Saturday, October 8, 2016

THE TOWERING INFERNO 1974

"Did you leave a cigarette burning?"

Here in L.A. one of our tallest downtown skyscrapers has an attraction which allows visitors to travel from the 70th to 69th floor by way of a clear glass slide attached to the outside of the building. In other words, one has to pay for the privilege of crapping one’s pants 1,000 feet in the air.

But back in the ‘70s those of us in search of less first-hand high-rise thrills were happy to content ourselves with The Towering Inferno: producer/director Irwin Allen’s $14 million follow-up to his wildly successful The Poseidon Adventure (1972). It was 1974 and the disaster film craze was in full swing. October saw the release of Airport ’75 (“The stewardess is flying the plane!”); Earthquake (“In Sensurround!”) followed in November; and December brought The Towering Inferno.
Everything about The Towering Inferno was a one-upsmanship of the standard disaster film. It was adapted from not one but two novels (The Tower by Richard Martin Stern & The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson); boasted two directors (John Guillermin for the acting, Irwin Allen for the action); and was so massive an undertaking it brought about the historic collaboration between Warner Bros. and 20th Century-Fox (preventing a replay of the "Dueling Harlows" situation of 1965 when competing studios raced to release two films on the same subject at the same time). The Towering Inferno was Hollywood's heavily hyped holiday season release which promised to be the ultimate “Big, Bigger, Biggest!” cherry atop the disaster film catastrophe cake.

And, as it turns out, The Towering Infernogarnering eight Academy Award nominations and one of the highest-grossing films of the yeardid indeed come to represent the genre at its peak. Its sheer scope, star-wattage, and pull-out-the-stops excesses signifying perhaps the most to which the genre could ever reasonably aspire. Its ambitious scale and overall professional (albeit, old-fashioned) competency standing as something of a bellwether for the genre’s eventual decline into oversaturation, mediocrity, and unintentional self-parody.
"It's out of control and it's coming your way!"

Truer words were never spoken. On the evening of the gala dedication ceremony for The Glass Tower—San Francisco’s newest skyscraper and the tallest building in the world—an electrical fire breaks out in a utility room (Building developer: "You’re not familiar with the many modern safety systems we have designed into this building”); faster than you can say “Titanic” all hell breaks loose…literally. To quote the film’s ad copy “One tiny spark becomes a night of blazing suspense” as 300 well-heeled revelers in highly flammable ‘70s synthetics become trapped on the building’s top floor with nothing but Maureen McGovern for entertainment, and ever-diminishing options for escape and rescue. What to do? What to do?
Panic at the Disco
Well, what The Towering Inferno does (and very well, thank you) is to let this open-flame potboiler play out in a manner not dissimilar to that of an old Busby Berkeley musical. The tried-and-true pattern for those films was to introduce the players, hastily establish their superficial-to-inconsequential interrelationships and conflicts, then pretty much spend the rest of the movie interspersing the formulaic narrative complications and resolutions between musical numbers of intensifying extravagance and excess. A little plot, a musical number; a little more plot, a slightly bigger musical number, etc.; …all leading to a big, splashy finale featuring lots and lots of people until, finally, all ends well with a romantic clinch at fade-out.
The Towering Inferno follows this pattern pretty closely…only with explosions, falls from great heights, and gruesome, fiery deaths taking the place of production numbers. The result is a disaster film clocking in at over 2 ½ hours that, while occasionally getting bogged down in technical dialog and repetition (sometimes it feels like we’re shown all 138 stories of stairwell footage), moves at a surprisingly brisk and exciting pace.
Since the title already clues us in that the building is going to go up like a matchstick, the film doesn’t waste any time trying to build false suspense by pretending to be about anything else. We’re introduced to the setting, The Glass Tower: a near-literal imposing erection jutting phallically from the testicular San Francisco hills. A building whose façade is shimmering gold and whose interior is an eye-strain symphony of ‘70s game-show orange. Residents occupy the floors above the 81st, lower floors are devoted to commercial tenants (including the building’s developer, Duncan Enterprises—they of the Starship Enterprise interior design and bedroom-equipped executive offices). With the “where” established, The Towering Inferno moves on to introducing the “who” by means of cinema shorthand: aka clichés.
Paul Newman as Doug Roberts - "The Architect"
First, we get the hero architect (Newman). We know he’s the hero because while everyone else wears suits and ties, he’s the lone maverick in orange and swede. Cut from the same iconoclastic mold as those confrontational individualists in the Winston cigarette ads of the day (“I don’t smoke to be like everybody else,” was typical ad copy) Newman is a sun-bronzed Thoreau ready to say goodbye to his lucrative career so he can live the simple life in Mendocino County and “Sleep like a winner.”
Faye Dunaway as Susan Franklin "The Girlfriend"
The curvy speedbump preventing Newman from beating as hasty a retreat to the good life as he’d like, is magazine editor Faye Dunaway. The movie poster identifies her as “the girlfriend” and that’s precisely the breadth, scope, and function of her role in the film. Randy Paul Newman wants to runaway with Dunaway to a place where their hypothetical children “…can run around and grow and be free,” but post-afternoon delight, career-minded Dunaway informs him that she's just been offered a much longed-for promotion (“That’s nice…,” is his invalidating response). Newman wants her to be with him (and do what? we ask ourselves) but Dunaway, perhaps anticipating what lie in store for her in Network, is not keen to give her executive promotion the kiss-off so soon. Guess which one of the two isn’t placed in the position of having to make a decision?
William Holden as James Duncan "The Builder"
The tempter to Newman’s antagonist is boss William Holden. He tries to persuade Newman to stay so together they can build bigger and better firetraps—I mean, skyscrapers…all over the world. Holden is a man of questionable integrity who has dollar signs in his eyes. Something we can all observe for ourselves thanks to his ginormous eyeglasses.
Steve McQueen as Michael O'Hallorhan "The Fire Chief"
Once things start to heat up, good guy fireman Steve McQueen arrives on the scene as the film’s moral mentor. His duty is to deliver common-sense, life-saving fire safety advice, and the occasional big prick to Newman’s vulnerable, exposed, quivering conscience.
Richard Chamberlain as Roger Simmons "The Son-In-Law"
The villain of the piece is electrical contractor Richard Chamberlain. The big tipoff being that within minutes of his entrance he’s given a Neely O’Hara-ish speech about not needing God’s or anybody else's help, and how he didn’t get through life on a pass because of his good cheekbones and damn classy looks (although in truth, Chamberlain’s snare-drum-tight face has been pulled so taut, his cheekbones genuinely look in danger of cutting straight through the flesh). Chamberlain’s character is written as such an unrelentingly rotten ol’ meanie, at any moment one expects him to materialize in a cape and top hat, twirling a mustache.
Susan Blakely as Patty Simmons "The Wife"
To make him seem even meaner, Chamberlain is given a Good Woman (Susan Blakely); an unaccountably loyal spouse given to hurt looks, aqueous glances, and a knack for saying precisely the wrong thing at the wrong time. That she also happens to be the boss’s daughter adds a backstory of guile and purpose-fucking to Chamberlain’s already slimy resume.
Now we come to the supporting characters. The ones who exist primarily to drum up additional human-interest, boost the potential body count, and attract the ancillary demographics necessary to make a movie this costly into a hit. 
O.J. Simpson as Jernigan "The Murderer" oops! I mean "The Security Man"
For ethnic appeal and to draw the athletics supporters, there’s football player, would-be Hertz pitchman, and future felon O.J. Simpson as the tower’s chief of security. On the plus side, at least he’s not one of those noble, first-to-die African-American characters Hollywood holds so dear. On the minus, the man gives a performance of kindling-level woodenness. 
Jennifer Jones as Lisolette Mueller "The Widow"
Fred Astaire as Harlee Claiborne "The Con Man"
For the classic Hollywood fans, we have Golden Years love interests Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones as an adorable, twinkly-wrinkly couple combining the charming chicanery of Airport’s Ada Quonset (Helen Hayes) and the selfless sympathy factor of The Poseidon Adventure’s Belle Rosen (Shelley Winters). 
Robert Wagner as Dan Bigelow "The Publicity Man"
Susan Flannery as Lorrie "The Secretary"
And what would a disaster film be without a dose of sex=death guilt retribution? Overemployed non-entity Robert Wagner plays an executive who goes to great (read: fatal) pains to conceal the far from earth shattering fact that he's boffing his secretary (Days of Our Lives star Susan Flannery). Given that neither wears a wedding ring, it's the sexual revolution '70s, and Wagner's company obliges by outfitting his office with a big ol' bedroom, one would think they'd simply put the overtime on their time cards.
Rounding out the The Towering Inferno's parade of possibly soon-to-be-incinerated stars is the equally-innocuous Robert Vaughn (far right) as a senator, and, balancing a tower of her own, Irwin Allen’s paramour of 14-years (and soon to be Mrs. Allen) Sheila Mathews as the mayor’s way-too-many-close-ups-for-the-size-of-her-role wife.
Did I mention there are also children and a cat? Yes, children and animals are as inevitable in disaster movies as Oscar-bait theme songs (this film’s “We May Never Love Like This Again” actually hooked the prize). As the pet in need of rescue we have Elke the cat, and as what appear to be the only children in the entire building, there's Bobby Brady (Mike Lookinland) and a little girl who has trouble not looking into the camera lens (Carlena Gower). (But I must say I owe a debt of thanks to the latter. Had Jennifer Jones not been obliged to hoist that kid around on her hip in take after take, the late Miss Jones wouldn’t have developed the enduring lower back problems that necessitated her seeking out my services as a personal trainer in the '90s. Her back ultimately improved, and I got to know one of my favorite stars. So…thanks, kid!)
Once the cast and conflicts are assembled—honorable mention going to the two buddy cops and Carlos, the bartender who never takes a break (Sanford & Sons' Gregory Sierra)—it’s just a matter of rolling out the catastrophes and conflagrations. Something The Towering Inferno manages rather spectacularly and as regularly as clockwork.

The bulk of The Towering Inferno is comprised of variations on the following:
1. Hey! There’s a fire!
2. Deny, deny, deny.
3. Get those people outta there!
4. No, not that way!
5. Boom!
6. Is it me, or is it really hot in here?
7. Climb, climb, climb!
8. Whoops! There goes the stairwell/elevator/helicopter/breeches buoy.
9. Faye Dunaway consoling terrified guests by making sure their heads are turned well away from the camera.
"There, there...I won't let that nasty old cameraman get at you." 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
“For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like.” 
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 

Amended: If you like disaster movies, The Towering Inferno is one of the best examples of the genre you're likely to find. Thank you, Miss Brodie.
If asked to pick the disaster move I get the biggest kick out of, The Poseidon Adventure gets my vote for pure entertainment and camp value—it's like the Valley of the Dolls of disaster films. But when it comes to genuine drama, breathtaking stunts, spectacular effects, and the kind of larger-than-life scale that makes you feel like a kid oohing and ahhing over the sheer magnitude of the undertaking; The Towering Inferno really delivers the goods. 
Seeing it now, it's a good deal talkier, tin-eared, and over-infatuated with the detailed minutiae of firefighting than I remember; but its clear-cut objective is so simple there's almost a purity to it. It simply wants to be the one of the biggest, most exciting, star-studded, thrill-a-minute adventure spectacles ever committed to film. And it succeeds!

