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 the top floor of a burning 136-story skyscraper in San Francisco during its inauguration ceremony party.
The fire traps the various luminaries gathered there for the dedication ceremony, including owner James Duncan (William Holden), his daughter Patty (Susan Blakely), conman Harlee Claiborne (Fred Astaire), Senator Gary Parker (Robert Vaughn), and Security Officer Jernigan, played by 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.
Architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) comes to the rescue, aided by Fire Chief Mike O’Hallorhan (Steve McQueen) – who could have told them this was going to happen – and the film proves that giving the electrical wiring contract to the lowest bidder – morally bankrupt subcontractor, Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) – doesn’t always pay.
The construction company was going perilously over-budget on the project and needed Simmons to save two-million dollars somewhere . . .
The movie came in the wake of The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and Earthquake (1974) but exceeded their success. 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 elevators featured in the movie. They are at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Senator Gary Parker
Deputy Chief #1
Lady in buoy
Deputy Chief #2