The Towering Inferno

Ross Hunter’s “Airport” set the standard. Gather a bunch of stars (or pseudo-stars) and throw them into the middle of a calamity. Since “Airport” was such a big hit (at the time, it was Universal’s highest-grossing film), it was only a matter of time before the rest of Hollywood would take notice.

toweringinfernoEnter television and film producer-director Irwin Allen, who seized the moment and carried on the trend when decided to capsize an ocean liner full of Oscar-winners in “The Poseidon Adventure.” “The Poseidon Adventure” went on to make a bundle, which in Hollywood language means bring on more of the same. While other studios were toiling with earthquakes, mid-air collisions, burning dirigibles, and skyjackings, Allen turned his attention to something bigger.

Much bigger. So big, in fact, that two studios eventually had to come together to make Allen’s film a reality. 20th Century Fox, which release “The Poseidon Adventure,” wanted to make a film about people trapped in a high rise fire. Warner Bros. also wanted to make the same film. One studio had the rights to Richard martin Stern’s “The Tower.” The other had the rights to “The Glass Inferno,” by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. So instead of making competing disaster movies (does “Volcano” and “Dante’s Peak” ring a Deja vu bell?), the studios pooled their resources and made one film, “The Towering Inferno.” Fox won the right to release the film nationally, while Warner snagged the international rights. Now all Allen had to do was make the film.

Allen recruited Stirling Silliphant to combine elements of both books and come up with an original screenplay. He then recruited John Guillermin to direct. Now came the task of picking a cast that would top anything that had come before. Headlining was Paul Newman as the architect who designed the 140 story skyscraper that towered over the San Francisco landscape. Steve McQueen joined the cast as the head of the fire battalion that comes to tackle the blaze, while Faye Dunaway played Newman’s girlfriend and William Holden his boss. With the above the credit talent signed, Allen went after an eclectic group of recognizable faces to flesh out the supporting cast. He got veteran hoofer Fred Astaire to play the elderly con man, who tries to take lonely widow Jennifer Jones for a ride.

Television stars Susan Blakely, Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughn and Richard Chamberlain signed up, and O.J. Simpson took a “stab” at acting as the chief of security. What better way to get everyone together than to throw a party. That’s what happens when San Francisco’s elite are invited to the Tower’s grand opening.

They arrive in style, and are immediately whisked up to the tower’s top floor, where they sip on champagne, listen to the Oscar-winning song “We May Never Love Like This Again,” and enjoy the view. Little do they know that a small electrical fire on the 80th floor is building up enough rage to become an inferno. You know the rest.

The weak become strong, the strong become cowards, and everyone is asked to rise to the occasion as San Francisco’s finest figure out a way to save everyone trapped on the top floor. High winds make a helicopter lift impossible, and the building is too high for any of the fire department’s equipment to do any good. Even at its most melodramatic, I still love “The Towering Inferno.” It’s grand entertainment of the highest order. The cast is superb, especially Newman as the world-weary architect and McQueen as the beleaguered fire captain who knows death will come before despair.

Allen directed the action sequences himself, and they are truly spectacular. As flames whip around them, the characters find the courage within themselves to accomplish some pretty incredible feats. There’s a building-to-building transfer that gets out of control, an exterior elevator that gets knocked off it’s track, and a paramour forced to leap to her death when the flames engulf her surroundings. Told with respect and conviction, “The Towering Inferno” sure holds up after 25 years. It’s still a powerful, engaging piece of entertainment.


VISION: [ ] 20/20 [ X ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

Despite some problems locking onto patterns, the digital transfer is pretty decent. The colors and their saturation are strong and vivid, while the flesh tones are perfect. The 2.35:1 widescreen transfer (unfortunately, not enhanced at 16:9) features spectacular, industrial strength blacks and clean as a sheet whites, and hardly a trace of compression artifacts. The original negative is clean, allowing for a transfer that’s virtually free of specs and scratches. The reds and blues are particularly strong. Depth of field is excellent, and attention to small details (except patterns) is realized.

HEARING: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

Effective yet not overly powerful remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround (plus as an added bonus, a 2.0 Dolby Surround track). The sound is clean of hiss or distortion, but the stereo surround effects are extremely limited, with the film’s majestic John Williams soundtrack taking up most of the rear speaker action. There’s some ambient noise separation, but it’s not distinct enough to run around and shout its praises. The bass effects are subtle, but noticeable, while the dialogue mix is strong.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed captions for the hard of hearing in English, subtitles in Spanish

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

The original theatrical trailer and animated, handsome theme main menus.

PROGNOSIS: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

Not the greatest transfer, but I love this movie enough to recommend buying it on DVD.

VITALS: $29.99/Rated PG/165 Minutes/RSDL/Color/26 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#4110429




HMO: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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