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
In the cynical, serious, often dark, frequently downright bizarre atmosphere of New Hollywood '70s cinema, you have no idea what a breath of fresh air these mindless disaster movies were. They were Hollywood at its most formulaic and old-fashioned, and that's exactly what I loved about them. Being a San Francisco kid (teen, actually), I was especially excited about the release of The Towering Inferno because news of its production came out about a year after the completion of the controversial Transamerica Pyramid, then, at 48-stories, the tallest building in the city. The San Francisco skyline was changing—The Embarcadero also had a 45-story high-rise and more on the way—and there was great concern as to the soundness of so many tall buildings in a city as earthquake-prone as S.F. (I remember a local radio station promoted itself with the slogan "The city that waits to die listens to...." Yikes! That always bothered the hell out of me).
Like a great many films that achieve success by striking just the right chord of anxiety at the right time, The Towering Inferno had the feel of immediacy about it. A feeling I latched onto and ran with.
I was so taken with this movie I made a point of making sure I’d read BOTH novels before the film came out; I tacked up homemade posters promoting the film on the bulletin board in my high school's library; I bought every movie magazine that had even the smallest article or photo about it: and when I walked home from school I always went the route that took me by the movie theater with the advance posters and lobby cards on display.

The Towering Inferno had its West Coast premiere at San Francisco's Alexandria Theater, and a friend and I desperately wanted to go to gawk from the sidelines (Lights! Music! Stars! Celebrities! Television! Radio!), but that idea was nixed because it was a school night. I eventually saw The Towering Inferno during its opening weekend and was absolutely floored. Even then there was no mistaking it for a great film or anything, but it was one of those eye-popping "event" movie experiences I'll always remember. I saw the film at least four times over that Christmas holiday, and for many years after I kept the souvenir program I'd purchased at the first screening.
cinematreasures.org
PERFORMANCES
When people get prickly over criticism of their favorite disaster movies, a typical defense is that no one goes to these movies to see great acting. Well, that's not altogether true. You may not go expecting Sarah Bernhardt-level emoting, but you do rely on a certain level of competent credibility in the acting to better draw you into the narrative. In the same way that believable stunts and convincing special effects enhance a film's thrill factor, actors who are able to make sketchily-drawn characters seem real enough to care about are an invaluable asset. If you don't think so, take a look at Irwin Allen's The Swarm sometime.
For my money, Faye Dunaway stands out as the most overqualified for her role, Steve McQueen the most compelling, and Paul Newman just a pleasure to look at...period. But by and large I think everyone in the film acquits themselves nicely, with Academy Award-nominated Fred Astaire being a sentimental favorite.

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
As big a fan of the genre as I was in the '70s, disaster movies hold a curious place for me now. When I'm not enjoying them purely for their camp and/or nostalgia value, I'm struck by how quickly they went from being entertaining action/adventure films to being these somewhat morbid "body count" spectacles. Latter films in the played-out genre seemed to exist solely to showcase how a significant number of people could be dispatched in the most elaborate and gruesome ways possible.
On a purely personal, subjective note, one of my favorite things about The Towering Inferno is its setting. The tower itself is genuinely impressive, what with all those flames shooting out of it at dazzlingly photogenic angles, and the interior decor is so hideous it's actually a pleasure to see it go up in flames. The glam-fan in me loves that this high-rise catastrophe  takes place during a formal function, the result: the film is a virtual symphony of billowing chiffon, feather boas, clunky platform disco shoes, and towering hair sculptures.
Given a nothing role, Faye Dunaway and her legendary bone structure (and that
amazing dress) still effortlessly managed to upstage everything else
From a film buff's perspective, it's also a great deal of fun seeing if you catch and count which stars in the film have worked with each other in the past (one hint: Love is a Many Splendored Thing) or would again in the future (one hint: Airport '79).
The Towering Inferno endures for me as the last of the genre to be sincere enough to play it straight and attempt to balance the human drama with the spectacular action


BONUS MATERIAL
The Towering Inferno - 1974
Angel, Angel, Down We Go -1969
A regular reader of this blog (Thanks, Wille!) brought it to my attention that the gown Jennifer Jones wears in The Towering Inferno (top image) is very similar to an outfit she wears in 1969's Angel, Angel, Down We Go (bottom image). Jones' Towering Inferno gown was designed by longtime Irwin Allen costume designer Paul Zastupnevich. The outfit she wears in the lower photo is actually an evening pants suit with a tunic top designed by five-time Oscar nominated costume designer Renie (pronounced Renay...wouldn't you know it?). You can see costume sketches for The Towering Inferno by clicking on the link to The Irwin Allen News network, below.

For those interested in reading about the production, the rivalries, and all manner of behind-the-scenes trivia regarding The Towering Inferno, the internet offers a wealth of sources.
Poseidon's Underworld: The Towering Inferno
Burn, Baby, Burn
Gotta love that this movie inspired the 1976 disco classic Disco Inferno by The Trammps
Copyright © Ken Anderson

69 comments:

  1. I just saw this for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Every year since 2008 my sister and I have celebrated Paul Newman day around September 28th. Usually we re-watch old favorites, but this time we wanted to include a couple of movies we hadn't seen before. Thus this movie got included (along with Torn Curtain, which is so bad we didn't manage to get through it). The way we survived this one was by having planted our tongues very firmly in our cheeks - your review brings out well that side of the film! I have to say that the whole premise of the movie just isn't really geared towards me, since I adore 1970s interiors and, unlike you, would've just gladly looked at the set design sans flames for 2.5 hours!

    Miscellaneous observations:
    - It's absurd how matter of factly Steve McQueen's character takes the whole business, when any sane person would've just blurted out "my god, this is the worst fucking shift I've ever worked". But no, he just stoically climbs aircraft-carried fly-away elevators etc.
    - When Dunaway's character's career oriented ways were introduced, my sister said, "Now, if she actually gets to take that job at the end, this is a good movie." Alas, at the romantic climax of "I'd follow you anywhere" we just shared a wordless, wry look.
    - Richard Chamberlain's character and performance seem very problematic to a modern viewer, as I'd go on to say the baddie was heavily queer coded. I haven't seen Chamberlain in anything else (not even Thornbirds), but I'd speculate that it's not his acting style that is so over the top prissy, but rather this particular performance. I was left wondering if the film makers were trying to put a twisted message in there.
    - This movie gives great fodder for 6 degrees of separation, and like you, I get a kick out of thinking of the other movies that some of these actors shared. Like Faye Dunaway having done The Thomas Crown Affair with Steve McQueen a while back, and having to reunite with William Holden in a couple of years for the triumphant Network... even though Holden apparently despised her and actually physically threatened her for the diva ways on set! But they made a great team.

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    1. Hello Callie
      Wow, you really did come to this party rather late. I always wonder what a film like this looks like to fresh eyes. I always assume it plays better because it's wedged in the past; one can be more forgiving of flaws in an old movie.
      like the idea of a Paul Newman day (if you haven't already seen it, I recommend "The Drowning Pool").

      Interest observations, too.
      The Steve McQueen thing:The movie is such a infomercial for firefighters, they barely leave room for real human emotions behind all that selfless heroism. Sometimes I'm surprised writers don't realize how you root for a hero MORE if he expresses recognizable exasperation at having to save the day all the time. The best we get is McQueen's resigned reluctance to set the explosives at the end.
      As per Dunaway's dilemma, much like Diana Ross' situation Mahogany (where the MUCH more successful model gives up her career for the luckless local politician), Hollywood - in trying to keep up with the times - really didn't know how to write women's roles from anything but a male perspective. They made token nods to liberation by tacking a career to "supportive girlfriend roles" (in the old days women were moms or prostitutes, in the 70s it every woman was a magazine editor or TV newsperson).
      your take on Chamberlain's character is exactly the kind of thing that's interesting to hear about from the perspective of a new viewer of a film. When I was growing up , I'm not exactly sure why, but a great many villain types were always cast or played as somewhat prissy. As though a certain fastidiousness in a man signaled a moral rot. But having grown up on Dr. Scott on "Lost in Space" Roddy McDowall as the baddie on "Night Gallery", and almost any actor with good posture portrayed as a villian, Chambaerlain just blended in. When I look at this again, I'm going to see if I pick up any queer coding in his performance!
      And yes, it's fun to know or discover how many times these folks worked with one another. There's of course Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in "Somebody up there likes me", but I didn't know Robert Vaughn appeared with McQueen in a couple of films.
      I never saw "Network" until many many years past it's release, but it was indeed odd seeing Susan having an affair with Jim Duncan behind Doug's back!
      Thanks for a terrifically fun comment contribution!

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  2. Great review, Ken! I so enjoyed reading this. I saw Towering Inferno when it came out and will watch all these years later just to see the fantastic cast. I found the Newman/Dunaway pairing a bit stilted and mismatched. Newman really never seemed to pair well with anyone other than his wife, although I thought he meshed well with Piper Laurie in The Hustler. But I digress ....

    I had forgotten that "the murderer" was in this - not a very memorable role. Strange that just a few years after this movie came out, another cast member, Wagner, would have a veil of suspicion over him for the untimely death of his wife, too.

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    1. Hi Bella
      And thank you very much! Like you, I'm taken with the cast assembled for this film. In a weird way, the cast of "The Poseidon Adventure" (outside of Hackman) was pretty much you'd expect from a disaster film, but "Inferno" really grabbed the brass ring in securing Newman/McQueen/Dunaway/Holden/Astaire.
      I'm with you in thinking Newman never seemed to gel too convincingly with his love-interets. I like him with Woodward in "From the Terrace", but he only ever seemed to be believably in love with Robert Redford as Sundance (or Butch, I never remember who's who).
      And thanks for reminding me of Wagner's late career infamy. What a mess that is. I never liked him much as an actor, but that whole "incident" with Natalie Wood soured my opinion of him even more.

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  3. Ken, I always love your own back stories in relation to the movie you're blogging about...I had a big smile on my face imagining you putting up home made Towering Inferno posters at school...Irwin Allen would have loved this!

    I was in junior high when Inferno came out. I vividly remember my high school teacher, whose husband owned the local theater, being pissed because Godfather II beat Towering Inferno for best picture!

    My two gossipy cents:
    I read that McQueen, who always looked at Newman as a rival, actually counted his lines to make sure his part was as big as Paul's...insert your own joke here!

    If you believe that Newman was secretly gay or bi, as has been rumored after his death, isn't it interesting that Robert Wagner turns up yet again in a Newman movie?

    I also remember my young gay-dar going off watching Richard Chamberlain at his most repellant!

    Jennifer Jones! While not my favorite female golden era Hollywood star (that would be Elizabeth Taylor), I always found Jones intriguing, and have seen many of her movies. Soooo, what was she like?!

