film could exploit what was left of the “buddy movie” genre; two blue-eyed boys fighting the flames together.
Unlike most disaster films of the 1970s, this is big-budget, big-spectacle stuff, with seemingly few expenses spared on the state-of-the-art effects and Oscar-winning cinematography (the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards in total, including Best Picture), and the cast all give good value for money, particularly Astaire.
Producer Irwin Allen – who had made his name with TV shows like Lost In Space, Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and Land Of The Giants – spent the rest of his career trying to repeat the recipe, culminating in the ultimate bee-invasion movie, The Swarm (1978).
The Towering Inferno won three Oscars: Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Song – The über seventies schmaltz-fest We may never love like this again, sung by Maureen McGovern.
If you visit San Francisco, you can take a ride in the scenic elevator featured in the movie. It’s at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Senator Gary Parker
Deputy Chief #1
Lady in buoy
Deputy Chief #2