THE TOWERING INFERNO

(1974)
With Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, Robert Wagner, Susan Blakely
Directed by John Guillerman and Irwin Allen

Reviewed by JL

Do you smell smoke?    THE TOWERING INFERNO is my favorite bad movie of all time.  To say that it's the best disaster film of the 1970s isn't much of a compliment given the competition, but none of the others could boast such a high-powered cast (Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Fred Astaire -- sheesh!) spouting such shamelessly inane dialogue in so many contrived situations.  (When Bill Holden says, "There really is nothing any of us can do to bring back the dead," that's about as deep as the philosophical musing gets.)  But the cast is merely part of the expensive decor; the real star of the film is the fire itself.  Unlike modern films that rely on special effects for gratuitous thrills, the fire in THE TOWERING INFERNO serves as both protagonist and antagonist, in that it both propels the plot and provides its conflict.  The film succeeds, therefore, as a combination of unintentionally camp humor and spectacular action scenes.  Newman and McQueen each figure prominently in the film's two most pulse-pounding sequences: the first has Newman leading Jennifer Jones and two kids down what's left of a stairway after a gas explosion, the second has McQueen in charge of a daring helicopter rescue of a disabled scenic elevator.  Both scenes stretch credibility to the limit, but so does the premise of the film.  Who in their right mind would erect the world's tallest building in quake-prone San Francisco?  The same people that would put a coxcomb like Richard Chamberlain in charge of the electrical contracting, I suppose.  4 - JL

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