    I have wondered what Irwin Allen said to Astaire and Jennifer to talk them out of very cushy retirements to appear in a very arduous disaster film that was likely not to set their careers on fire ; )

    And yes, Faye rarely looked lovelier or more stylish on film!

    And yes, Paul could have worn that towel, despite it being Frank Sinatra orange, for the entire movie!

    Finally, I love all the bland soap opera names of the characters...Susan Franklin...Doug Roberts?

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    1. Hiya Rick
      Thanks for reading! And yes, my film geek ways extend pretty far back. Happily, making those posters at school got me out of my shell a bit, but I certainly had a touch of William Castle in me about the way I went about it.
      That story you relate about your teacher is amusing. Mainly because when I see movies like this (and Airport, etc) I'm always flabbergasted they were taken seriously enough to be nominated as Best Picture at all, let alone against "Godfather II"!
      The gossipy stuff about "The Towering Inferno" is very funny/interesting. I've read about the various rivalries and closets and ego clashes...certainly makes for a lot of fun speculation trying to weed out the true from the wishful thinking.
      I for one am always surprised when people balk at the idea that certain actors might be bisexual or closeted...have any of these people ever had a drama club in their school? The narcissism alone guarantees that many a soul doesn't care what sex the adoration comes from, just so long as there's adoration.

      Jennifer Jones never talked much about her career, though she was never reluctant to answer if I asked. She told me she was eager to go back to work when she did this, but in the long run regretted that she was a bit of a snob when it came to TV. She got offers to do nighttime soaps and TV movies but really wanted Lauren Bacall's career (she was s friend). Jones was a nice, if eccentric person, and I saw her three days a week. Every afternoon as I left, her hairdresser and makeup person was coming in. She had her hair done every day!
      Also, as you might imagine, her place was loaded with the most incredible artwork.
      Wonderful of you to call attention to those bland character names! i always found the names of the characters in Jacqueline Susann films to be so over-the-top weird, but "Inferno" goes to the opposite extreme. It makes me smile to think of the goddess-like Faye Dunaway being called Susan!
      Thanks, Rick!

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  4. @Rick ... yes, the names! They were so awful. Newman as Doug? Seriously?

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    1. I appreciate that, Tommy! Both for reading the post and being so kind as to comment. Glad you liked it!

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  6. Hi Ken,

    Yay you’ve turned your eye to one of my favorites!! Part of the exalted trinity of disaster films, the original Airport, The Poseidon Adventure and this, that make up the core of the genre and without a doubt represent the high watermarks of it.

    That it remains so entertaining instead of becoming over time ghoulish beyond purpose I think is a credit to its cast mainly and to John Guillermin’s pacing once the establishing scenes are gotten out of the way.

    Now I’m a disaster movie junkie which has enabled me to endure such puerile trash as Avalanche and The Swarm up though modern day garbage like Volcano and 2012 (just the most awful picture!) but for the most part I can only make it through them once but Inferno is something I can, and have, watched more times than I can count. Part of it is that it does move along and even though I know where it’s going the film keeps my attention during the journey but to be honest it’s the stars that I return for again and again. That holds for all three.

    Where Airport is the Old Guard Hollywood disaster movie, even more than the heinously dull The High and the Mighty, and Poseidon a melding of mostly old hands, Shelley Winters, Stella Stevens, Roddy McDowell, even Lynley had been around for better than 15 years, etc. with a soupcon of rising stars, Hackman, Pamela Sue Martin Towering Inferno was the of the moment, biggest of big stars spectacular with only Astaire, Jones and Holden (though he had managed to maintain a current star position) possessing any sort of Golden Age cred. I saw it in the theatre, one of the few I was able to induce my father to take me to-he was never an avid movie goer averaging about a film every two years-and thoroughly enjoyed it from that moment on. Funnily enough it was the second tier stars, aside from Newman and Astaire, who I was more familiar with, Wagner from It Takes a Thief (I strongly sense that you are not a fan of his-I’m more divided…loved Thief and a few of his early appearances but beyond that he’s usually mediocre and Hart to Hart gives me the heebie jeebies), Flannery was on my mom’s soap, Vaughn-The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Chamberlain-Dr. Kildare etc., at the time but the film made me seek out more on both McQueen and Dunaway.

    Of that star trio I get a bigger kick out of Steve and Faye, Paul Newman is good but he’s stuck with all the righteous indignation dialogue which at times is wearisome. McQueen possessed just the right amount of wry bemusement to keep O’Hallorhan from being a plaster saint-I laugh every time at his perfect reading of the line when Newman asks who is going to bring the lifesaving charges to deal with the out of control fire and he already knows it will be he “Oh, they'll find some dumb son of a bitch to bring it up.” He also fits the role physically his rugged somewhat weathered but still handsome looks believable for a fire chief.

    Faye of course is ravishing, and yes that dress is so simple yet elegant and perfect for her coloring, she’s so indelibly fixed in my mind in the role that it’s hard to imagine either Natalie Wood or Raquel Welch, both of whom were offered the role first, as Susan though seeing Raquel and Newman act together would have been fascinating-their styles are so dissimilar. But Faye handles it with maximum gravitas even though she surely knew the role was a flyaway and it adds so much to her scenes, however I have noticed what you mentioned about when she comforts anyone that they are pivoted away from the lens while we get Full Frontal FAYE agonizing for us little folk!

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    1. Hi Joel
      Such a nice surprise to know you are a disaster film fan! You must be one of the few who saw Mia Farrow in "Hurricane" (the film that put the end to my own disaster film fetish).
      Reading about your fondness for the genre and how you came to see this one is like a trip down memory lane, what with the TV shows I'd forgotten, and how you take me back to a time when people like Pamela Sue Martin were considered up-and-comers.
      You're right, I'm not really fond of Robert Wagner. He's on a list of actors whose careers and popularity completely baffle me. Although I think I enjoyed him in one of those Austin Powers movies.
      I've read about some of the other casting considerations (Olivia De havilland seemed to be considered for everything) and I can't imagine Raquel Welch in this at all. Faye makes such an impression on me because she brings so much class to the thing. I wonder how she felt about her part being so whittled down?
      And yes, McQueen has the perfect look for his role.
      Lastly, I love that your father made it to a movie once every two years or so! He must have loved a big spectacle like this!

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  7. Speaking of weathered…Bill Holden!! He was one of the best looking leading men ever as well as being a strong performer and it breaks my heart when I see him later in his career. Cigarettes and booze just destroyed his appearance, though excepting those absurd glasses and enough brilliantine to fry an egg, there are still traces of his handsomeness. Much more so than the burnt out husk he appeared as a few years later in the truly dreadful When Time Ran Out. But he, like everyone else plays it straight giving his sometimes preposterous dialog a reading that makes it better than it is.

    Now you know I’m no fan of Jennifer Jones but this is the one film where she doesn’t irk me at any point throughout the entire picture. Probably because her time is limited, her purpose very specific, she interacts well with Astaire and the fact that she did very few films after Selznick’s death. I actually really like that she was cast, even if she was far from the first choice, it adds a uniqueness to the picture. She was also smart to make it her last film, one to keep the wretched Angel, Angel Down We Go from holding that distinction, and even though it isn’t some great work of art like the Age of Innocence or The Iceman Cometh that provided a graceful bow out to Alexis Smith, Fredric March and Robert Ryan neither is it an ignominious swan song like The Nesting or Trog but a super successful crowd pleaser.

    Fred Astaire is irresistibly charming, though the Oscar nomination was taking things too far, and again he wasn’t a ubiquitous presence in his later years further adding to the singularity of the movie.

    I chuckled at your reference to Sheila Mathew’s many spotlight close-ups comparable to the size of her role, as well as her eye catching outfit and mile high hair. But I have to say I find her scene with Jack Collins as her mayor husband when she can’t reach their daughter a lovely, gently touching vignette well-played by both among the great clamor leading up to the conclusion.

    Then there’s that treacle fest “We May Never Love This Way Again” which mercifully doesn’t get much play in the film, I do however get a kick out of seeing Maureen McGovern with the long blonde 70’s mantel of hair knowing how later she went for a much snappier short red look. The Morning After wore its welcome out because of its mega-popularity but it was never the sludge fest this sucker is. There had to be a better song in some movie in 1974!

    I’ve read about all the petty squabbles and fights over lines of dialog and billing and other such nonsense which adds somewhat to the dynamic watching Newman & McQueen though they are complete professionals in front of the camera. None of it matters though since whenever I watch I’m just completely pulled in from that first copter view until its soggy conclusion. LOVE your comparison of this to a Busby Berkeley musical-I never thought of it that way but it fits! Please, please, please let them never attempt a remake!!!!

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    1. Great observations, all! Although I never saw him in "When Time Ran Out" William Holden in this film does have a knack for putting over some pretty blah dialog. He's actually better than he should be, but he does look a little worn here. I think he actually looks better in "Network."
      I never really get used to Jennifer Jones' helmet hair in this, but I like her a lot in this, even if a great deal of her role is limited to climbing something or hugging kids and cats.
      I too think the sentimental nomination for Astaire was a bit much, but it's nice to know he was recognized at least once by the Academy (Did he get nominated for "On the Beach"?)
      It's good to hear that Mrs-Irwin-Allen-to-be had her moments for you. That's one of the more enjoyable, democratic things about movies; you never really know what will click with someone. A performance that doesn't gel for one person can really be memorable for someone else (like my fondness for "Gypsy"s most hated song: "Little Lamb").
      I can't recall what other songs were nominated for Oscars this year, but this one really makes my ears bleed. However I always get a laugh out of McGovern's precise enunciation and over-sincere interpretation. She really did adopt a much more flattering look later on.
      I always think that reading your comments is like sitting down and having a conversation about a movie. You always share such a personal perspective- one that's amusing and sometimes autobiographical. But always very knowledgeable and full of enthusiasm for movies as a whole. I appreciate it.
      And yes, PLEASE let them never try a remake of this. i can only imagine all those CGI flames and cardboard actors. Thanks, Joel!

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    2. Oh Ken there is so much to this film and I just realized and can't believe I forgot to mention Susan Blakely's embroidered mattress pad of a dress!!! Gads that thing is hideous and there she is stuck next to Faye as the epitome of chic. What's the killer is that she's fabulously rich and in her previous scene in her casual wear shows that she had a nice figure so why the hell does she decide to go out dressed in granny's comforter?!

      I never got so much of a gay vibe from Chamberlain in this as he reminded me of Snidely Whiplash. All he needed was a moustache to twirl. He does go over the top from time to time but never as much as that first woman to take the breeches buoy between buildings. She takes her moment and blows it up to operatic proportions! The women dangling from the side of the building in the elevator have nothing on her.

      How you mentioned seeing the up and comers of the time who are now old hands brought to mind how it usually will throw me for a loop when Dabney Coleman, what was it with people with arrestingly blue eyes and this movie, shows up for his one scene just another character actor passing through. And of course Bobby Brady, he must have done this just as the series ended. He doesn't have much of a part but he's far more assured than the girl playing his sister!

