Producer Irwin Allen's follow-up to the hugely successful POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) assembled another all star cast and tormented them with fire rather than water. The screenplay combined two novels, the production required an unprecedented collaboration between two major studios -- 20th-Century Fox and Warner Bros. -- and the complicated shoot was parcelled...read more
Producer Irwin Allen's follow-up to the hugely successful POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) assembled another all star cast and tormented them with fire rather than water. The screenplay combined two novels, the production required an unprecedented collaboration between two major studios -- 20th-Century Fox and Warner Bros. -- and the complicated shoot was parcelled out to no fewer than four seperate crews. The result is everything a disaster movie should be, a combination of soap opera and the spectacle of destruction. Here the cross-section of humanity is gathered in a brand-new San Francisco skyscraper, a 135-story, mixed-use wonder built by mogul Jim Duncan (William Holden) and designed by visionary architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman), whose affair with hotshot magazine editor Susan Franklin (Faye Wray) is on the rocks because her career ambitions don't dovetail with his. Duncan throws a swanky soiree to celebrate the building's opening, assembling politicians, wealthy socialites and boldface names on the the vertiginous promenade level while a small army of building employees keep things running. What no-one realizes is that a fire has already taken hold in an 81st floor storage room, the result of subpar wiring supervised by Duncan's venal, alcoholic son-in-law (Richard Chamberlain). By the time the blaze is dicovered and fire chief Michael O'Hallorhan (Steve McQueen) is summoned, it's already roaring out of control. Some partygoers and luxury apartment dwellers are evacuated, but most are trapped above the flames and beyond the reach of fire department rescue. The special effects are somewhat dated (though the use of real pyrotechnic effects beats CGI every time) and all the cliches of the genre are present, rightdown to the security guard who braves the inferno to rescue an elegant older widow (Jennifer Jones) and, upon finding she's already abandoned her apartment, rescues her cat instead. But it's still effective three decades after it was made — if anything, it's more disturbing after having seen the grim spectacle of the World Trade Center's twin towers (which were brand new when TOWERING INFERNO was in production) collapsing in smoke and flames on September 11, 2001. The fire chief's warnings about the danger of "fire-proof" skyscrapers — which ignited a flap among developers and builders back in 1974 — also sound very different to the contemporary ear.