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Overall Rating

Awesome: 26.67%
Worth A Look51.11%
Average: 15.56%
Pretty Bad: 6.67%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 33 user ratings

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Towering Inferno, The
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by Scott Weinberg

"Feels a little creepy today ... but it's still a fun flick."
4 stars

Some say it was the Airport flicks that kick-started the "all-star disaster" genre, but the death-laden spectacle epics that I know and love begin and end with one name ... and it ain't Arthur Hailey. (It's Irwin Allen.)

Irwin Allen struck upon a goldmine when he bought the rights to a book called The Poseidon Adventure and turned it into a big, sweaty hulk of a movie. The flick turned out to be a huge hit, with audiences if not necessarily with critics, and it even earned an impressive eight Oscar noms. (It won only one, though; Best Song)

Immediately after his sea-faring success, Allen leaped upon a new concept ... but it turned out that the book he so desperately wanted to buy was already owned by Warners. So, like any canny producer with a lot of chutzpah, Allen found himself a paperback with the exact same plot, bought the screen rights, and walked into Warner Bros. to say "Hey, let's make this movie together instead of competing over the concept."

So "The Glass Inferno" and "The Tower" were handed over to Poseidon screenwriter Stirling Silliphant along with one piece of instruction: Turn these two novels into one big screenplay. And the rest is disaster movie history.

The Towering Inferno
furthered the template that Allen laid down with Poseidon: Take a bunch of very famous actors, jam 'em into a spot where death and danger lurk around every turn, dole out just enough melodrama to keep the characters interesting, and be sure to casually kill a few characters whenever the action got a little limp. And for a few movies, this formula worked like a grade-A charm. (To see the other end of the spectrum, one need only rent Allen's later epics The Swarm and When Time Ran Out. 'Painfully bad' doesn't begin to describe 'em.)

In at least one area of filmmaking, Irwin Allen liked to keep things simple, and that one area was ... plot. The Poseidon Adventure was "folks try to escape from a capsized ocean liner," while The Towering Inferno was even easier: "Folks try to escape from a burning skyscraper." Clearly the movie fans weren't going to the disaster flicks for their Machiavellian plot machinations ... but nobody could accuse Irwin Allen of being stingy with the goods. Those who bought a $4.00 ticket to The Towering Inferno absolutely got their money's worth.

So who's trapped inside the penthouse of the world's newest, tallest, and shiniest skyscraper -- while a massive fire rages down on the 81st floor? We've got a heroic fire chief (Steve McQueen), the conflicted architect and his semi-estranged girlfriend (Paul Newman & Faye Dunaway), a lovable old grifter (Fred Astaire), a guilt-ridden construction tycoon (William Holden), his frustrated daughter (Susan Blakely), and his sniveling son-in-law (Richard Chamberlain). Throw in a mayor (Jack Collins), a senator (Robert Vaughn), a cheat (Robert Wagner), and a widow (Jennifer Jones), and you've got an eclectic enough mix to start throwing a few of 'em off a roof.

But for all its spectacle and pyrotechnical magic, its the actors and the characters that make the Inferno one of the (very few) greats of the disaster genre. For all its shallow dialogue and predictable plot-twists, The Towering Inferno still delivers a whole lot of bang for the buck, and it's not just the explosions that keep fans coming back. Heck, how often do you get to see Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, and Faye Dunaway in the same scene? Plus the flick's got two or three of the most memorable 'surprise demises' ever tossed onto a screen. (Jennifer Jones' final scene always creeps me out, and Chamberlain's is a whole lot of fun.)

(© Review reprinted from DVDTalk, with permission from the author (me) and the DVDT management. For the full DVD specs on this particular movie, please visit and get friendly with the search bar.)

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originally posted: 05/22/06 16:41:39
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User Comments

6/13/17 Ed Riddick One of the few movies with "dozens" of stars that seems coherent, with real identities. 4 stars
6/01/17 Louise Worth seeing for the action, but the rest looks horribly dated. Awful soundtrack music. 4 stars
11/18/11 Golden J. Williams Jr. There was action, thrills, greed, lust and fear. Casting did a good job! 5 stars
7/20/09 action movie fan very good suspensful disaster flick-a bit long but well worth it 4 stars
2/04/09 MP Bartley Entertaining with a brutal punch that still resonates today. 4 stars
3/08/08 Pamela White great drama showed that buildings win over planes 4 stars
8/10/07 Vip Ebriega Every money is spent is seen gloriously on the screen. 4.5/5. 5 stars
6/14/07 Vincent Ebriega The best of the 70's disaster flicks. 4/5. 4 stars
5/31/07 ES I liked the movie but sadly McQueen was overshadowed by Newman 4 stars
11/06/06 David Pollastrini a bit slow in places but still good 3 stars
5/23/06 Ashley Hinz Delightful entry in the 1970's, just for the cast. 5 stars
2/12/05 Jeff Anderson THE ALL TIME GREATEST DISASTER FILM, BAR NONE! McQueen & John Williams' score are memorable 5 stars
2/11/05 Russell Fay Dunaway screaming for her life in original Halston Couture a 135 stories up- priceless 4 stars
12/12/04 John Bale Best of the disaster movies, despite some plot weaknesses. Prophetic of real horror 9/11 5 stars
9/26/04 Imitate a Red Sox Fan This was a big deal at the time. Better than "Poseidon" but has O.J. which is a minus 4 stars
8/07/04 Wein PerfectMovie for When your down, overtheTop drama! 5 stars
5/03/04 gray best part is OJ yelling for people to open their doors and let him in 5 stars
3/29/04 JimmyC Great Cast 5 stars
3/22/04 john if you like the big 70's desaster movies with 20 famous faces on the poster- this is it! 4 stars
1/15/04 Betty White Wasted cast rounds out this rather overrated disaster flick. 2 stars
8/02/03 Darryl William Holden's character should've fallen from the promenade room!!! 2 stars
6/29/03 Jack Sommersby Stupid script and characters, and with a grindingly unpleasant mean streak. 2 stars
1/02/03 Jeff M. Bezdek Phenomenal for 1974 and architecurally & historically accurrate 5 stars
12/30/02 Miquel C.A Today remains like the best of his genre , big, spectacular, powerfull cast,. The big one 5 stars
10/24/02 Charles Tatum Excellent effects, what a cast! 5 stars
7/05/02 R.W. Welch A spectacular production with a big bucks cast that actually turned out okay. 4 stars
3/02/02 Unagiboy 70's big production, 70's big stars, 70's big special effects, etc. 5 stars
1/01/02 Monster W. Kung One of the few watchable disaster movies. 4 stars
6/28/01 Judith Latham I was kid when I saw it and it blew me away. 4 stars
6/01/01 Bada Bing Crosby It was magnificent-when I was 14. Will see it again someday... 4 stars
4/02/01 Andrew Carden Slow, but well worth the wait. 4 stars
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  14-Dec-1974 (PG)
  DVD: 09-May-2006



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