      Yes to Maureen McGovern's giving it all she's got in her performance of that song. You'd think she was playing the Palladium not some corporate shindig.

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    3. ha! Because my partner isn't as fond of this movie as I, a big pleasure for me is when we watch it together and he lets fly with hilarious observations similar to yours. It adds a layer of MST3K to the viewing that I simply adore.
      But I know what you mean about leaving out stuff. This post would have been 5,000 words if I included everything I wanted to talk about in this movie.
      Susan Blakely's matronly frock. Ha! When Googling articles for research, I came across a SF newspaper piece where Susan Blakely said that although she shared no scenes with McQueen he did give her some career advice, he told her (in reference to her magically aging and de-sexing costume) "Don't let them do that to you." She says she hadn't yet learned how to look after herself, whereas it sounds as though McQueen to self-protection to obsessive lengths.
      I can only imagine that self-protection (aka self-promotion) was behind the selection of that particular shade of pink for Mrs. Irwin Allen. It's so unflattering, but you certainly can't miss it under all that platinum hair.

      And WOW does that first woman on the breeches buoy work her moment! Also, the Dabney Coleman sighting is indeed always a surprise (especially for those like me who grew up seeing him on That Girl). And I have a similar reaction to that fireman who has a couple of scenes with McQueen (he suggests trotting up the stairs) he's Norman Grabowski, and he was a familiar face in a LOT of Mamie Van Doren/ Beach party movies when i was growing up, and appeared with McQueen in one of those innocuous comedies he did early in his career. The whole film is a Six Degrees of Separation game.
      Thanks for the chuckle, Joel!

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  8. Ken, thanks for including the link in your Bonus Materials section! Needless to say, this is a Top 5 favorite of mine. My appreciation for it changes as the years go by. It's so funny to me that I basically threw a tantrum in the lobby, nearly refusing to go into the theater to see this (I was 7) and was just horrible about it, but then Faye Dunaway's name came on screen and I was rapt with attention from then on. I could not believe anyone could be so languidly elegant and gossamer (I recall reading a reviewer later who basically disliked the movie but said something like, "Dunaway manages to look goddessy beautiful throughout it all." High praise in my book! LOL) When I was a preteen, I would only watch the movie until the elevator scene was over because she was basically absent after that and I resented it. But as I grew up and my appreciation of Newman (and McQueen) increased, I would stick it out all the way. Now I love practically all of it, though anything with Faye still remains my favorite. It's like she has NOTHING to say or do of consequence, yet you cannot look away from her when she's on screen! Her already scant part was cut down in the editing room, though thankfully diehards like myself can see all the restored footage from the four-hour (with commercials) rendition whose scenes are part of the 2-disc set DVD! They add little and are of poor quality, but it doesn't matter. I can watch her float around The Promenade Room infinitely.

    A word about her one story thread: career vs family. I can recall my divorced mother struggling to obtain a foothold in what was still "a man's world." Things like obtaining a credit card in her own name were small victories. 1974 was still a time when many (most?) men wouldn't even entertain the notion of "allowing" their wife/girlfriend to pursue a career with the sort of commitment level that a magazine editor would entail. I always felt that Paul's response to her question "I want both, but I can't have both can I?" - which was "I don't know" was actually rather progressive for the era! I mean, he was willing to work with her on it, which is more than a lot of men from that period would have done. Even when she comes to him in the heat (pun intended) of the moment to forfeit, he still doesn't pin her down. He puts it off for a later discussion. Maybe not totally supportive, but also not commandeering or unwavering like many of his ilk would have been at that time. I always wondered if liberal Paul had anything to do with his character's attitude in the script.

    Lastly, I howled over the references to Faye steering all the people away from the camera so that she could be better noticed, but to me the most enjoyable bit of scene-stealing she does is when Paul announces that he's got the glass elevator working one last time and she let's the entire crowd walk that way without her, keeps standing there, then twirls her dress unnecessarily before departing herself!

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    1. Hi Poseidon
      I think you and Joel are the two folks I know to be huge disaster film fans. Always interesting to know here this particular film ranks among one's favorites.
      That's funny that you resisted seeing this movie as a kid (it must have been pretty terrifying in some ways for one so young). But I can fully understand the Faye Dunaway effect. if anyone ever doubts the persuasiveness of beauty, the impact of Dunaway's nothing of a role (competing with all manner of male star power and sundry special effects) confirms it. Although it's more than just beauty with her, it's something about her carriage, etc. Most everyone I know who can stand the film cite Dunaway as an asset, I'm waiting to hear the rebuttal side one day.
      Speaking of those extra scenes on the DVD, I remember being surprised at just how much extra footage she had...as you note, it's not in the least bit important to the plot, but a lot of her was certainly left on the cutting room floor. If only those editors knew how many gay hearts Faye would capture over the years, they might have left them in.
      You make an interesting point in explaining how the whole Dunaway career woman story arc plays to you. It's very valid. I think seeing this with my four sisters influenced my response to several scenes. Not only did they not buy Dunaway giving up that job, but they let me know how awful it was for Wagner to play Daddy and decide not to tell his secretary the truth and let HER decide if she was going to panic or not. They all thought she might have come up with a better idea than "Wait here in this smoke filled room all alone while I save you." (Having a lot of sisters is wonderful for gaining the female POV and being made aware that so many scripts are written by guys.)
      And thanks for sharing that Dunaway moment I hadn't noticed before.I tend to always remember how her gown keeps blowing in the face of those extras up on the roof, but I looked at the film again and that dress twirl bit you noted is now a new favorite! The woman knows how to work a room. Thanks, for the terrific comment contributions, Poseidon!

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  9. Another great post Ken. Back in 1974 I thought 'Towering Inferno' was the best of the disaster pictures that year, but with the passage of time 'Airport 1975' seems to get better and better because of its higher camp threshold (and much shorter running time). I will still watch it occasionally for Karen Black's very entertaining performance and some of those crazy passengers.
    Maybe because I'm 42 years older now, and more aware of mortality, all of those death by fire scenes in 'Inferno' get in the way of my enjoyment of the campy stuff. (They are too realistic to dismiss -- especially Flannery's fiery fall).
    But Faye Dunaway is spectacularly gorgeous throughout and the way that great (delicate) dress holds up throughout the disaster is still funny.

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    1. Hi Joe
      Thank you so much! One of the reasons your column remains one of my favorites is because I you always seem to respond to movies in such a personal way.
      For example, I'm glad you brought up the whole "death" issue with disaster films, because the whole spectacle of death stuff is what ultimately drove me away from the genre as a whole. For as long as I can remember, from the time "Inferno" came out on VHS and DVD, I've always fast forwarded past Flannery's scene. As you note, it's just too realistic to be entertaining -in fact and it feels sadistically protracted. It's tough on me. When I was younger I felt that the level of gruesomeness of that particular scene helped to prime the audience for the level of peril the other characters would face, but it has always been my least favorite scene.
      I love Airport 75 too, but my enjoyment of it is hindered by my distaste for Charlton Heston (and his ceaseless "Baby"s and "Honey"s). But who can find fault with Karen Black, Gloria Swanson, Linda Blair, and Helen Reddy all in the same film?

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  10. Your article reminds me just of how mystifyingly popular the color orange was in the 1970s, not to mention the awful platform shoes and fringe-laden vests. (Sometimes I find it hard to focus on the actual stories and filmmaking of 70s movies because the fashions are so eye-poppingly bad.) I remember when I saw the film that the audience really loved Jennifer Jones; we all gasped out loud, and I mean gasped LOUDLY, when she hurtled to her death. It was her last film, I think, and she managed to create a touching character amid all the bang-up special effects (it must have been a thrill to have known her when you did in the 90s). I'd be curious to know how she got along with former co-star William Holden in the film; the story is that she absolutely hated him when they made "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing" back in the 50s; though I think they actually didn't have any scenes together in this film. Ah, well! Towering Inferno was so spanking new back in 1974, and now it's so nostalgic to read about it today. I just loved your post--so funny and yet so affectionate - thanks!

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    1. Hi GOM
      Yes...the color orange! My partner and I (old duffs that we are) are addicted to those retro TV channels which feature game shows from the 70s. You've never seen so much orange in your life. I do tend to remember the 70s being very heavy on the earth tones...everyone and everyplace looked like Autumn (or maybe that was just the Bay Area).
      You jogged my memory with your comment on Jennifer Jones' plunge. I haven't seen this film in a theater for ages, but reading your words brought back to me the similar memory of the audience just letting out the biggest surprise yelp at the moment in the film. I can't recall any other part of the film that had a similar reaction.
      My memories of working with Jennifer Jones is that she was always such a hard worker, rarely talked about her career (but loved to brag that she was exercising way back when other actresses thought she was crazy to be lifting weights, etc). Kind of close-mouthed about her co-stars unless you got her talking about Joseph Cotten, who she would just go on and on about, she just loved him. She brought up Holden just once, and then I think she was being "polite" in saying nice things about him.
      She and Astaire make a cute pair here. And as someone noted in an earlier comment, if nothing else, this movie prevented "Angel Angel Down We Go" from being her last film. Again, I thank you for reading the post, and for jogging my memory with your own remembrance of seeing this movie. So weird when one's past "hot new thing" is today's quaint and camp bit of 70s nostalgia!

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    2. Dear Ken: I think we've reached a possible milestone! I believe this is the first movie you've written about that I saw in a theatre in its original release!

      I was nine years old when my whole family trouped to the theatre to see "Towering Inferno." My brothers loved it, but I'm a bit dim on my own initial reaction. I do recall finding it interesting but also hiding my eyes during the violence (more on that below). I was touched by the Astaire-Jones storyline even though I didn't yet know who those actors were (I had a vague sense that Astaire was famous, probably because he narrated the Christmas special "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"). In fact, at the time I don't think I knew who any of the cast members were except Paul Newman. I had seen him the year before in what was my very first PG-rated movie, "The Sting" (the viewing of which was preceded by a lecture from my parents not to use any of the unfamiliar words we would hear in the film).

      Because my brothers loved the movie so much, we kids went back to see "Inferno" quite a few times--I think somewhere between three and seven times total. Those were the days when parents safely could drop a group of pre-teen kids off at the mall by themselves, and a three-hour movie used as a babysitter probably was considered a godsend by Mom and Dad.

      I haven't seen the movie in recent years but I still recall many moments clearly. Unfortunately, many of the memories are related to the graphic deaths of the characters. I too was disturbed by Flannery's death scene (being blown out of a window with her pantyhose on fire--in slow motion yet!). I also was upset by Jones' death, and recall similar to you and others the shocked reaction of audience members around me.

      I'm not sure the reason such scenes were included in the film. Presumably one main demographic the movie intended to attract was older audiences who still wanted glamour and fancy clothes and escapism, along with some familiar older performers. I'm not sure how graphic death scenes figures into that equation. But at least "Inferno" wasn't as bad on that score as some of the other disaster films (I still vividly recall the "lady with broken glass in her face" scene from "Earthquake").

