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The Towering Inferno (1974)

Producer-director movie posterIrwin Allen arguably perfected the big-budget disaster epic (introduced with "The Poseidon Adventure") with this one. It's the grand opening of the world's tallest skyscraper. When a fire breaks out, trapping guests on the top floor of the building, fire chief Steve McQueen has no choice but to send firemen in to try and rescue the people before disaster engulfs them all. Winds prevent a helicopter rescue, and, as he complains to architect (Paul Newman), ladders are useless with buildings built far beyond their 7-story reach. Irwin Allen bought the rights to two novels, then gave the adaptation job to one of his favorite screenwriters: Stirling Silliphant (The Poseidon Adventure, When Time Ran Out, Telfon). Music by John Williams. Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor: Fred Astaire. Academy Award Nominations: 8, including Best Picture & Best Supporting Actor. Oscar winner for Best Cinematography, Editing & Song (We May Never Love Like This Again). 165 minutes, rated PG for language and some rather grisly deaths including an elevator full of crispy critters (the movie reminds us: don't ever use the elevator in a fire, the heat shorts out the call-button and opens the door on the fire).
Cast & cameos:
Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Jennifer Jones, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Robert Wagner, O.J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn, Dabney Coleman (of WarGames)

"Towering Inferno" availability on video and on DVD from Amazon.com

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Irwin Allen's Earthquake

Quotes & Trivia (courtesy the Internet Movie Database)

Senator Parker: At this rate it's going to take a couple of hours to get everyone down. So, I would suggest that those of us with stout hearts and trim waistlines start using the stairs.

Chief O'Hallorhan: You know we got lucky tonight, body count's less then 200. Someday your gonna kill ten-thousand in one of these firetraps, and I'll keep eating smoke and carrying out bodies until someone asks us how to build them.

Roberts: Yeah, it's all our fault.
Chief O'Hallorhan: Now, you know we don't have a sure way to fight a fire over the seventh floor, but you just keep building 'em higher and higher.

Trivia about The Towering Inferno:
* Many bit players from Poseidon Adventure (1972) also appear in this film

* Based on two novels: "The Tower" by Richard Martin Stern, and "The Glass Inferno" by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. After the success of Poseidon Adventure (1972), disaster was hot property and Warner Brothers bought the rights to film "The Tower" for $390,000. Eight weeks later Allen (of 20th Century Fox) discovered "The Glass Inferno" and bought the rights for $400,000. To avoid two similar films competing at the box office the two studios joined forces and pooled their resources, each paying half the production costs. In return, 20th Century Fox got the US box office receipts and Warners the receipts from the rest of the world.

* Scriptwriter Silliphant combined the two novels to create one screenplay. The three words that make up the titles of the two novels were combined to give the name of the film, and the name of the building that is on fire (The Glass Tower).

* Silliphant also took seven main figures from each novel and incorporated them into the screenplay, as well as the major climax of each novel: the lifeline rescue to an adjacent roof-top from "The Tower", and the exploding water-tanks from "The Glass Inferno."

* At star Steve McQueen's insistence, himself and other star Paul Newman had to have exactly the same number of lines of dialogue in the script

* Allen originally wanted Steve McQueen to play the part of building architect Doug Roberts. McQueen however, fought for and got the role of fire chief O'Halloran. The role of Doug Roberts went to Newman.

* Newman and McQueen were both paid the same: $1 million and 7.5% of box office each.

* Newman and McQueen's names are staggered in the opening credits, closing credits, and on the posters, so that depending on which way you read it (top to bottom or left to right) both appear to get top billing. This is known as "diagonal billing"

* Two stars, McQueen and Faye Dunaway left strict instructions that they should not be approached by visitors to the set. McQueen also refused to give any interviews. Paul Newman asked only that he not be 'surprised'

* This film marked the first ever joint production by two big-name movie companies; Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox

* Principal photography was completed on September 11th, 1974.

* An instrumental version of the song "The Morning After" from The Poseidon Adventure (1972) can be heard in the background in certain scenes.

* Desperate to capture a truly surprised reaction from the cast, Irwin Allen actually fired a handgun into the ceiling without warning the actors, who were understandably "surprised". The trick worked and he got his shot.

Irwin Allen hosts behind-the-scenes look at Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno
(click twice in middle to play clip)


SCTV spoof of Towering Inferno (part one, about 5 minutes)
Part 2...Part 3, the fire spreads (Joe Flaherty as fire chief Steve McQueen)
Part 4, the nuclear reactor begins melting down
Conclusion

* Kurt Russell's first adult action role was in The Deadly Tower, based on a true story

3000 Names from 9-11-01, exactly 27 years after the above movie was filmed


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