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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Towering Inferno (1974)



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In the seventies, disaster films were in, and producer Irwin Allen made a career out of making them. Most were ok at best, but the prize of the pack -- The Towering Inferno -- is a spectacular show.

The formula is familiar. A vast, stellar cast play an assortment of characters, each with their own little secrets and subplots, thrown together in the face of mounting catamity, whose inner fiber is revealed as they cope with life or death situations. A good disaster movie -- as with any other genre bar none -- is about its characters. It's not about the disaster. The disaster is merely the driving force.

Here the disaster is a fire in a newly constructed skyscraper. It starts as a small problem due to faulty wiring. Of course there is a party going on at the top floor, and management wants the fire extinguished quietly. Naturally, the fire gets out of hand, and the people still in the building are in trouble.

Heading the cast is Paul Newman, who plays the building's architect, and Steve McQueen, who plays the head of the fire department. William Holden plays the owner of the building; Richard Chamberlain his heartless son who built it. Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Jennifer Jones, O. J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner, and Dabney Coleman round out the supporting cast. They all give fine performances and -- rare in a disaster movie -- have more to say than, "Look out!" and "Run!" There's some tough moral issues the characters face, some meaty food for thought, and compelling drama. It's a tragedy that so many die. It's a triumph of human cunning and perseverance that more didn't.