      I'm still envious that you got to meet Jones, who is one of my favorite stars. I seem to recall her having good chemistry in the "Inferno" scenes she shared with Newman (and didn't he almost have more screen time with her than with Dunaway, what with all the time Jones and Newman spent scrambling through the stairwells?).

      A few other random memories: my brother getting a big laugh out of the scene where O.J. Simpson bent down to open the door a crack before he kicked it in (was someone fired over that messed-up edit?). And my mom commenting on the final scene: "Even with all that grime on their faces, have you ever seen blue eyes that shine like Newman's and McQueen's?"

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    3. Hi David
      Congrats on joining the "I saw it in original release" club! The memories you share with us are quite wonderful, being in that you really give us a feel for what the whole experience was like for you.
      Touches like only knowing Fred Astaire from "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," or the pre-"The Sting" lecture from your parents are just the kind of details I love.
      Hearing about the experience of moviegoing is often more fun than discussing the movie itself.
      I can relate to the babysitting aspect of movies, of course. Also the way certain scenes stay with you even if the film as a whole remains somewhat hazy.
      The spectacle of death aspect of these films I liken to what happens in horror movies (or porn, for that matter)- genre films invite repetition, with repetition comes familiarity, and with familiarity comes the need to continually up the stakes for sensation. Everyone I know who comes across "Airport" is surprised how, for a disaster film, the film has only ONE disaster. Each successive film seemed to need to pile calamity upon calamity. To the point that (like in "The Swarm") superfluous characters are introduced specifically so they can be killed off.
      By the time "The Concord" was made, plot wasn't even necessary, it was just one contrived mishap after another.
      I hadn't thought about it before but Jennifer Jones does spend more time with Paul Newman than Dunaway does. It's nice that you're such a fan of hers.
      me, I've always wanted to meet Faye Dunaway, but my friend, who many years ago worked as a cashier in a supermarket in West Hollywood, said that Dunaway was frequent customer and always unnecessarily rude. So she always said I should just be happy with my illusions about her.

      Your brother is pretty quick on pick up in noticing that opened door OJ makes such a show of kicking in. I saw this move over and over again, but only noticed that little goof when the film came out on DVD.
      I have a Blu-Ray copy now, and indeed, Paul Newman's and Steve McQueen's eyes are quite incredible.
      Thanks for the great comments, David. Good to hear from you!

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  11. I see other people have mentioned, so I'm glad I'm not alone: as someone who only saw this film within the last few years, Jones's death jump remains startling lo these many decades later.

    I too could gaze upon vintage Newman and Dunaway for hours. Great write-up again!

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    1. Hi
      And a big thanks for reading! It's always such an eye-opener to know how a film like this plays to fresh eyes today. I'd grown so used to it over the years, until the commenter above reference the loud audience gasp at Jones' plunge, I forgot how effectively unexpected it was.
      You remind me that disaster movies, before they became so formulaic, had a brief moment of all-bets-are-off certainty about who would survive. Certainly true of what I recall about audiences for "The Poseidon Adventure"- many a gasp moment in that one, too.
      Thanks, too, for reminding us that the star quality of Dunaway & Newman has not lost its luster over the decades. Much appreciated!

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  12. Oh, my. These disaster films all exist together in my mind, sort of a house blend of bad luck and digital-wigital sound. It seems from your essay that The Towering Inferno is not the one with Ava Gardner. But, who remembers for sure?

    The only one that exists separately for me is ROLLERCOASTER. A friend moved to LA in the 70's to break into the movies. The only break I think she got before crawling back to the midwest was an extra gig on ROLLERCOASTER, spending four days on a Tilt-a-Whirl. Hooray for Hollywood!

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  13. Even with my knowledge of and fondness for them, I occasionally have a hard time keeping them straight. Particularly when one adds the made-for-TV lookalikes into the mix, and factor in how many George Kennedy seemed to appear in.
    I do know Ava Gardner was in "Earthquake" and "The Cassandra Crossing" (and "The Blue Bird" a disaster of a different stripe).
    I never got to see "Rollercoaster at a theater- where I believe it was shown in seat-rattling Sensurround- but seeing it on TV I recall there were scads of extras. I hope your friend at least got a little camera time for her trouble.

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  14. Argyle, here. Well if that was an attempt to reel the long-time silent back into the commentariat it worked for me! Seriously, I’m sure it wasn’t - your choice of posts is flawlessy idiosyncratic and is one of the many charms of your blog - I wouldn’t miss any of your essays. Through the summer and fall I’ve enjoyed all of your posts and wished I had something to say. Most I haven’t seen and now want to; a few (“Valentino”) I have but can’t quite remember enough to add anything of value; one (“Black Narcissus”) leaves me so completely flummoxed with admiration whenever I see it that I’m tongue-tied. I almost chimed in on “The Night Digger” (which I haven’t seen, unfortunately) that Pamela Brown is effortlessly fascinating in Powell and Pressburger’s “I Know Where I’m Going!” but didn’t want to intrude on that film’s discussion, but I’ll slip it in here.

    Excuse me for saying so, but you are on fire with this one! So many amusing and accurate turns-of-phrase: “open-flame potboiler”, “explosions, falls from great heights, and gruesome, fiery deaths taking the place of production numbers”, “runaway with Dunaway”, the whole Busby Berkeley analogy, the helpfully numbered sequence especially “5. Boom!” Fortunately I wasn’t drinking anything when I read the caption “Panic at the Disco” accompanying Faye’s impeccable deadpan.

    I think I’ve only seen this once, when it came out. I guess I was 16. And it was highly anticipated by me, my 10 year old brother and our neighborhood friend Shaun. We had been obsessed with “Poseidon” so this had to be even better. I’m pretty sure I read “The Tower” - impressed that you read both based-on books. (Arthur Hailey’s “Airport” had introduced me to the multi-character, merry-go-round novel.) My over-riding memory of the movie is of being somewhat disappointed. It makes me think of a pair of tan corduroys (not Levi’s) that I had around the same time that I never enjoyed wearing even though I tried. Never quite fit right or had the effect I was seeking, but I wore them anyway. I agree about the orange, but for me this is a tan movie. It was probably the first Faye Dunaway movie I had ever seen - it would take seeing “Bonnie and Clyde” a few years later in revival to appreciate her. Oddly, it doesn’t seem to pop up on TV at all, unlike “Poseidon” which I will always drop in on for a few minutes - it’s such a novel setup, I’ve always liked imagining being in an upside down environment. Not to be critical, but I remember “Towering” as having a built-in inevitability, up...up...up..., that wasn’t that satisfying. (As if a movie about “explosions, falls from great heights, and gruesome, fiery deaths” should be satisfying!!) I would love to come across it now and drop in for a bit and see how it feels today. I love your breakdown of the villains and totally remember the weird and flexible morality that punished some transgressions and embraced others. Not to get all heavy, but it makes me think movies like “The Towering Inferno” prepared me for the looking-at-it-from-all-sides moral dilemma films of someone like Krzysztof Kieslowski.

    Ultimately though, my brother, Shaun and I spent many hours playing “Towering Inferno” hanging off an old swing set until our hands gave out, etc. Was I really 16? Thank you, Ken, as always for a stimulating essay and great comments!

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    1. Hi Argyle
      So nice to hear from you! Honestly, it's flattering beyond words that you have been so loyal a reader all this time, you really should never feel any pressure to comment or contribute. I'm the same way when it comes to other people's blogs. Sometimes, I just feel I'd be reiterating something already said, or I've nothing of consequence to contribute. The reading is the important thing, the comment is a gracious effort I'm always so gratified anyone bothers to undertake.
      You of course make my day by saying you enjoyed the essay, as I enjoyed your comparing this film to a pair of tan corduroys (I had a pair of chocolate corduroy flares I wore to death as a youngster, and I haven't thought of them for years, so thanks for jarring that very '70s memory: when here was a good deal too much corduroy around, and the '70s fashion color palette was browns, tans, and oranges.
      I think by the time of "Inferno" IO had seen Dunaway in CHINATOWN, 3 MUSKETEERS, & BONNIE and CLYDE, so I can't imagine what you made of this being your first exposure to her. Likely that she was beautiful, but maybe little else that was memorable.
      You mentioned having read AIRPORT before this and being very into THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Same here. My mom has one of those Reader's Digest condensed versions of AIRPORT, but when I suspected there was perhaps explicit ex and mayhem cut out, I got a copy from the library. As for POSEIDON, for months after seeing the movie I couldn't enter a room or sit in class without imagining what it would look like upside down (I was especially intrigued by the idea that every doorway involves a step OVER a door frame). As you note, the very novel setup of that film was intoxicating to the youthful imagination.
      I think TOWERING appealed to my natural fear of heights, but by the time the movie was over, I think I had had about overdosed on stairwells.
      And of course, love that you and your brother played TOWERING INFERNO off the swing set. Exactly what my sisters and I did after seeing Hayley Mills hanging from the sails of that windmill in THE MOONSPINNERS.

      And yes, I think 16 in 1974 was probably a lot closer to still being able to act like a kid than 16 is now (when I see youngsters in such an all-fired rush to grow up, I always think..."You have NO idea, kid. You have no idea.")
      Thank you so much for commenting. A pleasure as always, Argyle. Gotta love a film enthusiast who takes a bit of the film home with them!

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    2. Argyle again. Oh man, "The Moonspinners" was the original hang-off-of-whatevers-handy movie! I think I wanted to be Hayley Mills even more than my two older sisters. Not to steer you, but maybe you can cover that neglected classic one day... I have no idea what I thought about Faye Dunaway in 1974. I do remember the constantly floating chiffon. I think I knew they were all big stars and perhaps that this vehicle was not quite up to their usual standards pedigree-wise. Probably most familiar with McQueen via frequent TV airings of "The Great Escape" which also inspired much neighborhood bike derring-do. Kids are so square now! Thanks, again!

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    3. Hi
      "Hang-off-of-whatever's-handy" Ha! Perfect description of what that film inspired in me and my sisters!
      Boy, I haven't seen THE MOONSPINNERS in decades. I don't even remember the plot! I love that you knew exactly what I was talking about, though!
      Maybe one day I'll write a piece about movie-inspired playtime games, and everyone can contribute stories about games they played based on the movies they saw. (When I look back on it, playing "The Derby" from THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY? with my sisters in the back yard seems like a moment my parents seriously should have considered getting professional help for me.)
      The thing I'm coming away with from this post and all the comments is that you can spend all you want on million dollar special effects and explosions, but to a certain contingent of the audience, Faye Dunaway's cheekbones and a chiffon gown are going to leave the strongest impression.
      I've has a lifelong crush on Steve McQueen. I forgot the name of his TV western, but it's the only one I remember wanting to watch as a kid.
      And yes...kids miss out a bit on the fun silliness of youth by never looking up from those SmartPhone screens. Squeare, indeed! Thanks, Argyle

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  15. Thanks for creating this website. My boss, Norm Hicks, and I were the helicopter crew for Towering Inferno. We really enjoyed seeing how the movie was made and getting our names in the credits. The highlight of our time was meeting Steve McQueen, Ali McGraw (Steve's wife) and Paul Newman. An experience of a lifetime.

