“The Towering Inferno” is a 1974 American disaster film that depicts the dramas of the people who face a great fire in a skyscraper building. It features an ensemble cast led by Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. It was an adaptation based on two novels: “The Tower” (1973) by Richard Martin Stern and “The Glass Inferno” (1974) by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. It is a co-production between 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. Directed by John Guillermin. 165 minutes.
Architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) returns from his vacation to San Francisco for the dedication ceremony of the Glass Tower he designed. The Glass Tower is the world’s tallest, 138-storied skyscraper building.
The president of the Duncan Enterprises that constructed the building, James Duncan (William Holden) is also the owner of the building.
The office area to the 80th floor and the residential area from the 81st to the 120 floor have already been occupied by some offices and residents.
In the main utility room in the basement, the breaker of an auxiliary generator short-circuits. Checking on it, Roberts finds that exposed wires without conduits are used, and it turns out that the electrical engineer Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain), who is the husband of Patty (Susan Blakely), daughter of Jim Duncan, changed the specifications of the electrical wiring designed by Roberts in order to cut costs.
The dedication party has started in the promenade room on the 135th floor. Nearly 300 guests, including Senator Gary Parker (Robert Vaughn), Mayor of San Francisco Robert Ramsay (Jack Collins) and his wife Paula (Sheila Matthews), and Roberts’ fiancée Susan Franklin (Faye Dunaway), are invited to the party.
At the party venue, a fake-stock con man living on the 90th floor, Harlee Claiborne (Fred Astaire) is trying to practice fraud on Lisolette Mueller (Jennifer Jones), a wealthy widow living on the 95th floor, but they become attracted to each other.
Lisolette’s friend, Mrs. Allbright (Carol McEvoy) is a woman with hearing disability, and she lives on the 87th floor with her two children: Phillip and Angela. Lisolette is also a teacher of drawing and painting for Phillip and Angela.
In the storage room on the 81st floor, a fuse on the distributing frame ignites and a fire occurs. The flames had already spread when the chief security officer Harry Jernigan (O. J. Simpson) detected the fire because the fire-prevention equipment was incomplete, and the fire alarm system and sprinkler didn’t work.
The 5th Battalion Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department, Michael O’Halloran (Steve McQueen) arrives at the scene, leading his firefighters. He sets up the forward command headquarters on the 79th floor, and the firefighters start battling the fires. However, they cannot extinguish the blaze because it has already started spreading into the upper floors.
O’Halloran orders Duncan to evacuate the people on the 135th floor. However, many people are stranded on the 135th floor because the elevators and stairs are destroyed by the fire.
Roberts and Jernigan go to the rescue of the people left in the residential area. Jernigan evacuates Mrs. Allbright to the 1st floor. Roberts finds Lisolette, who had tried to rescue the Allbrights, Phillip, and Angela, but he cannot go downstairs with them, and he manages to take them to the promenade room on the 135th floor.
Another fire occurs around the 60th floor too, and it spreads into the upper floors. The public relations officer Dan Bigelow (Robert Wagner) and his secretary Lorrie (Susan Flannery) fail to escape because they had a fling with each other at the office on the 65th floor and they didn’t notice the fire.
O’Halloran rescues the people trapped in the scenic elevator by using a Navy helicopter, and he transfers some people from the 135th floor to the next building by using a rescue device like a breeches buoy. However, the flames come close to the promenade room, and they have no time to evacuate all the rest. As a last-ditch means, O’Halloran and Roberts try to extinguish the flames by blowing up water tanks on the top floor of the building with plastic explosives.
“The Towering Inferno” is one of the disaster film masterpieces of the 1970s. It features all-star cast, suspenseful storylines, spectacular scenes, and human dramas. Film critic Roger Ebert praised the film as “the best of the mid-1970s wave of disaster films” in “Chicago Sun-Times”. “Variety” praised the film as “one of the greatest disaster pictures made”.
It deals with the real disaster of building fire. There is a possibility that we could actually be involved in it, so it makes us think of crisis management and disaster control.
The film won three Oscars in the 47th Academy Awards: Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Song.