Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974). Director: John Guillermin. Action scenes directed by producer Irwin Allen.

Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox each had rights to two separate novels with the same theme: "The Tower" and "The Glass Inferno" both had to do with massive fires in high-rise buildings. The two studios cooperated on one film combining aspects of both stories, thus The Towering Inferno. During an inaugural party in the penthouse of the world's tallest building in San Francisco, a fire breaks out and gets worse and worse as firemen try to cope with the disaster. People are trapped in the Promenade room as other horrible incidents occur on the floors below. As some individuals try to make their way down to the ground far below, the others at the party enact a desperate scheme to save themselves and put out the fire at the same time. Everything is hampered and things made worse by the fact that against the architect's orders a man named Simmons (Richard Chamberlain), the builder's son-in-law, saved money by ignoring the fire codes and safety procedures.

Watching Inferno today with memories of 9/11 in your head makes for a distinctly uncomfortable experience. That being said, Allen has put together a suspenseful and often terrifying movie that grips you for its full length and never lets go. Among the more gut-wrenching scenes are the one where a group tries to get past a shattered, swinging metal staircase, and the horrifying business in the scenic elevator, during which Jennifer Jones' character plunges to a grotesque death. There are a very few moments of pathos in the movie, but most of it is tension and terror. Paul Newman is fine as the architect, an ordinary man, who watches his dream project collapsing and tries to save lives, although Steve McQueen is unemotional throughout as the fire chief. William Holden is the builder, Faye Dunaway is Newman's lover, Fred Astaire is an aging con man, Robert Vaughn is a senator, and Susan Blakely is Holden's daughter, and all are fine. John Williams' score helps sustain the tension. O. J. Simpson is also in the movie,, but that's a disaster of a different kind. Guillermin also directed The Whole Truth and the first terrible remake of King Kong.

Verdict: Not exactly a pleasant experience but certainly well done. ***1/2.

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