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    1. Hi Tom
      You're so right, an experience of a lifetime! A website cites the copter pilot beside Newman in the first shot as Norm Hicks, if so, how amazing is it to make your film debut in a two-shot with Paul Newman?
      Getting to meet those screen icons PLUS working in and behind the scenes of such a major production...I can't imagine. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. And should you have an anecdote or two you want to share about your experience...well, you know the fellow-contributors to this site (chiefly, me) wouldn't mind a bit (understatement)! Great to hear from someone involved in one of my favorite films!

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  16. Hi Ken, my favourite kind of film when I was a teen was the disaster movie from the 70s. I saw "The Poseidon Adventure" hundreds of times on video! I liked The Hindenburg and love "Airport ´77" for the sake of Lee Grant. I always enjoyed watching "Towering Inferno" too.

    It seemed to be the most elegant and costly disaster film what with all the megastars. What a line up! Steve McQueen of all people! He only made a handfull of movies in the 70s and he chose a disaster movie to star in where there were countless of other stars too! It's so strange that he and Paul Newman fought over the right billing and amount of lines. Why would McQueen bother to be in a movie where there was such competion for screen time and star power?

    Yes, it was a mystery why Faye would be in a movie and only be "the girlfriend". Talk about star power the way she makes the most of such a nothing part! I have read nothing but how amazed people have been by her glamourous presence in the film. She really stands out just standing around in that flimsy chiffon dress! I haven't seen the film in ages but I have to see the part where she steals the scene standing on her own when the crowd leaves the room.

    What I remember most about her in the film is when the women ride the broken outside-elevator and there is just one lamp shining from above on the group. The light shines on Faye's face so that it looks like a skull - with those cheek bones!

    Your review of the film is so funny. I loved how you described wanting to see the 70's interior decoration go up in flames and about Robert Wagner being an "overemployed non-entity"!!
    -Wille

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    1. Hi Wille
      When I go off on one of my tirades about superhero movies today, I do forget that every generation seems to have their genre. When I was very small Westerns were everywhere, 24/7; probably why I can barely stand them today.
      But like you, in my teens I loved disaster movies. They had excitement, scope, stars, and escapism. I look at some of them now I think they have little in the way of entertainment value (Earthquake is almost painful to watch), but plenty of nostalgia appeal.
      I forgot about THE HINDENBERG. Glamorous Anne Bancroft. Reminded me of SHIP OF FOOLS in the sky. Do you remember Voyage of the Damned with Lee Grant & Faye Dunaway? Not a disaster film, per se, but marketed and structured like one.
      When I read the disparate accounts of the McQueen/Newman rivalry, it often comes across to me as one-sided. McQueen made his film debut in a Newman film, and seemed like he was playing catch up. By the time they appeared together in TOWERING, my sense is that it meant a great deal more to HIM to assure that they were both on even footing, stardom-wise.
      Whatever the real truth was, both are so dynamic I'm glad that the rivalry didn't prevent them from being teamed in this. Far more satisfying than when DeNiro & Pacino re-teamed 1995's HEAT; or when Eastwood appeared with Burt Reynolds in CITY HEAT (note to action stars...avoid titles with "heat" in them); or when Streisand/Deniro/Hoffman teamed for the lucrative but brain-dead FOCKERS franchise.
      Paul newman and Steve McQueen both had the same agent, but Dunaway's appearance in such a nothing role (although she seems to have gotten the last laugh by being the single most consistently commented-upon element) might have been motivated by a hefty paycheck, the desire to work with both Newman and McQueen (again, THOMAS CROWN) and the career cachet that comes from being in what was hoped to be a global hit on par with POSEIDON.
      Nowadays I look at the cast assembled and I'm somewhat flabbergasted. Outside of the OJ Simpson thing, it's a great gathering of stars the likes of which we'll never see again.
      I'm happy you enjoyed the post. I don't recommend you rush out and take a look at this movie any time soon. So much of my fondness for it is nostalgic and personal. As a stand-alone entertainment, I don't know if it's a 2 1/2 hours well-spent.
      Thanks for contributing, Wille!

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    2. All the pictures and comments about Faye Dunaway got me to thinking about one of my personal favorites: "Voyage of the Damned." Like "Bloodline," it seems like I'm the only one I know who remembers this picture, so I'm glad someone else does, too.
      I always thought of "Voyage" as a sort of real-life disaster movie; perhaps it was appropriate the movie makers used the same format for the picture. I remember seeing it on one of our family nights at the movies and the one thing that impressed me even more than the drama was Faye Dunaway's entrance at the ship's costume ball near the beginning of the picture. Wow! She came down a staircase in a long black gown with bare shoulders, upswept hair, those cheekbones, and she topped it all off with a monocle-I forgot all about Deborah Raffin when I saw that. (I have to admit, though, my enjoyment of Faye was shadowed by the knowledge that the movie was based on a true story, and one that ended very badly for some of the real-life counterparts of the characters.)
      I know you once called Karen Black "The Face of the 70's," but when I think about all the pictures Faye appeared in then, (including some of my other favorites like "Network," "Chinatown," and "The Three/Four Musketeers,") I would like to nominate her as the other Face of the Decade.

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    3. Hi MD
      Yes, it seems "Voyage of the Damned" is one of those movies that seems to have slipped through the cracks, in spite of its sizable all-star cast. I'm glad to hear you remember it, too.
      That costume party outfit of Dunaway's that you describe is the single strongest image I take from the film (I don't remember it too fondly). She was striking as all getout.
      And I think you're on the money in describing the format as being that of a real-life disaster film. Intentional on the part of the filmmakers, perhaps.
      It's a shameful page out of America's past we would do well for us to look at again in our current political climate. This is one of those films that sensitive people look at and are shocked that we as a nation could have had so little empathy or foresight. We'd pat ourselves on the back saying that we would never let anything like this happen again...yet, here we go in 2016, unable to see past our fear.
      I'm surprised some cable outlets haven't started screening it, it's so timely.
      Lastly, I wholeheartedly agree with you about Faye Dunaway being the other face of the 70s. While Karen Black embodied New Hollywood's embracing of an entirely new leading lady aesthetic, I think Faye Dunaway alone represented a contemporary throwback to the classic screen goddesses of yesteryear. She combined old-style movie glamour and modern-day naturalism. An excellent observation, Thanks!

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    4. Hi Ken, You're probably right about McQueen wanting to catch up with Paul Newman's level of movie stardom!

      I remember "Voyage of the Damned" because of the scene when two of my favourite acresses Lee Grant and Faye Dunaway appear. It's a very charged scene dealing with the stress refugees are under and those two handle it expertly. That's basically all I can recall of the film which was sold as a disaster movie when it really was a bitter tradgedy.

      I want to remind you of an observation I made while watching "Angel Angel Down We Go" with Jennifer Jones. In in that film I swear she wears a similar dress to the one she wore in "Towering Inferno"! It's the one with very wide sleeves, high collar in white material. Is it the same model or did I just immagine it?
      -Wille

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    5. Hi Wille
      When it comes to celebrity gossip and behind-the-scenes stuff, who ever really knows what to believe? For me it just comes down to which of the two had the prickliest reputation for self-protection. Newman may have just been more secure or had bigger reasons not to want to make waves.
      I remember the scene you describe in "Voyage of the Damned." I like Lee Grant a lot, and I remember thinking she still had the same hairdo she had as Tony's sister in "Valley of the Dolls." I also have a strong memory of how awful I thought Katharine Ross' performance and how hammy the actor playing her father was.
      And thank you so much for bringing up the similarity between the all-white outfits Jennifer Jones wore in those two films (Take a look in the 'Bonus Materials" section above. I've included screencaps from both films). Same high collar, long sleeves, and all white ensemble.

      That's a really good catch on you part, for the outfits are not dissimilar in style. When I think back, I don't ever recall seeing Jennifer Jones in any colors, whatsoever. I only have a memory of her in this all white or pale colored series of workout panntsuits. The only time I ever saw her dressed up was for a party she was throwing for Deepak Chopra, and then it was a all-white gown with tunic sleeves, too! You've got quite a memory and quite an eye, Wille, thanks for giving me the opportunity to add that bit of trivia to my post

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    6. If I may horn in : )
      In Lee Grant's recent memoir, she gave Dunaway props for being totally giving and generous in that scene from "Voyage of the Damned." So Faye had her good moments off-camera, too!

      I, too, remember the similarity of Jones' costumes from her two very disparate movies. Much like Ava Gardner's elaborate getup from "Tam Lin" getting recycled for "The Blue Bird!"

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    7. Hi Rick
      Hey! More people seem to remember "Voyage of the Damnded" than I'd thought! I read that memoir too, and Grant's account of that scene are one of the few recorded few recorded examples of Faye's "other side"!
      And thanks for bringing up the Ava Gardner costume thing! I have a copy of THE BLUE BIRD sitting around waiting to write about it, but I had no idea her costume hearkens to one she wore before is (similar? the very same one?). Can't wait to Google some images. Thanks Rick! Once again, I bow to the vast cinema knowledge of all of you who contribute to this blog and make it so interesting for readers.

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  17. That's so great that you got screen caps of the dresses from both Jennifer Jones films! They are similar, especially in the costume drawing on the Towering Inferno page at the Irwin Allen site! She knew what she liked, ms Jones. She does have good posture in both films. She looks tall and elegant.

    It's fantastic that you have met her and worked for her!! Wow. You got to see her in her pale pale clothes. Amazing that she threw a party for Deepak Chopra! What an amazing life you have!
    -Wille

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    1. Ha! Aw, Wille, you're very nice. My life is not amazing in the least. I'm a happy man and I think I've been very blessed in a lot of ways, but you only read of the fun stuff about my life here and so I think it sounds more remarkable than it actually is.
      In hindsight, I think the one thing that afforded me so many interesting adventures is that (for better or worse) I've never really had my feet planted very firmly on the ground. I'm a dreamer, through and through. And in a weird way, not having the good sense to know I shouldn't do something is the very thing that allowed me to do it. Dreams always have to be backed up with action, but it's still amazing to me how much power dreams have.

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    2. So true, Ken, what you wrote about "dreams always have to be backed up with action". I'm glad you've realized some of your dreams, like the dance studio. Sounds like hard work and great fun!

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  18. Ken, Ken! You delight me once more!!

    I **absolutely love** this movie!! It’s one of my favorite all-times!!

    I was in bliss that whole fall of 1974 – AIRPORT 1975, EARTHQUAKE, TOWERING INFERNO all released within weeks of each other…**AND** if this bounty were not enough, POSEIDON made its TV network debut at the same time! This 10 year old was in heaven!

