|The Towering Inferno|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Guillermin|
|Produced by||Irwin Allen|
|Screenplay by||Stirling Silliphant|
|Based on||The Tower
by Richard Martin Stern
The Glass Inferno
by Thomas N. Scortia
Frank M. Robinson
O. J. Simpson
|Music by||John Williams|
|Cinematography||Fred J. Koenekamp
|Edited by||Carl Kress
Harold F. Kress
Irwin Allen Productions
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox
|December 14, 1974|
|Box office||$139.7 million|
The Towering Inferno is a 1974 American drama disaster film produced by Irwin Allen featuring an all-star cast led by Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. The picture was directed by John Guillermin. A co-production between 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., it was the first film to be a joint venture by two major Hollywood studios. It was adapted by Stirling Silliphant from a pair of novels, The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson.
The film was a critical success, earning a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and was the highest-grossing movie released in 1974. The picture was nominated for eight Oscars in all, winning three. In addition to McQueen and Newman, the cast includes William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, O. J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner, Susan Flannery, Gregory Sierra, Dabney Coleman and, in her final film, Jennifer Jones.
Architect Doug Roberts returns to San Francisco for the dedication of the Glass Tower, which he designed for contractor James Duncan. The Tower, 1,688 feet tall and 138 stories, is the world’s tallest building. During pre-dedication testing, an electrical short starts an undetected fire on the 81st floor. Roberts suspects that Roger Simmons, the electrical subcontractor and also Duncan’s son-in-law, cut corners. Roberts confronts Simmons, who reveals nothing.
During the dedication ceremony, chief of Public Relations Dan Bigelow turns on all the tower’s lights, but Roberts orders them shut off to reduce the load on the electrical system. Smoke is seen on the 81st floor, and the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) is summoned. Roberts and engineer Will Giddings go to the 81st floor, where Giddings is fatally burned pushing a guard away from the fire. Roberts reports the fire to Duncan, who refuses to order an evacuation.
SFFD Chief Michael O’Halloran arrives and forces Duncan to evacuate the guests from the Promenade Room on the 135th floor. Simmons admits to Duncan that he cut corners, but suggests that other subcontractors must have also cut corners to bring the project under budget. Lisolette Mueller, a guest being wooed by con man Harlee Claiborne, rushes to the 87th floor to check on a deaf mother. Security Chief Jernigan rescues the mother, but fire forces her children – along with Roberts and Lisolette – up to the Promenade Room. Bigelow and his mistress Lorrie are killed when fire traps them in the Duncan Enterprises offices on the 65th floor.
Fire overtakes the express elevators, killing a group whose elevator stops on the engulfed 81st floor. Though the scenic elevator is still working, the stairways from the Promenade Room are blocked – one by fire, the other by mishandled cement. Just as the firemen begin to bring the fire under control, the electrical system fails, deactivating the passenger elevators; O’Halloran must rappel down the elevator shaft to safety.
An attempt at a helicopter rescue fails when panicky partygoers rush the helipad, causing the helicopter to veer off, crash, and set the roof ablaze. Naval rescue teams attach a breeches buoy to an adjacent skyscraper and rescue a number of guests, including Patty Simmons, Duncan’s daughter. Roberts rigs a gravity brake on the scenic elevator, allowing one trip down for twelve people, including Lisolette and the children. An explosion near the 110th floor throws Lisolette from the elevator and leaves the elevator hanging by a single cable, but O’Halloran rescues the elevator with a Navy helicopter.
As fire reaches the Promenade Room, a group of men led by Simmons attempts to commandeer the breeches buoy, which is subsequently destroyed in an explosion, killing Simmons. In a last-ditch strategy, O’Halloran and Roberts blow up water tanks atop the Tower with plastic explosives. Most of the partygoers survive as water rushes through the ruined building, extinguishing the flames.
Jernigan gives Claiborne, who is heartbroken at Lisolette’s death, her cat. Duncan, consoling his grieving daughter, promises that such a tragic debacle will never happen again. Roberts accepts O’Halloran’s offer of guidance on how to build a fire-safe skyscraper. O’Halloran drives away, exhausted.
