The Towering Inferno (1974) starring Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Richard Chamberlain, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner directed by John Guillermin, Irwin Allen - movie review on The Movie Scene

The Towering Inferno (1974)   4/54/54/54/54/5


Steve McQueen as Michael O'Hallorhan in The Towering Inferno

McQueen & Newman's Towering Performances

Based upon the novels "The Tower" and "The Glass Inferno", "The Towering Inferno" starring Steve McQueen and Paul Newman is one of the better disaster movies to have been released during the 70s and is up there with the likes of "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Airport". Complete with a cast which reads like a who's who of movie stars, "The Towering Inferno manages" to deliver drama, tension and action without ignoring the importance of the storyline which as well as being genuinely thrilling also delivers a strong message about the dangers of building skyscrapers.

At the launch party for a newly developed 138 storey skyscraper, a short circuit in a faulty wiring unit causes a major fire. With the party goers trapped high above the danger the San Francisco fire department lead by Fire Chief Michael O'Hallorhan (Steve McQueen - The Thomas Crown Affair) and the towers architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman - The Sting) set about rescuing them before the fire takes complete hold of the building.

Paul Newman as Doug Roberts in The Towering Inferno

What makes "The Towering Inferno" such a good movie is that it is surprisingly realistic, and although we are talking about a movie which was made before the development of CGI, everything about it is believable. You don't feel for a moment that the storyline has been contrived purely to create a movie and you get a real sense that this sort of thing actually happens. This is part of the reason why "The Towering Inferno" Works.

But it is also the fact that behind the main premise of the tower under threat by fire there are several storylines which makes you engage in what is going on. You have the plight of all the part goers stranded above the main fire, there is the attempt by the fire service to create a winch between the party goers and an adjacent building and the attempt by Doug Roberts to rescue a woman and children by traversing a wrecked stair well, to name just a few. It is the way these different threads work individually but also together which grabs your attention. Directors John Guillermin and Irwin Allen have worked these storylines perfectly so you emphasise with the people in each scenario rather than wondering what disaster will hit them next.

Unlike modern disaster movies, "The Towering Inferno" does not overly rely on wowing you with special effects. This is not to say that the film is devoid of anything spectacular as it certainly has its share of explosions and falling debris, it's the fact that the driving force is the storyline. But the most surprising thing is that despite being made in the 70s, the special effects are as impressive as anything which you see in modern movies.

Undeniably Steve McQueen and Paul Newman are the stars of the movie, giving "The Towering Inferno" the powerful leads which it deserves. Most importantly they are believable in their roles and you can quite honestly see McQueen as a fire chief just as much as Newman as an architect. Along side Newman and McQueen is a cast of Hollywood A-listers such as William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Richard Chamberlain and Fred Astaire but instead of just being there to add some glamour to the film each of the characters they play are critical.

What this all boils down to is that although "The Towering Inferno" is now into its thirties, it is still as good today as the first time I watched it. Yes it maybe a little bit dated and the script may be a little bit cheesy, but I cannot put my finger on a film from the last decade which can compete with this classic disaster movie. The story line is great, the effects are great, the cast is exceptional and their performances are great, and all round brilliant film.


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