Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Towering Inferno

The Towering Inferno; disaster movie, USA, 1974; D: John Guillermin, Irwin Allen, S: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Susan Blakely, O.J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner 

San Francisco. During a party to commemorate the opening of the Glass Tower on the 130th floor, the thrift of the builder Duncan inevitably leads to poor electrical back-up and a fire on the 81st floor. Architect Roberts warned Duncan about this years ago. Over 200 guests get trapped on the 130th floor while O'Hallorhan, Battalion Chief of the fire department, tries to extinguish the fire and evacuate the people. When it gets out of control, Roberts and O'Hallorhan blow up a water tank above, and the water extinguishes the fire. Several people died in the catastrophe, but most of them are saved.

One of the most popular disaster films from the 70s, that even reached an Oscar nomination for best picture, "The Towering Inferno" is today a dated and standard edition of the genre that relied more on cheap scares and shocks than sophisticated suspense which suit those kind of films. For all the fine action and stunts throughout, it is simply not that exciting to have a disaster film story play out only in a static, lax location such as the tower in the movie, nor to have the running time get dragged to almost three hours when there is no backup for it - it is a monolith rock, unmoved and too big to go anywhere. Still, the storyline gives a few neat jabs at 'profit greed' manifested in the tycoon who wants to "keep everything under budget" and thus accidentally created a disaster for himself when there are no fire exists in the tower once the danger erupts, whereas the cast is top-notch, from Paul Newman and Steve McQueen (whose character, the Battalion Chief of the fire department, has a strong moment when he says: "When there's a fire, I outrank everyone") up to Fred Astaire in a surprisingly touching little role as an ageing "con-man", for which he won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar. Overall, a sufficient and easily watchable, but standard achievement. 


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