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The Towering Inferno Movie Review

fred astaire film awards

1974 – Irwin Allen, John Guillermin –

Titanic in a skyscraper? On the night of the gala opening of San Francisco's 138-story The Glass Tower, the world's tallest building, the electrical corner-cutting of the builder's assistant (Richard Chamberlain) leads to a monster fire. The many parallels between this successful film and Titanic suggests that a big part of James Cameron's creativity may have been updating a tried and true formula rather than uncovering a new trail: the disaster striking on the debut of a new superstructure, the arrogance of builders wrongly assuming their work is disaster proof, the intermingling of private dramas with the worsening disaster, the effort to save first the women and children, the emphasis on showmanship. Fifty-seven sets were employed, a record for a film shot at the Fox studios. Also like Titanic, this expensive production was co-financed by two studios. Twentieth-Century Fox and Warner Bros. each had purchased novels with similar plots and decided to collaborate rather than compete.

Steve McQueen, who is as serious as Jack Webb in Dragnet is the biggest disappointment. After the blaze has been put out, he even stops to lecture Paul Newman on the steps of the charred building: “One of these days, you're gonna kill ten thousand in one of these firetraps. And I'm gonna keep eating smoke and bringing out bodies until somebody asks us how to build them.” His performance sticks out as the most boring, but overall the roster of big names works better here than in any other disaster film.

Before the final climax, Inferno smartly pauses for some moments of reflection by its many characters stranded on various floors. Not only does this give the audience a breather before the next onslaught of special effects, it also allows the class of the actors to bring off these soap-opera flourishes. William Holden and Paul Newman argue about the ethics of corner cutting while technically staying within the building code. Holden's may be the most enjoyable work in the film, as he first tries to downplay the seriousness of the threat and then directs his anger at his son-in-law who skimped on expenses. He begins to recover his principles toward the end as he decides to let the others be taken to safety first. Fred Astaire has a good scene with Jennifer Jones in which he confesses to his life of conning people. She smiles knowingly. The final action sequences do not disappoint, especially the daring rescue of the people stranded in the scenic elevator by a helicopter outfitted with a grappling hook. Screenwriter Stirling Silliphant combined the endings of the two novels, so that after the tension of the helicopter rescue the movie gears up for the attempt to blow up the water tanks on top of the skyscraper to extinguish the fire. When it's all over, the audience feels like a survivor, too.

Cast: Paul Newman (Doug Roberts), Steve McQueen (Michael O'Hallorhan), William Holden (James Duncan), Faye Dunaway (Susan Franklin), Fred Astaire (Harlee Claiborne), Susan Blakely (Patty Simmons), Richard Chamberlain (Roger Simmons), Jennifer Jones (Lisolette Mueller), O. J. Simpson (Jernigan), Robert Vaughan (Senator Gary Parker), Robert Wagner (Dan Bigelow), Susan Flannery (Lorrie), Sheila Mathews (Paula Ramsay), Norman Burton (Will Giddings), Jack Collins (Mayor Ramsay) Screenwriter: Stirling Silliphant Cinematographer: Fred Koenekamp, Joseph Biroc Composer: John Williams Producer: Irwin Allen for Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros. Running Time: 165 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards 1974: Cinematography, Editing, Song (“We May Never Love Like This Again”); Nominations: Art Direction/Set Decoration, Picture, Sound, Supporting Actor (Fred Astaire), Original Dramatic/Comedy Score; British Academy Awards 1975: Supporting Actor (Fred Astaire); Golden Globe Awards 1975: Supporting Actor (Fred Astaire) Budget: $14M.

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