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Monday 28 March 2016

Burl reviews The Towering Inferno! (1974)

Snap, crackle, pop, it’s Burl, here to review that most burnt sienna of movies, The Towering Inferno! Ha ha, I saw this on TV a number of times as a kid, and though it was no Snowbeast or Curse of King Tut’s Tomb or This House Possessed, it was and is an artifact of the time with powerfully Proustian capabilities!
Of course there was no mistaking this for the TV movie it sometimes seems, for whatever reason, desperate to imitate! Ha ha, it sometimes seems like the world’s longest episode of Emergency! (That was at one time my favourite show, by the way! Still like it!) The production values are obviously, even to a kid, much larger than any TV production, and the cast of high prestige! It was the presence of Fred “Ghost Story” Astaire that most impressed me when I was young, because, thanks to my mother’s specific thespian enthusiasms, which she seems to have inherited unchanged from her own mother, I imagined that Astaire (along with Bette Davis) must be the biggest star in the history of the world!
Of course I also knew of Paul Newman and William Holden: they were after all the stars of When Time Ran Out, the subsequent Irwin Allen disaster extravaganza we all know and admire! And Steve McQueen was from The Blob, don’t forget! Faye Dunaway from The First Deadly Sin; Richard Chamberlain from Bells; Robert Vaughn from Starship Invasions; Don Gordon from The Beast Within; and Cluny Brown herself, Jennifer Jones: all of these and more were familiar and impressive faces! Ha ha: as anyone who talks about this movie says, what a cast!
The soapy stuff bogs it down a bit, as it must – as seems to be its job, ha ha! But the fire scenes are impressive, and the celebrity deaths, which frequently seem random (particularly incidents featuring Jones and, separately, Vaughn) have a certain impact! You won’t soon forget the rather blundersome demise of Wagner, who boasts of his fleet feet, then catches afire immediately he attempts to run through a burning room! It’s all rather horrific, I must say!
But the fire is eventually put out by way of enormous water tanks conveniently placed on the roof of the building, and this plan, it seems, ought maybe to have been thought of earlier! No matter! The firefighting tactics used in the picture seem fairly realistic, not just because of all the fireman advisors listed in the credits, but because they’re so frequently unspectacular! They spray water at fires, sure, they do that a lot; but they also trudge up endless stairs and wait for things to happen! McQueen, of course, gets to keep his cool throughout, and gets a chance to lecture Newman, and extract from him a plea for help! Ha ha, no wonder old Steve asked specifically, or rather demanded, to play the part of the fire chief! And then he demanded that another big star be given the architect role, so he could be filmed talking down to them! Ha ha, McQueen, you rascally Machiavellian!
Anyway, it’s a quality picture and its extreme datedness is mostly superficial! It pushes all the buttons it means to with expert fish-stick fingers, but is nevertheless a movie I look back on every year of late around the Academy Awards, as reassuring proof that fundamentally cheeseball pictures collecting Oscar nominations is not a new phenomenon! I give The Towering Inferno two and a half breeches buoys!


  1. There's more than a whiff of the Ancient Roman bread and circuses about these disaster movies, where the big stars line up to be executed for our entertainment. But what about Richard Chamberlain? He might as well have jumped from the top for all his obvious impending victim status. OK, that's pretty much what he did do!

    1. It's true what you say! Yes, Chamberlain was indeed carrying the death-mark from the first moment we see him! Ha ha, his designation on the poster, "The Son-In-Law," makes him out to be nothing better than a slimy, grasping worm before the picture even starts, and I say this as a son-in-law myself!