- Paul Newman as Doug Roberts, the architect
- Steve McQueen as Michael O’Halloran, SFFD 5th Battalion Chief
- William Holden as James Duncan, the builder
- Faye Dunaway as Susan Franklin, Doug Roberts’ fiancée
- Fred Astaire as Harlee Claiborne, the con-man who flirts with Mrs. Mueller
- Susan Blakely as Patty Duncan Simmons, James Duncan’s daughter
- Richard Chamberlain as Roger Simmons, the electrical engineer and Duncan’s son-in-law
- Jennifer Jones as Lisolette Mueller
- O. J. Simpson as Harry Jernigan, the chief security officer
- Robert Vaughn as U.S. Senator Gary Parker
- Robert Wagner as Dan Bigelow, the public relations officer
- Susan Flannery as Lorrie
- Sheila Matthews Allen as Paula Ramsay
- Norman Burton as Will Giddings, electrical engineer
- Jack Collins as Mayor Robert “Bob” Ramsay
- Don Gordon as Kappy, SFFD Truck Co. 12 fire captain
- Felton Perry as Scott, SFFD Engine Co. 4 fireman
- Gregory Sierra as Carlos, the bartender
- Ernie Orsatti as Mark Powers, SFFD Engine Co. 4 fireman
- Dabney Coleman as SFFD deputy chief 1
- Elizabeth Rogers as lady in buoy
- Ann Leicester as guest
- Norm Grabowski as Flaker, Navy Air Rescue chief
- Ross Elliott as SFFD deputy chief 2
- Olan Soule as Johnson
- Carlena Gower as Angela Allbright
- Mike Lookinland as Phillip Allbright
- Carol McEvoy as Mrs. Allbright
- Scott Newman as young fireman
- Paul Comi as Tim
- George Wallace as chief officer
- Patrick Culliton as technician
- William Bassett as leasing agent
- John Crawford as Callahan
- Erik Nelson as Wes
- Art Balinger as announcer
- Lcdr. Norman Hicks as pilot
- Ltjg. Thomas Karnahan as co-pilot
- Maureen McGovern a singer at party (uncredited)
- William Traylor as Bill Harton, security guard (uncredited)
Warner Brothers outbid Fox to obtain the rights to Stern’s The Tower for $400,000. Fox, in turn, spent $300,000 to obtain the rights to Scortia’s The Glass Inferno. Irwin Allen realized that two films about a tall building on fire would cannibalize each other (as actually happened a couple decades later in the case of the two films about active volcanoes, released nearly simultaneously, Volcano (released by Fox) and Dante’s Peak(released by Universal)), convinced executives at both studios to join forces to make a single film on the subject. The studios issued a joint press release announcing the single film collaboration in October, 1973.
The total cost for the film was US$14,300,000. The two studios agreed to split the box office revenues, Fox getting all U.S. receipts while Warner Brothers getting all foreign revenues.
Several actors who appeared in small roles, including John Crawford, Erik Nelson, Elizabeth Rogers, Ernie Orsatti, and Sheila Matthews, had previously appeared in The Poseidon Adventure, which Irwin Allen also produced. (Allen and Matthews were husband and wife.) Paul Newman’s son Scott played the acrophobic fireman afraid to rappel down the elevator shaft.
McQueen and Newman
McQueen, Newman, and William Holden all wanted top billing. Holden was refused, his long-term standing as a box office draw having been eclipsed by both McQueen and Newman. To provide dual top billing, the credits were arranged diagonally, with McQueen lower left and Newman upper right. Thus, each appeared to have “first” billing depending on whether the credit was read left-to-right or top-to-bottom. This was the first time this “staggered but equal” billing was used in a movie although it had been considered earlier for the same two actors regarding Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid until McQueen turned the Sundance Kid role down. McQueen is mentioned first in the film’s trailers. In the cast list rolling from top to bottom at the film’s end, however, McQueen and Newman’s names were arranged diagonally as at the beginning; as a consequence, Newman’s name is fully visible first there.
