The Towering Inferno (1974, John Guillermin)

For a disaster movie to succeed, I suppose all it really has to do is keep you interested for its running time. The Towering Inferno runs almost three hours and manages that task, so much so, the ending seems a little abrupt. It’s not like the first act breezes by, either. In fact, it only makes it through the first act because of the goodwill the opening credits–with an amazing John Williams piece–earn. There’s maybe five minutes of setup they could have done without, to get to the fabulous first death sequence a little earlier.

The worst performance in the film is probably Richard Chamberlain, but even he’s solid. Steve McQueen and Paul Newman are good, Jennifer Jones, Robert Wagner–Norman Burton’s excellent in a small part. Faye Dunaway and William Holden appear busy. Even O.J. Simpson is good–the film’s treatment of race is particularly interesting, as Simpson plays the chief of security (and Felton Perry later shows up as a senior fireman).

The mattes all hold up and the action sequences, until the fire’s put out at the end (why do the flames recede before the water hits them?), do too. It’s well-made nonsense, with the majority of the cast managing not to look embarrassed.

Of particular interest is how Gullermin and cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp shoot the dramatic scenes. It’s not like a seventies movie at all, instead aping Cinemascope methods.

It’s a shame the genre failed. The Towering Inferno is a fine diversion.

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