    On TTI: The score (I mean…..John Williams!!) …. The photography, effects, the set pieces (the scenic elevator and breeches buoy scenes still have me on the edge of my seat more than 40 years later), and the writing is terrific.

    I hate the fact that this spectacle doesn’t get the same love as POSEIDON (which is ALSO one of my all time favorites). Friends of mine say that they don’t care for TTI because “it’s too spread out” – meaning, that he feels that there are too many characters to keep track of/care about (as opposed to the set group that we follow in TPA), things are happening all over the place (various floors, down on the ground) and that it “looks like” they’re consciously trying to out-do POSEIDON. That never crossed my mind, I just love the whole bundle.

    My dad was a battalion chief (a “Mike O’Hallaran” and he said that the whole issue of dumping the water tanks would never work in real life…but he loves the movie too.

    Thank you again Ken for a wonderfully entertaining acknowledgment of one of my favorites!


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    1. Hi Mike
      you've added a hitherto unknown bit of trivia to the TOWERING INFERNO timeline (unknown to me, anyway) in recalling that THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE had its network TV premiere that same year!
      Although I don't have a direct recollection of it myself, the knowledge adds to the sense that, culturally speaking, 1974 must have felt like Everything's Coming Up Disaster!
      You were at the perfect age to really get a charge out of movies like this, and I'm glad the film continues to be enjoyable to you.
      Having a fire chief for a dad must have added to the thrills/scares in a way none of the rest of us could imagine. TOWERING INFERNO seems to go through such painstaking efforts to get the details right, but even as a teen that ending didn't feel quite "right" to me, but (the magic of movies) by then, you're so hooked into the fantasy and ready for the characters' ordeal to be over, you don't even mind that the film leaves you with an unanswered "How the hell did they get down from that top floor at the end?"

      Your continued enthusiasm for the film makes me smile (thanks for mentioning the John Williams score), as does passing on the observation that POSEIDON tends to be the most remembered favorite due to the intimacy of its structure. Like you, I'd never thought of that before (it's a good point), but I always enjoyed how sprawling THE TOWERING INFERNO is.
      It's always a kick hearing from those who saw the film in original release, so thank you for sharing your memories of a film has stayed with you all these years. Much appreciated!

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    2. Thanks Ken!!....you know, I was going to mention Flannery and Wagner, but decided to edit my post down a bit. But since it's been mentioned-as much as I love this movie, that scene genuinely disturbs me in a way that no other death scene in any other disaster flick does. The sheer....hopelessness of the situation...walled in by the fire, no telephone (good move, Bob)...then his horrible death (he didn't even make it more than a few steps before he died)..and then the horror her character went through--seeing him die, knowing she was trapped, then the fall. Tell the truth, if I was one of those tech wizards that know how to make "fan cuts" of films, I'd make my cut and completely eliminate that scene.

      The other disaster flick death that troubles me is the poor guy holding onto the beam in EARTHQUAKE, with his fingers bleeding, and eventually falls. But that's a quick scene.

      On a lighter note - I love the Faye love here! My favorite moment of hers is the way she says "It's really all RIGHT" as she's shoved aside in the rush for the elevator!

      As you saI'd yourself...I could go on for paragraphsale about this movie! Thanks again!!

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    3. Hi Mike
      I think a lot of people find that Wagner/Flannery scene uncomfortably protracted. I forget where I read it, but a critic or screenwriter makes the (valid) case that the graphic unpleasantness of this single death scene was intentional. Not for the sake of sensationalism, but to vividly cement in the audience's mind the level of peril the fire posed. After this death, non of the others had to be so graphic because that "non entertaining" cost of human life had thus been established.
      A sound argument, to be sure, but death-for-entertainment so quickly became what so many other disaster films seemed to be about.
      I don't recall the EARTHQUAKE sequence you refer to, but I remember how much I loathed a quick shot in THE CASSANDRA CROSSING that featured some fellow being run trough by a steel beam as the train crashed.

      As for the Dunaway scene you mention, I THOROUGHLY love how she reads that line! It's a scene I can see in my mind's eye as clear as a bell. It's her most Dunaway moment!

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  19. And Susan Blakely's dress....um, yeah. I know AIRPORT 79 doesn't get much love, but she was a KNOCKOUT in that film!

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    1. Maybe Blakely took McQueen's advice to heart. Although I can't get past a lot of what goes on in Airport 79 (I still can't shake the feeling that the shot of George Kennedy shooting a pistol out of the window of the Concorde HAD to have been some kind of a joke), I agree that she looks rather stupendous in that movie. Even though she plays a character who's a little slow-witted. (And Robert Wagner again...ugh!)
      Thanks for the memories, Mike. it's kind of fun to think back on how much I can or can't recall in these films.

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  20. Thank you Ken!! .... one more comment about Flannery/Wagner - as disturbing as I find their scene, how is it that I find the man-falling-three-stories into a skylight in TPA, and Roy Thinnes (and later Ed Nelson) falling to their deaths in AIRPORT 1975 not QUITE as disturbing? The brevity of the scenes? The spectacular stuntwork of the skylight fall?

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    1. Hi Mike
      I think you bring up an interesting point about how deaths are portrayed in film and how they can have different a effect. Like you, I really didn't feel much about the spectacular fall into that skylight in TPA, part of which I attribute to the character being something of a non-entity, part due to how we are spared the kind of prolonged suffering we're given with Wagner & Flannery.
      But later in TPA the deaths of several of them are quite affecting (when i was a kid one of them actually gave me waterworks, and it wasn't Ms. Winters).
      Nobody in AIRPORT 1975 seems particularly human, so when Eric Estrada's dummy goes flying out the plane, I think I actually gave a whoop of appreciation!

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    2. Haha!! Well the characters of "Terry" (TPA skylight guy), Captain Urias (Thinnes) and Major Alexander (Nelson) weren't drawn all that deeply to begin with, so yes we'd feel less "involved" in their plights than with Dan and Lori (and as you said, it was protracted - not a quick "Crap, there he goes!" type of death for a brief character). We've come to know Belle Rosen, Lisolette Muller, Linda Rogo, etc...and we're shocked when they go.

      As I mentioned, the only "brief" death that disturbs me is EARTHQUAKE guy. It was the scene where everyone was charging down the stairs only to find that they were missing. He flies out over the ledge, and grabs a protruding beam (which has glass in the edge!) and hangs on out of reach of help until he plummets (and ironically, HE goes through a skylight too!)

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  21. As you see, I'll be your worst nightmare with this movie! These are something really fun - they are faux newspaper articles about the "fire", and they're written realistically! Interviews with survivors, etc. Enjoy!

    http://filmsfilmsfilms.co.uk/blog/remembering_the_towering_inferno_san_francisco_times_14th_january_1974_part_one/2016-03-28-87

    http://filmsfilmsfilms.co.uk/blog/remembering_the_towering_inferno_san_francisco_times_14_1_1974_part_two/2016-03-28-88

    http://filmsfilmsfilms.co.uk/blog/remembering_the_towering_inferno_san_francisco_times_14_1_1974_part_three/2016-03-29-89

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    1. Truth to tell, Michael, I think some fans of the movie will be grateful for you sharing these. Just the sort of thing that confirms for me how you all are really contributors to the blog, not just readers commenting.

      Wow! It's a very clever form of fan-fiction I guess, and so thorough. Whether culled from the source novels or just part of the fun fictionalization, I even found out that Dan Bigelow WAS married! Thanks for unearthing this, Mike, I got a big kick out of reading it!

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  22. Michael steered me back here and as I read the (mountainous!) comments I couldn't help but chime in again about a couple of things:

    John Williams. I recently watched a big tribute to him and was all excited because I LOVE every one of his Irwin Allen TV show themes (when he was Johnny Williams) and his incredible music for most The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. The tribute almost completely breezed by this and other things he'd done (like Valley of the Dolls!) I once showed two sequences to a friend of mine. The Christmas tree raising in TPA and the lighting of the Glass Tower in TTI. First I showed them on "mute," then I replayed them with the music. The difference is unreal. He was just a great, great composer for these movies (Earthquake, too!)

    I must be out of my gourd because I LOVE Susan Blakely's dress! Ha! It's got chiffon and rhinestones combined in it. Come on!! As one of the honored guests, helping to cut the ribbon (hold the scissors? LOL) I guess she was made out to look "dignified" versus sexy? But I have liked that get-up ever since I saw it back in '74. The only thing I didn't like for some reason was her white fur wrap. Too "Ginger from Gilligan's Island" or something.... LOL

    Bobby Brady. There is a sidesplitting moment when Paul Newman is rescuing the deaf woman and her children and he brings out coughing, over-emoting Mike Lookinland who is so caught up in his Method performance that he forgets he has a line. You can see Jennifer fumbling as to what to do and see her trying to mentally FORCE him to effing say "Where's Angela?" but the little booger is too busy trying to upstage the others. Probably something he learned while trying to stand out against his five TV siblings (and Alice!)

    Jennifer supplied her own rare, highly-expensive fabric for that gown she wears. Paul Zastupnevich can be seen in an interview about it and how afraid he was to cut it incorrectly. She was definitely in on what she wore. Ken, were you aware of her penchant for having TWO versions of every gown made for special occasions? Halfway through her parties, she'd go upstairs and slip into the second one so that she'd still look crisp and fresh even as her wrinkled guests were fading fast! Ha!

    The breeches buoy lady was a close friend of Allen and his girlfriend-turned-wife. She already had a "moment" as one of the helicopter ten and so, thus, ought to have been inside the glass elevator when it derailed, but somehow she eased out of that and landed the later featured bit with the buoy!! Bad continuity. (The should have shown her slipping HER ticket to Marge the cocktail waitress after Faye was disallowed from giving her her own!)

    The line when Faye says "It's really, al-ll ri-ight." No one on earth could read that line THAT way... I live for it. As I type, Miss D. is here in town filming a movie!!!!!! I keep trying to sniff her out, but it ain't easy. Thanks!!!!

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    1. OH, How I love you guys!!!!

      "The Christmas tree raising in TPA and the lighting of the Glass Tower in TTI. First I showed them on "mute," then I replayed them with the music. The difference is unreal" - YES. Jon, even as a pre-teen tyke, those moments (and the accompanying underscoring) for BOTH just grabbed me. If you watch TTI in stereo, that "lighting the Tower" music sounds PARTICULARLY impressive!!! Goosebumps!!!

      Oh I have my "disaster movie costume" faves too! Karen Black and her sweater vest/kerchief, and Gloria's white veiled hat that turns cowl in A75...Pammie Martin's red skirt/hot pants ensemble...Lee Grant's pantsuit (A77)...Genevieve's pink jacket/jeans in EQ...and OF COURSE Faye's TTI gown!

      Oh, that Breeches buoy lady! "Oh, OH, I AM!!!....Oh, OH DON'T LET GO OF ME!!! DON'T LET ME FAAAALL!!!! ..and the 20 different facial/vocal expressions as she glides to the Peerless Building...she was in TPA as well, but I'm not sure which "drowned dining room person" she was :)

      Oh that "A-ll ri-ght" line is priceless!! As is the look on her face as the guy almost knocks her down. More goodies: "High-rise roulette"....and when Roger asks her to go out on a date, she breathes "no" in a whisper...then a slight head shake with this little sarcastic smile.