McQueen and Newman were promised the same pay and number of lines, which meant that one had to shoot additional scenes to equalize the dialog.
The score was composed and conducted by John Williams, orchestrated by Herbert W. Spencer and Al Woodbury, and recorded at the 20th Century Fox scoring stage on October 31 and November 4, 7 and 11, 1974. The original recording engineer was Ted Keep.
Source music in portions of the film includes instrumental versions of “Again” by Lionel Newman and Dorcas Cochran, “You Make Me Feel So Young” by Josef Myrow and Mack Gordon, and “The More I See You” by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon.
A snippet of a cue from Williams’ score to Cinderella Liberty titled ‘Maggie Shoots Pool’ is heard in a scene when William Holden’s character converses on the phone with Paul Newman’s character. It is not the recording on the soundtrack album but a newer arrangement recorded for The Towering Inferno. An extended version is heard, ostensibly as source music in a deleted theatrical scene sometimes shown as part of a longer scene from the TV broadcast version.
One of the most sought-after unreleased music cues from the film is the one where Williams provides low-key lounge music during a party prior to the announcement of a fire. O’Halloran orders Duncan to evacuate the party; the music becomes louder as Lisolette and Harlee are seen dancing and Duncan lectures son-in-law Roger. Titled “The Promenade Room” on the conductor’s cue sheet, the track features a ragged ending as Duncan asks the house band to stop playing. Because of this, Film Score Monthly could not add this cue to the expanded soundtrack album.
The Academy Award-winning song “We May Never Love Like This Again” was composed by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn and performed by Maureen McGovern, who appears in a cameo as a lounge singer and on the score’s soundtrack album, which features the film recording plus the commercially released single version. Additionally, the theme tune is interpolated into the film’s underscore by Williams. The song’s writers collaborated on “The Morning After” from The Poseidon Adventure, an Oscar-winning song which was also recorded by McGovern, although hers was not the vocal used in that film.
The first release of portions of the score from The Towering Inferno was on Warner Bros. Records early in 1975 (Catalog No. BS-2840)
- “Main Title” (5:00)
- “An Architect’s Dream” (3:28)
- “Lisolette And Harlee” (2:34)
- “Something For Susan” (2:42)
- “Trapped Lovers” (4:28)
- “We May Never Love Like This Again” – Kasha/Hirschhorn, performed by Maureen McGovern (2:11)
- “Susan And Doug” (2:30)
- “The Helicopter Explosion” (2:50)
- “Planting The Charges – And Finale” (10:17)
A near-complete release came on the Film Score Monthly label (FSM) on April 1, 2001 and was produced by Lukas Kendall and Nick Redman. FSM’s was an almost completely expanded version remixed from album masters at Warner Bros. archives and the multi-track 35mm magnetic film stems at 20th Century Fox. Placed into chronological order and restoring action cues, it became one of the company’s biggest sellers; only 4000 copies were pressed and it is now out of print.
Reports that this soundtrack and that of the film Earthquake (also composed by Williams) borrowed cues from each other are inaccurate. The version of “Main Title” on the FSM disc is the film version. It differs from the original soundtrack album version. There is a different balance of instruments in two spots, and in particular the snare drum is more prominent than the album version which also features additional cymbal work. Although the album was not a re-recording, the original LP tracks were recorded during the same sessions and several cues were combined. The film version sound was reportedly better than the quarter-inch WB two-track album master. Although some minor incidental cues were lost, some sonically ‘damaged’ cues – so called due to a deterioration of the surviving audio elements – are placed at the end of the disc’s program time following the track “An Architect’s Dream” which is used over the end credits sequence.
