The Towering Inferno – About

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The Towering Inferno
Towering inferno movie poster.jpg

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
Starring Steve McQueen
Paul Newman
William Holden
Faye Dunaway
Fred Astaire
Susan Blakely
Richard Chamberlain
Jennifer Jones
O. J. Simpson
Robert Vaughn
Robert Wagner
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Fred J. Koenekamp
Joseph Biroc
Edited by Carl Kress
Harold F. Kress
Irwin Allen Productions
United Films
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
(United States)
Warner Bros.
Release date
December 14, 1974
Running time
165 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $14 million
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 HoldenFaye DunawayFred AstaireSusan BlakelyRichard ChamberlainO. J. SimpsonRobert VaughnRobert WagnerSusan FlanneryGregory SierraDabney 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.



The Books

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.

Fred Astaire

Although famed for his dancing and singing in musical movies, Fred Astaire received his only Oscar nomination for this film. He also won both a BAFTA Award and Golden Globe Award for his performance.


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)

  1. “Main Title” (5:00)
  2. “An Architect’s Dream” (3:28)
  3. “Lisolette And Harlee” (2:34)
  4. “Something For Susan” (2:42)
  5. “Trapped Lovers” (4:28)
  6. We May Never Love Like This Again” – Kasha/Hirschhorn, performed by Maureen McGovern (2:11)
  7. “Susan And Doug” (2:30)
  8. “The Helicopter Explosion” (2:50)
  9. “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.

  1. “Main Title” (5:01)
  2. “Something For Susan” (2:42)
  3. “Lisolette and Harlee” (2:35)
  4. “The Flame Ignites” (1:01)
  5. “More For Susan” (1:55)
  6. “Harlee Dressing” (1:37)
  7. “Let There Be Light” (:37)
  8. “Alone At Last” (:51)
  9. We May Never Love Like This Again (Film Version)” – Maureen McGovern (2:04)
  10. “The First Victims” (3:24)
  11. “Not A Cigarette” (1:18)
  12. “Trapped Lovers” (4:44)
  13. “Doug’s Fall/Piggy Back Ride” (2:18)
  14. “Lisolette’s Descent” (3:07)
  15. “Down The Pipes/The Door Opens” (2:59)
  16. “Couples” (3:38)
  17. “Short Goodbyes” (2:26)
  18. “Helicopter Rescue” (3:07)
  19. “Passing The Word” (1:12)
  20. “Planting The Charges” (9:04)
  21. “Finale” (3:57)
  22. “An Architect’s Dream” (3:28)
  23. We May Never Love Like This Again (Album Version)” – Maureen McGovern (2:13)
  24. “The Morning After (Instrumental)” (2:07)
  25. “Susan And Doug (Album Track)” (2:33)
  26. “Departmental Pride and The Cat (Damaged)” (2:34)
  27. “Helicopter Explosion (Damaged)” (2:34)
  28. “Waking Up (Damaged)” (2:39)


The Towering Inferno was released in theatres on December 14, 1974.

The film was initially released on DVD by 20th Century Fox on April 15, 2003, with a special edition released on May 9, 2006.


Critical reaction

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.”

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 71% based on 28 reviews with an average rating of 6.6/10.

Box office

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

Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Fred Astaire Nominated
Best Art Direction William J. Creber Nominated
Ward Preston Nominated
Raphaël Bretton Nominated
Best Original Song (“We May Never Love Like This Again“) Al Kasha Won
Joel Hirschhorn Won
Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
Best Film Editing Carl Kress Won
Harold F. Kress Won
Best Sound Theodore Soderberg Nominated
Herman Lewis Nominated
Best Cinematography Fred J. Koenekamp & Joseph Biroc Won
Best Picture Irwin Allen Nominated
ACE Eddie Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic Carl Kress
Harold F. Kress Nominated
Best Music John Williams Won
Best Production Design William J. Creber Nominated
Ward Preston Nominated
Raphaël Bretton Nominated
Best Cinematography Fred J. Koenekamp Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Fred Astaire Won
Golden Globe Award Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Won
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Jennifer Jones Nominated
New Star of the Year – Actress Susan Flannery Won
Best Screenplay Stirling Silliphant Nominated
Best Original Song (“We May Never Love Like This Again“) Al Kasha Nominated
Joel Hirschhorn Nominated

