The Towering Inferno (1974)


run time: 165 mins
rated: PG-13
considered: Action, Thriller
starring: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, O.J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner, 

movie summary: At the opening party of a colossal, but poorly constructed, office building, a massive fire breaks out that threatens to destroy the tower and everyone in it. (

The Towering Inferno is a 1974 movie based on two books, The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson, starring Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. Doug Roberts (Newman) is the architect who has helped designed the world’s tallest building located in San Francisco. He has worked closely with the building’s owner Jim Duncan (William Holden) and head electrician Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) to make sure the building has met all fire codes and is ready for the opening night ceremony.

When the red carpet is rolled out, the celebrities and politicians begin to come into the building. High above the ribbon cutting ceremony, an electrical panel on the 81st floor sparks a fire in a storage room. Within minutes the fire has spread out of the room and into the hallway which has yet to set off the fire alarm, because it doesn’t seem to be connected. Building security guard Jernigan (O.J. Simpson) calls in the fire to 911 while Doug takes an elevator up to the 81st floor to try to contain the fire. Soon the firefighters pile onto their trucks to race across town to the biggest disaster that they could image. Arriving at the scene with his men is Chief Mike O’Hallorhan (McQueen) who assumes command of the situation.

The fire rages out of control on the 81st floor while more fires break out on other floors due to faulty wiring. O’Hallorhan orders Roberts and Duncan to evacuate the building and make sure everyone gets down from the 135th where the party is. Duncan, who firmly believes in the construction of the building, doesn’t believe a fire 30-40 stories below will ever reach the party on the 135th floor so ignores O’Hallorhan’s instructions. The fire rages on consuming floor after floor leaving the building without elevator service. The only way up the skyscraper now is by foot and stairs, which is time-consuming for the firefighters carrying equipment. Doug is instructed to go up to the top floor with two firefighters to get people to come down before time runs out and the fire reaches them. The trio encounter a gas explosion that wipes out one stairway and several blocked doorways before reaching the top floor where 100 people are now stranded.

Down on the ground floor O’Hallorhan has managed to catch his breath and talk strategy with other officers who have set up a Command Post. Above them, 12  people have crammed themselves in the scenic glass elevator on the exterior of the building to take a one way trip down with manually operated brakes. Half way down an explosion knocks the elevator off its track and O’Hallorhan must board a helicopter to attach a steel cable that will lower the elevator to safety. O’Hallorhan returns and the Chiefs inform him of a new plan they have. Inside the maintenance area on the top of the building is some water tanks that carry thousands of gallons of water. A volunteer needs go up by helicopter, jump down through the flames shouting out of the roof, and then rig some C-4 explosives to blow up the tanks so all the water can put the fires out. Only problem is the explosions could cause major structural damage and the people they are trying to save could die including the volunteer who rigs the explosives.

my thoughts: There are many people who don’t know that I always wanted to be a firefighter, that I went to college to earn a degree in Fire Science, and now write movie reviews as a hobby! The Towering Inferno is a personal favorite of mine because it is a firefighter movie based on the hazards of the job and the efforts these men and women make every time they roll up to a fire. The world has changed since the 1970’s but buildings only continue to grow taller which makes fighting fires in them even tougher. The main fire of this film breaks out 81 floors above ground that leaves the firefighters in a tough position to actually attack and knock it down.

For dramatic purposes this fire spreads really quickly and new fires break out all over the place in the 135 floor building. Of course people are stupid and think they can outsmart the fire, so they stay where they are and then panic when the fire catches up to them. It’s these people who create new problems for the fire department who have enough problems getting guys to fight the fire and then rescue a few hundred people. Although the story is long with way to many sub-plots and characters, the special effects are pretty good considering it was filmed in 1974. I can only imagine if this film ever got a remade how amazing the CGI could be. Maybe someone like Gerard Butler would be casted and since he already saved the White House in one movie, it would be fun to watch him try to save the Tower.

My favorite parts of the film are the wise ass remarks from Steve McQueen who is battling the fire, people, and poor constructions problems. Paul Newman is once again the smart playboy, who despite having his name on the building permits is not responsible for anything that has gone wrong. Of course you can’t have two of Hollywood’s biggest stars casted as bad guys, these two guys are always the heroic men who overcome everything to live to fight another day. Interesting fact about this movie and it’s two stars is they share the same amount of screen time and dialogue as requested by McQueen before signing on to the do the project. 

The Towering Inferno, which features an all-star cast, is one of favorites movies of the 1970’s along with Slap Shot.

my star rating: 8 out 10

4 thoughts on “The Towering Inferno (1974)

      1. Oh trust me I know how this is. I am one of the few who love Twilight so I hear about it all the time. Just funny I had back to back reviews that people hated ha ha.

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