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Towering Inferno, The (TCF 1974, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen)

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The 70s was the decade of disaster films, as special effects reached new heights but CGI was but a gleam in the eye of a computer expert. If you wanted the best, you looked for the name Irwin Allen. The Poseidon Adventure and The Swarm behind him, he helmed (with the help of John Guillermin) this spectacular film starring two of Hollywood’s biggest names and with a support cast who would normally top the bill.

When an electrical fault, caused by contractor Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) cost-cutting sets alight a new 135 storey skyscraper, it is, of course, just as a prestigious party is in full swing on the top floor. Fire chief Michael O’Hallorhan (Steve McQueen) and the building’s architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) arrive on the scene and have to work out how to douse the fire and save the guests (who include Fred Astaire, Jennifer Jones in her last film, Chamberlain, William Holden, Robert Wagner and Robert Vaughn). But the real stars are the blazing skyscraper and the special effects teams who set up the interior mayhem.

The film, a unique collaboration between 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers, won Oscars for cinematography, editing and best music and was nominated for nine Oscars in total. Originally, McQueen was to play Newman’s role but he wanted to play the fire chief and also insisted he and Newman had exactly the same number of lines of dialogue and that the posters give them equal billing! The pair were paid $1m each plus 7.5% of the box office – given the film’s success, the b.o. brought them substantially more as the film recovered it’s then staggering $14m costs in weeks. The city the stricken skyscraper is in is never identified and not even the fire crews’ uniforms give it away – they read TIFD on the jackets – Towering Inferno Fire Department, possibly?

production details
USA | Twentieth Century Fox – Warner | 159 minutes | 1974

Writer: Stirling Silliphant from novels by Richard Martin Stern (The Tower) and Thomas N Scortia (The Glass Inferno)
Music: John Williams
Special Effects: Bill Abbott
Production Design: William Creber
Cinematography: Fred Koenenkamp
Producer: Irwin Allen
Directors: Irwin Allen, John Guillermin

cast
Jennifer Jones as Lisolette
William Holden as Jim Duncan
Faye Dunaway as Susan
Steve McQueen as Chief O’Hallorhan
Dabney Coleman as Deputy Chief #1
Paul Newman as Doug Roberts
Fred Astaire as Harlee Claiborne
Susan Blakely as Patty
Richard Chamberlain as Simmons
O.J. Simpson as Jernigan
Robert Vaughn as Senator Parker
Robert Wagner as Bigelow
Susan Flannery as Lorrie
Sheila Allen as Paula Ramsay
Norman Burton as Giddings
Jack Collins as Mayor Ramsay
Don Gordon as Kappy
Felton Perry as Scott
Gregory Sierra as Carlos
Ernie F. Orsatti as Mark Powers
Elizabeth Rogers as Lady in Buoy
Ann Leicester as Guest
Norman Grabowski as Flaker
Ross Elliott as Deputy Chief #2
Olan Soule as Johnson
Carlena Gower as Angela Allbright
Mike Lookinland as Phillip Allbright
Carol McEvoy as Mrs. Allbright
Scott Newman as Young Fireman
Paul Comi as Tim
George Wallace as Chief Officer
Patrick Culliton as Technician
William Bassett as Leading Agent
John Crawford as Callahan
Erik L. Nelson as Wes
Art Balinger as Announcer
Norman Hicks as Pilot
Thomas Karnahan as Co-Pilot