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James Duncan: Oh, come on. Now just how bad is it?
A 1974 Disaster Movie, co-directed and produced by Irwin Allen, and starring Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. (As well as having two directors, it was also the first Hollywood movie to come from two major studios - it was a co-production between Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros). It was taken from two books, The Tower and The Glass Inferno. Both books were bought by each studio, then someone realized that two movies about a skyscraper on fire would basically cannibalize both films, so it would be better for both studios to combine resources to make one BIG picture. (On a side note, The Glass Inferno was co-written by Thomas N. Scortia, who tends to write a lot of books about out of control fires.)
A red-carpet party is being held in San Francisco to celebrate the opening of the world's largest skyscraper, the 138-story Glass Tower. One of the few not celebrating is the architect, Doug Roberts (Paul Newman), who's still upset that developer/builder Jim Duncan (William Holden) cut corners in its construction. He's particularly annoyed at the bulding's electrical contractor Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) who was instructed by Duncan to "shave off a lot of money from the budget", and also happens to be Duncan's son-in-law. Faye Dunaway also appears as Newman's fiancee.
Sure enough, because of the faulty wiring resulting from said cut corners, a short circuit in a janitor's closet grows into a massive fire. As the guests become trapped in the building, it falls on Fire Chief O'Hallorhan (McQueen) and the San Francisco Fire Department to help save the day.
The Towering Inferno features examples of:
- All Women Are Lustful: Lampshaded by Faye Dunaway's character.
- Anyone Can Die: Major characters can easily plummet to their deaths or get burned to a crisp.
- Convection, Schmonvection: In a real high-rise fire, smoke and heat will travel upwards in a "chimney effect" aided by the building envelope. The fires in this movie do not generate the dense smoke that most real building fires do. The movie subverts this sometimes when it comes to smoke (but not always heat) when the plot necessitates characters recognizing the fire. Of course, virtually 90% of the action in the movie would be invisible if fire were treated fully realistically.
- Death by Sex: Bigelow and his secretary are killed almost immediately after a sexual rendezvous in his apartment....just before the fire crew arrived on their level.
- Developing Doomed Characters
- Diagonal Billing: The Trope Codifier, created to assuage the rivalry between Paul Newman and Steve McQueen starring in the same movie.
- Drives Like Crazy: O'Hallorhan's entrance, where he almost pops a wheelie up the steps to the plaza, and skids over a 1.5 inch supply hose.
- Eiffel Tower Effect: During the opening credits a helicopter flies over the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Elevator Failure
- Hellish Copter
- Hope Spot: Sending the scenic elevator down via gravity brake.
- It looks like they may be able to evacuate people by helicopter, until two women panic and run into its landing spot, making it crash and stopping any further attempts with the roof on fire.
- It Got Worse: Once the fire starts, the entire movie is an escalating series of these situations, and most of the time, people die - some times, quite a few of them.
- John Williams: Composed the music score.
- Karma Houdini: Duncan.
- He figures out how miserably he's screwed up pretty easily, compared to his son-in-law.
- Karmic Death
- Knight in Sour Armor: Chief O'Halloran is clearly sick and tired of saving stupid people from the consequences of their own idiotic mistakes, but he still keeps charging into burning buildings.
- Laser-Guided Karma
- Man On Fire: In a gigantic skyscraper on fire? Loads and loads.
- My God, What Have I Done?
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Horribly, horribly averted in the backstory.
- Oh Crap: One of the firefighters on the way, upon being told that the fire was in the Glass Tower.
"I sure hope that fire is on the first floor."
- Playing Against Type: Richard Chamberlain made a career out of playing heroes, anti-heroes or sensitive guys. Here he's the Jerkass.
- Precision F-Strike: "Oh, shit!," said by Chief O'Hallorhan when he realizes the top SFFD brass have no way to get him down from the top of the building after he sets the bombs to blow up the water tanks there to extinguish the fire.
- Roberts uses one on Duncan when chewing him out about cutting corners on the building.
- "Tie yourselves down, Goddammit!!!"
- "Oh they'll find some dumb sonnuvabitch to do it."
- Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony
- Stuff Blowing Up
- Take Care of the Kids: An explosion knocks the scenic elevator off its track. Lisolette is holding Angela and shoves her into someone else's arms before the older woman falls from the glass elevator to her death.
- Those Two Guys: The two firefighters who volunteer to go up the stairs.
- Too Dumb to Live: The men are looking to see where a fire alarm is being triggered from, and one man proceeds to just open the door on a closet (which, as it turns out, is where the fire is) without checking the door to see if it's hot. The head of maintenance, Will Geddings, tries to stop him, and instead gets burned.
- Unintentional Period Piece: Get a load of the groovy Seventies fashions and hairdos in the film.
- Water Tower Down: The fire is resolved by blowing up the huge water tanks on the top of the building.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: So what happened to Wes (the utility guy) and all the people in the power room? And what became of Maureen McGovern?
- The power room was below the floors where the fire started, so they were just evacuated with everyone else.
- Almost happens, but averted at the very end with Jernigan and the cat. We see Jernigan save the cat early in the film, he's still in the building when we last see him, but don't see either again until the very end.
- What the Hell, Hero?: O'Hallorhan gives one of these to Roberts.