      And I love your take on Bobby Brady! SO over-emoting when he points to the doorway and says so enthusiastically, "It's blocked with cement!!" with this big grin!

      Ken, you definitely started a party!! :)

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    2. Poseidon
      That's a fascinating, film-school-like experiment to try with the soundtracks of these films. I like it when a score doesn't call attention to itself, yet I'm often amazed by how much it adds to the overall experience of a scene/film. Many has been the time I've gotten a goosebump feeling, or felt a sense of wonder about a scene and I fail to recognize that in large part that feeling is enhanced by the music.
      You make me laugh in your appreciation of Blakely's Junior Deb gown. I can appreciate the chiffon and rhinestone allure (is that a rhinestone vest?). I think it shows an egalitarian spirit to recognize that not everyone can be (or has to be) the raving glamour puss that Dunaway is.
      All the info about Jones and her gowns and that fabric is new to me, and so fascinating when taking the grueling nature of this film into account. That white getup goes through a lot.
      Very much enjoyed the stuff about Bobby Brady (had to re-check out that scene) and Miss breeches buoy, who made every second count.
      And you're so right, no one, but no one could say that line like Faye Dunaway, it always reminds me of her halting delivery in "Chinatown" ("It's difficult for me.") Your comments and those of Michael remind me how much fun it is to watch these movies with others. I had my biggest laugh when my partner and I were watching "Poseidon Adventure" and during the scene where Red Buttons is trying to coax Lynley up the Christmas tree, my partner imitates Lynley's adenoidal whisper and says "I don't DO heights" - Now when I watch it I always wish she'd actually say that.
      Thank, Poseidon!

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    3. Hi Michael
      I had the biggest smile on my face reading your comments. Both you and Poseidon make me think you would be great doing an MST3K-type commentary on this film.
      Positively howling at the memory of Bobby Brady smiling as he points out the cement to the firemen...can't believe anyone else noticed that! I know he's glad to see them and all, but the information he's relaying makes it comically incongruous.
      By the way, I was always crazy about that pants outfit Bujold wears in EARTHQUAKE. Looks like what they were selling in The Gap in San Francisco at the time.
      And given how much we all seem to appreciate Dunaway so much in this, I guess we were all thrilled with all the deleted scenes on the DVD. As noted, nothing she does in any of them is "necessary" to the plot, but any time the camera is trained on her, TTI is that much hotter.
      Thanks, Michael. You and Poseidon have given me quite a few laughs!

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    4. Oh, and I forgot...Poseidon, I hope you catch a Dunaway sighting while she's filming in your town. If rumors about her disposition are true, perhaps not a close encounter unless you soften her up by telling her about how much you love her in this! Hee hee!

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  23. I love this movie, though I am not qualified to comment on other '70's disaster films, TTI is the only one I have seen recently. I bought a bare-bones DVD of TTI in 2003, then promptly loaned it out and never got it back, which may have been a good thing in a way because I started having fire-themed nightmares. Now I watch it and have no such problems, for some reason. I used to work in small appliance and electronic repair, and I used to doubt that it was possible in our universe to build a skyscraper so shoddily that it would basically become a road flare, but I asked my boss if the movie realistically could happen as depicted, and his reply was "OH YEAH." Newman's architect character prophetically states that fires could start breaking out everywhere, and a substandard electrical system could do it if it were built according to code, but code for that particular building was inadequate. I don't think the death scenes are too graphic, imagine the incessant chortling there would be if the fire's threat to life and limb were not depicted seriously. What kills people in fires? Well, stuff like burning to death, smoke inhalation, being crushed by debris, I don't need to go on. I have seen firefighters online comment that certain scenes give THEM chills, they hit too close to home for comfort. If you REALLY want to see graphic deaths (not saying you do), there's Romy Schneider in Le Vieux Fusil (The Old Gun), or the episode Dragon's Domain in Space: 1999, which many agree is the most graphic thing that has ever been shown on tv. Anyway, Towering Inferno to me is good entertainment, I don't expect it to be Hamlet, or Fellini, it does what it intends, and I think it does it well.

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting and sharing your thoughts on the film. Even folks who don't like it find it difficult to fault in terms of depicting fire danger and firefighting methods accurately (except that ending, I guess).
      I know movies like this always consider themselves successful if they strike a cultural nerve (like the way JAWS made people wary of beach swimming) so i wonder if there was any increased focus placed on urban architects and the skyscraper boom after this was released.
      Per the violence, for me the issue is more context rather than explicitness. I appreciate authenticity, but (and it's a subjective point) there's always been an issue with me and disaster films when it comes to finding "entertainment" in the spectacle of suffering. The kind of protracted death meted out to the Susan Flannery character always felt more sadistic than thrilling. As horror filmmakers today keep discovering when they study Hitchcock or Polanski, suggestion can often be more powerful than the explicit.
      Still, it's nice to know TTI has so many people who remember it fondly after all these years. It certainly is for me one of the better samples of the genre. Thanks again for reading this post and taking the time to comment!

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    2. Thank you for your kind reply, what you said about the cultural impact of TTI is correct, what I have read is that building codes were updated in the wake of the movie's release. And I very much agree about the context vs explicitness issue relating to violence in media. I mentioned Le Vieux Fusil, that was the most horrifyingly violent scene I saw in any tv or film in my 20's, I was 10 yrs old when I saw Dragon's Domain, I actually wished for a long time that I could unsee them. In my opinion, the death of Tracee, the dancer at Bada Bing in the Sopranos episode "University" is the most frightening act of violence in media I have seen in the past 20 years, and my opinion is that it crossed a line. It feels like worthless sadism to me. I totally respect and understand your opinion regarding the Flannery character in TTI, it would be interesting, I think, to consider how possibly Hitchcock or Polanski would have dealt with interpreting to the screen their ideas about how Flannery's character's predicament would unfold, how it would be presented. Irwin Allen was no Hitchcock, he was nowhere near to being that subtle.

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    3. Hi James (nice to put a name to Anonymous!)
      As a fan of film and not a fan of censorship, the whole violence discussion has always fascinated me. Film is such a powerful art form and entertainment medium, the dialog can go on forever.
      The whole "can't be unseen" thing is a heady responsibility and I like filmmakers who treat it as such. I don't tend to mind violence when it reminds me of loss or cruelty or the vulnerbility of humanity, but I tend to resent it if the filmmaker's intent seems to be to get me to be impressed by the mode of or extremity of the violence.
      And don't get me started on the kindertrauma aspect of seeing things on TV or movie screens that I was too young for, or that, as you note, possibly cross the line. Kids can sometimes have a hard go of it if they're sensitive (which, in the end, is a good thing!)
      It's an age-old discussion, branching out to issues of desensitization and such, but I so appreciate that you afforded the opportunity to address it even a little bit in discussing a film genre typed as escapist entertainment. Thanks, James!

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  24. Hi Ken! Thanks for tackling one of my favorite films to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and I'm sorry I've been away for so long. As others have said (SPOILER ALERT), the death scenes really are memorable here and I always feel bad for Jennifer Jones as we see the long shot of her body bonking against the side of the building as it falls! And I always wonder, would I choose to burn to death, die of smoke inhalation or jump out the window like poor Susan Flannery? P.S. I highly recommend tracking down the Korean film The Tower (2012), which is a big budget homage of sorts, with plenty of melodrama and grandiose production design and special effects! -Chris

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    1. Hi Chris!
      Terrific hearing from you. When I deleted my earlier Tumblr, I didn't realize how many people I'd lose track of, so I'm glad to be reconnected!
      Glad to hear this film is a favorite. And yes, it's not bad enough that everybody gave Jennifer Jones a nice, wide berth to fall through on that elevator, but the filmmakers saw fit to have the film's most likable character careen off the side of the building on her way down.
      The first time I saw it, the audience seemed to give out an extra, incredulous gasp. Now when I watch it with folks who've seen the film several times, everybody comments (through shocked grins) on how "cold" it was for somebody to go through all that special-effects trouble to make poor Jennifer's departure all that more horrific!
      And given the unenviable choice of suffocating, burning, or leaping out a window...all I can say is that I remember what it felt like to merely burn my finger on a pizza platter taking it out of an oven; ANYTHING has to be better than burning. YIKES!
      And thanks for the recommendation of The Tower, I'd never heard of it, but I just checked out the poster and it's very Towering Inferno-y. Looks promising! Much appreciated, Chris!

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  25. This was one of the countless films I was not allowed to see on account of being deemed too young by my wildly over-protective and very strict parents. I didn't have as much interest in seeing this as I did with Earthquake--living in Newhall in 1971, we were close to the epicenter of the San Fernando quake--and Rollercoaster (part of which was filmed at Magic Mountain, where we frequently went and both my brothers worked. Speaking of Magic Mountain, I must tell you sometime about my first-ever Fatal Fangirling Faux Pas that occurred there!) And of course, once I was old enough to see these films, I had little interest in doing so. Besides, how enjoyable can they be without Stephen Stucker, anyway?

    But in terms of TTI, I have seen bits and parts of it over the ensuing years, but even with your as-always fascinating commentary and insights, I can't watch it now that I know it features an animal in danger. I just don't deal well with ANYTHING in which critters are in potential harm. I'm not wimpy about much else, and hey, sites like doesthedogdie.com were created for people like me!

    As well, the last time I saw part of this movie, it was after 9/11 ,and I had to turn it off. The horrific sight of people falling to their death packs even more of an emotional wallop when you've seen it happen for real on live TV, you know?

    Lastly, I know Susan Flannery from her role as Stephanie Forrester on The Bold and the Beautiful, and I was sad to see that character's demise (though apparently at her behest). She was one of the last examples of what I think of as the Indomitable Battleaxe paradigm. What with the RL-deaths of Jeanne Cooper and Goddess of Big Hair Darlene Conley, I'm not sure if there are any left on daytime these days. Somewhere Marie Dressler is heaving an exasperated sigh.

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    1. Oh you must tell about the fangirl episode! Maybe in the comments of the "Misery" post where everyone is sharing fandom incidents.
      Your feelings about "Inferno" (the animals in peril, the post-9/11 thing) are so much of what lingers on the perimeters of the whole disaster genre, and your points are well taken.
      The films tend to be so campy on one side, on the other, tied to a lot of folks' adolescent fondness, but I think that affection prevents us from looking at what a weird genre it was. It's adventure and drama to be sure, but part of it is unavoidably connected to providing the spectacle of death. As discussed in other comments, this grew more pronounced in later films, but young people today must look at these movies and think we cheered when our favorite stars met their makers in elaborate fashion.
      I don't know that I ever saw Flannery in anything else, I know I missed on her soap opera years. She played a toughie, huh? Interesting! Thanks, Lila!

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