- “Main Title” (5:01)
- “Something For Susan” (2:42)
- “Lisolette and Harlee” (2:35)
- “The Flame Ignites” (1:01)
- “More For Susan” (1:55)
- “Harlee Dressing” (1:37)
- “Let There Be Light” (:37)
- “Alone At Last” (:51)
- “We May Never Love Like This Again (Film Version)” – Maureen McGovern (2:04)
- “The First Victims” (3:24)
- “Not A Cigarette” (1:18)
- “Trapped Lovers” (4:44)
- “Doug’s Fall/Piggy Back Ride” (2:18)
- “Lisolette’s Descent” (3:07)
- “Down The Pipes/The Door Opens” (2:59)
- “Couples” (3:38)
- “Short Goodbyes” (2:26)
- “Helicopter Rescue” (3:07)
- “Passing The Word” (1:12)
- “Planting The Charges” (9:04)
- “Finale” (3:57)
- “An Architect’s Dream” (3:28)
- “We May Never Love Like This Again (Album Version)” – Maureen McGovern (2:13)
- “The Morning After (Instrumental)” (2:07)
- “Susan And Doug (Album Track)” (2:33)
- “Departmental Pride and The Cat (Damaged)” (2:34)
- “Helicopter Explosion (Damaged)” (2:34)
- “Waking Up (Damaged)” (2:39)
The Towering Inferno was released in theatres on December 14, 1974.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times praised the film as “the best of the mid-1970s wave of disaster films“. Variety praised the film as “one of the greatest disaster pictures made, a personal and professional triumph for producer Irwin Allen. The $14 million cost has yielded a truly magnificent production which complements but does not at all overwhelm a thoughtful personal drama.” Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film is “overwrought and silly in its personal drama, but the visual spectacle is first rate. You may not come out of the theater with any important ideas about American architecture or enterprise, but you will have had a vivid, completely safe nightmare.” Pauline Kael, writing for The New Yorker, panned the writing and characters as retreads from The Poseidon Adventure, and further wrote “What was left out this time was the hokey fun. When a picture has any kind of entertainment in it, viewers don’t much care about credibility, but when it isn’t entertaining we do. And when a turkey bores us and insults our intelligence for close to three hours, it shouldn’t preen itself on its own morality.”
The film was one of the biggest grossing films of 1975 with domestic rentals of $48,838,000. In January 1976, it was claimed that the film had attained the highest foreign film rental for any film in its initial release with $43 million. When combined with the rentals from the United States and Canada, the worldwide rental is $91,838,000.
The film grossed $116 million, and when combined with the foreign film rentals, the worldwide gross is in the region of $200 million.
Awards and nominations
- List of American films of 1974
- Skyscrapers in film
- List of firefighting films
- “Disco Inferno“, a song inspired by a scene in the film in which a discothèque catches fire
- “The Towering Inferno”. The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
- Advertisement in The Hollywood Reporter. January 27, 1976
- “The Towering Inferno”. Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved November 23,2016.
- Schleier 2009, p. 273.
- Mell 2005, p. 244.
- Itzkoff 2014, p. 82.
- Zimmerman, Dwight (2015). Steve McQueen: Full-Throttle Cool. Osceola, Wisconsin: Motorbooks International Publishers & Wholesalers. ISBN 978-0760347454.
- Stern, Richard Martin (1973). The Tower. Philadelphia: David McKay Publications. ISBN 978-0679503637.
- Green 2011, p. 190.
- Pollock 2013, p. 199.
- Santas et al. 2014, p. 522.
- Seger 1992, p. 88.
- Scortia, Thomas N.; Robinson, Frank M. (1974). The Glass Inferno(1st ed.). New York City: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0385051477.
- The $300,000 figure for Glass Inferno is disputed by http://www.thetoweringinferno.info/prod.html (retrieved May 29, 2017) which quotes a figure of $410,000 from a press release.
- http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/thetoweringinferno(Retrieved May 29, 2017)
- http://www.empireonline.com/movies/towering-inferno/review/(Retrieved May 29, 2017).
- “production”. http://www.thetoweringinferno.info.
- “Art.com – Posters, Art Prints, Framed Art, and Wall Art Collection”. http://www.art.com.
- Eldridge & Williams 2001, p. 13.
- Additional notes by Geoff Brown – Melbourne, Australia.
- The Towering Inferno. 20th Century Fox. New York City: 21st Century Fox. ASIN 6305280762.
- Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1974). “The Towering Inferno”. RogerEbert.com. Chicago: Ebert Digit LLC. Retrieved November 23,2016.
- Variety Staff (December 18, 1974). “Review: ‘The Towering Inferno‘“. Variety. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
- Canby, Vincent (December 20, 1974). “‘The Towering Inferno’ First‐Rate Visual Spectacle”. The New York Times. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
- Kael, Pauline (December 30, 1974). “A Magentic Blur”. The New Yorker. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
- “The Towering Inferno (1974)”. Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
- “All-Time Top Film Rentals”. Variety. October 7, 1999. Archived from the original on October 7, 1999.
- “The Towering Inferno”. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
- “The 47th Academy Awards (1975) Nominees and Winners”. Academy Awards. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Retrieved November 23,2016.
- “The Official Academy Awards® Database”. Academy Awards. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences(AMPAS). Retrieved November 23, 2016.
- Franks 2004, p. 242.
- “John Williams’ BAFTA wins and nominations”. British Academy Film Awards. (BAFTA)Piccadilly: British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
- “BAFTA 1976: British Academy Film Awards (Movies from 1975)”. FilmAffinity. Madrid. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
- Derry 2009, p. 378.
- Levinson 2009, pp. 371–372.
- “Golden Globe Winners for the year 1974 held in 1975”. Golden Globe Award. United States: Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). Retrieved November 24, 2016.
- “DeepSoul: The Trammps – “Disco Inferno““. DeepSoul.com. Archived from the original on March 27, 2012. Retrieved June 3,2012.
- Solomon, Aubrey (1988). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 257. ISBN 978-0810842441.
- Schleier, Merrill (2009). Skyscraper Cinema: Architecture and Gender in American Film. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 273. ISBN 978-0816642823.
- Mell, Eila (2005). Casting Might-Have-Beens: A Film-by-Film Directory of Actors Considered For Roles Given To Others. New York City: McFarland & Company. p. 244. ISBN 978-0786420179.
- Itzkoff, Dave (2014). Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies. New York City: Times Books. p. 82. ISBN 978-0805095692.
- Eldridge, Jeff; Williams, John (2001). “The Towering Inferno”. Film Score Monthly (CD insert notes). Culver City, California, U.S.A. 4 (3): 13.
- Santas, Constantine; Wilson, James M.; Colavito, Maria; Baker, Djoymi (2014). The Encyclopedia of Epic Films. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 522. ISBN 978-0810882478.
- Franks, Don (2004). Entertainment Awards: A Music, Cinema, Theatre and Broadcasting Guide, 1928 Through 2003 (3rd ed.). New York City: McFarland & Company. p. 242. ISBN 978-0786417988.
- Seger, Linda (1992). The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact And Fiction Into Film (1st ed.). New York City: Henry Holt and Company. p. 88. ISBN 978-0805016260.
- Derry, Charles (2009). Dark Dreams 2.0: A Psychological History of the Modern Horror Film from the 1950s to the 21st Century. New York City: McFarland & Company. p. 378. ISBN 978-0786433971.
- Levinson, Peter (2009). Puttin’ On the Ritz: Fred Astaire and the Fine Art of Panache, A Biography. New York City: St. Martin’s Press. pp. 371–372. ISBN 0312353669.
- Green, Paul (2011). Jennifer Jones: The Life and Films. New York City: McFarland & Company. p. 190. ISBN 978-0786460410.
- Pollock, Christopher (2013). Reel San Francisco Stories: An Annotated Filmography of the Bay Area. United States: Castor-Pollux Publications. p. 199. ISBN 978-0578130422.
- The Towering Inferno on IMDb
- The Towering Inferno at AllMovie
- The Towering Inferno website
- DVD Review: The Towering Inferno (Special Edition) at The-Trades.com
- Irwin Allen News Network (The Irwin Allen News Network’s Towering Inferno page)
- Various releases of music from the film, on LP and CD
- Towering Inferno Memorabilia Archive (photos, storyboards, tower/set blueprints, and more)