Apple to the Core

A Review of The Towering Inferno

It's fun to read a film critic's review of The Towering Inferno so many years after it was made - 35 years to be exact.  And, of course, it's a positive review!

The Towering Inferno
A film review by Don Willmott - Copyright 2009

There is so much to love about The Towering Inferno it's hard to know where to begin. Steve McQueen and Paul Newman are together at last! Fred Astaire gets drenched! O.J. Simpson saves a cat! Faye Dunaway wears Dacron! As one of the first mid-'70s disaster epics (produced by the King of Disaster, Irwin Allen), this supersized burnfest inspired countless star-studded copycats and lives on today as a sort of camp classic of its kind. It doesn't have Red Buttons like The Poseidon Adventure does, and it doesn't have Victoria Principal's cleavage jiggling in the tremors of Earthquake, but it does have pretty much everything else.

On the occasion of the dedication of the world's tallest skyscraper (which I for one would never consider building in earthquake-prone San Francisco, by the way), an A-list party is planned for the top floor. This way to the glass-enclosed elevator, please. Architect Doug Roberts (Newman) and builder Jim Duncan (William Holden) are proud, but they don't know that Duncan's cost-cutting son-in-law (Richard Chamberlain) has compromised safety for profit. Sure enough, when a small fire breaks out, things go really bad really fast, and firemen Michael O'Halloran (McQueen) and Harry Jernigan (Simpson) arrive on the scene holding their hoses.

Several action threads unspool. Newman has to save some kids in a stairwell, a crowd is trapped in one of the glass elevators, the partygoers begin to panic, O.J. saves the cat, and the bad guy has to be exposed. With so much going on, the whole enterprise might descend into chaos (which is what happens to Earthquake), but here the plots weave nicely. All the drama eventually points to McQueen and Newman as they devise a daring plan involving two million gallons of water as their last chance to save the lives of everyone left in the building.

In fact, it's that climax that, like the capsizing scene in The Poseidon Adventure, is a quintessential moment of '70s pop culture. Irwin Allen clearly loved to mastermind and supervise these moments of epic Hollywood special effects showmanship. The cool thing is that what you're watching isn't computer-generated. Those are real flames, and that really is two million gallons of water rushing through a Hollywood sound stage. Heck, the making-of featurette is probably more exciting than the film itself.

So break out the popcorn, sit back, and enjoy a galaxy of stars picking up their fat paychecks and having a great time. They absolutely don't make 'em like this anymore.


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