See also


  1. Jump up to:a b “The Towering Inferno”The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
  2. Jump up to:a b Advertisement in The Hollywood Reporter. January 27, 1976
  3. Jump up to:a b c d “The Towering Inferno”Turner Classic MoviesAtlantaTurner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved November 23,2016.
  4. Jump up^ Schleier 2009, p. 273.
  5. Jump up^ Mell 2005, p. 244.
  6. Jump up^ Itzkoff 2014, p. 82.
  7. Jump up^ Zimmerman, Dwight (2015). Steve McQueen: Full-Throttle CoolOsceola, Wisconsin: Motorbooks International Publishers & Wholesalers. ISBN 978-0760347454.
  8. Jump up^ Stern, Richard Martin (1973). The TowerPhiladelphiaDavid McKay PublicationsISBN 978-0679503637.
  9. Jump up to:a b c Green 2011, p. 190.
  10. Jump up to:a b Pollock 2013, p. 199.
  11. Jump up to:a b c Santas et al. 2014, p. 522.
  12. Jump up to:a b Seger 1992, p. 88.
  13. Jump up^ Scortia, Thomas N.Robinson, Frank M. (1974). The Glass Inferno(1st ed.). New York CityDoubledayISBN 978-0385051477.
  14. Jump up^ The $300,000 figure for Glass Inferno is disputed by (retrieved May 29, 2017) which quotes a figure of $410,000 from a press release.
  15. Jump up^ May 29, 2017)
  16. Jump up^ May 29, 2017).
  17. Jump up^ “production”
  18. Jump up^ “ – Posters, Art Prints, Framed Art, and Wall Art Collection”
  19. Jump up^ Eldridge & Williams 2001, p. 13.
  20. Jump up^ Additional notes by Geoff Brown – Melbourne, Australia.
  21. Jump up^ The Towering Inferno20th Century FoxNew York City21st Century FoxASIN 6305280762.
  22. Jump up^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1974). “The Towering Inferno”RogerEbert.comChicago: Ebert Digit LLC. Retrieved November 23,2016.
  23. Jump up^ Variety Staff (December 18, 1974). “Review: ‘The Towering InfernoVariety. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  24. Jump up^ Canby, Vincent (December 20, 1974). The Towering Inferno’ First‐Rate Visual Spectacle”The New York Times. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  25. Jump up^ Kael, Pauline (December 30, 1974). “A Magentic Blur”The New Yorker. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  26. Jump up^ The Towering Inferno (1974)”Rotten TomatoesFandango Media. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  27. Jump up^ “All-Time Top Film Rentals”Variety. October 7, 1999. Archived from the original on October 7, 1999.
  28. Jump up^ “The Towering Inferno”Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  29. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z “The 47th Academy Awards (1975) Nominees and Winners”Academy AwardsAcademy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Retrieved November 23,2016.
  30. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m “The Official Academy Awards® Database”Academy AwardsAcademy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences(AMPAS). Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  31. Jump up to:a b Franks 2004, p. 242.
  32. Jump up^ “John Williams’ BAFTA wins and nominations”British Academy Film Awards. (BAFTA)PiccadillyBritish Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  33. Jump up to:a b c “BAFTA 1976: British Academy Film Awards (Movies from 1975)”FilmAffinityMadrid. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  34. Jump up^ Derry 2009, p. 378.
  35. Jump up^ Levinson 2009, pp. 371–372.
  36. Jump up to:a b c d e f “Golden Globe Winners for the year 1974 held in 1975”Golden Globe Award. United States: Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). Retrieved November 24, 2016.
  37. Jump up^ “DeepSoul: The Trammps – “Disco Inferno. Archived from the original on March 27, 2012. Retrieved June 3,2012.


External links


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