The Towering Inferno (1974)

PG | 165 or 170 mins | Drama | December 1974

Director:

John Guillermin

Producer:

Irwin Allen

Cinematographer:

Fred Koenekamp

Production Designer:

William Creber

Production Company:

Irwin Allen Productions
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HISTORY

An onscreen written acknowledgement in the opening credits dedicates the film �to the firefighters of the world.� A second written statement acknowledges the cooperation of the Department of the Navy and the Department of Defense. According to various news items from Apr through Jun 1973, several major studios engaged in a bidding war for the yet-to-be released, high-rise disaster novel, The Tower , by Richard Martin Stern. Soon after Warner Bros. outbid producer Irwin Allen and Twentieth Century-Fox, Allen purchased a similarly themed, but not yet published novel, The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. In Aug 1973, a DV article revealed that in a historic first, Fox and WB would join together to finance and release a film to be titled The Towering Inferno , which would be adapted from both novels. A Sep 1973 HR article noted that the collaboration came about because of the unique events that led to both studios having the rights to similarly themed novels and the increasingly high cost of action-effects films. According to a May 1974 DV article on the joint venture, Fox paid $400,000 for The Glass Inferno , and WB paid $300,000 for The Tower , and cost for the production was set at $11,000,000.
       A 15 May 1974 Var article stated that producer Allen, who had produced Twentieth Century-Fox�s 1972 successful box office disaster picture, The Poseidon Adventure (see above), would direct the action sequences for The Towering Inferno . The film marked the return to the screen of Fred Astaire ... More Less

An onscreen written acknowledgement in the opening credits dedicates the film �to the firefighters of the world.� A second written statement acknowledges the cooperation of the Department of the Navy and the Department of Defense. According to various news items from Apr through Jun 1973, several major studios engaged in a bidding war for the yet-to-be released, high-rise disaster novel, The Tower , by Richard Martin Stern. Soon after Warner Bros. outbid producer Irwin Allen and Twentieth Century-Fox, Allen purchased a similarly themed, but not yet published novel, The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. In Aug 1973, a DV article revealed that in a historic first, Fox and WB would join together to finance and release a film to be titled The Towering Inferno , which would be adapted from both novels. A Sep 1973 HR article noted that the collaboration came about because of the unique events that led to both studios having the rights to similarly themed novels and the increasingly high cost of action-effects films. According to a May 1974 DV article on the joint venture, Fox paid $400,000 for The Glass Inferno , and WB paid $300,000 for The Tower , and cost for the production was set at $11,000,000.
       A 15 May 1974 Var article stated that producer Allen, who had produced Twentieth Century-Fox�s 1972 successful box office disaster picture, The Poseidon Adventure (see above), would direct the action sequences for The Towering Inferno . The film marked the return to the screen of Fred Astaire after a five year absence following his appearance in Midas Run (1969, see above). Modern sources state that Olivia De Havilland was originally offered the part of �Lisolette Mueller� and Ernest Borgnine the role of the fire chief, who in early drafts was named �Mario Infantino.�
       Portions of the exteriors were filmed in San Francisco. Production notes state that the Bank of America building in San Francisco was used for some exteriors. According to an 8 May 1974 DV article, The Towering Inferno was filmed on eight stages, on fifty-seven sets at Fox, one of the largest productions to date for that studio. Many of the personnel who worked for Allen and Fox on The Poseidon Adventure also worked on The Towering Inferno , including writer Stirling Silliphant, production designer William Creber, editor Harold Kress, composer John Williams and Special Effects specialists L. B. Abbott and A. D. Flowers. Actor Ernie Orsatti, who made the iconic fall onto the glass ceiling in The Poseidon Adventure , went on to become a stunt man and appeared as fireman �Mark Powers� in The Towering Inferno . Singer Maureen McGovern, who had had success with the earlier film�s Academy Award-winning song �Theme from The Poseidon Adventure/The Morning After,� appeared in The Towering Inferno as the party entertainer, performing �We May Never Love Like This Again,� which also went on to win an Academy Award for Best Song, again composed by the team of Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. The Towering Inferno also won Academy Awards for Cinematography and Editing and received nominations for Actor in a Supporting Role (Astaire), Art Direction, Music, Sound and Best Picture. Even though the plot of the film assumes the existence of two San Francisco skyscrapers over one hundred stories high, no such buildings have been constructed. As of 2009, the tallest buildings in San Francisco are the Transamerica Pyramid, at forty-eight floors, and the Bank of America building, which is fifty-two stories high. Both buildings were opened prior to the film�s release.
       The documentary on the making of The Towering Inferno included as added content on its DVD release of the film relates the following: The openings of numerous skyscrapers including New York�s World Trade Center Twin Towers and the Sears Tower (both dedicated in 1973) influenced producer Allen in the selection of a high-rise disaster story. Steve McQueen was originally offered the role of architect �Doug Roberts,� but requested the part of fire chief �Mike O�Halloran,� believing that it would be �showier.� Both McQueen and Paul Newman were salaried at one million dollars each for their respective roles, as well as a percentage of the gross. McQueen demanded the script be augmented so that he and Newman had the same number of lines. Both actors insisted on personally doing as many of their own stunts as possible, resulting in Newman receiving a moderate burn and McQueen sustaining a sprained ankle that resulted in several days of shooting him in a seated position. Technical Advisor, Los Angeles Fire Chief Pete Lucarrelli provided the studio with hundreds of firemen not only to protect the studio during the constant filming with live fire, but also to serve as the many firemen extras required. Lucarrelli also acted as personal advisor to McQueen. Two miniatures of the �glass tower� were created, one a 2 inch scale model of half of the building that was forty feet high and a complete one inch scale model that was seventy feet tall.
       The success of The Towering Inferno , along with The Poseidon Adventure led to producer Allen being nicknamed �The Master of Disaster.� The Towering Inferno , which went on to gross $55,000,000 at the North American box office, contained several notable suspense sequences that have since become iconic, including the sequence of �Dan Bigelow� (Robert Wagner) attempting to run across a burning room and the lengthy amount of time his character is shown on fire before plunging through a glass window. A comparable shocking and iconic incident was the unexpected death of �Lisolette Mueller� (Jennifer Jones) falling out of the scenic elevator after surviving numerous mishaps. The Towering Inferno marked the final motion picture appearance of Jones (1919--2009). Modern sources add the following to the cast: Mike Johnson, John Moio and Hank Robinson. In Los Angeles in 2001, Bill Robens and Steve Marca co-wrote and directed a stage parody of The Towering Inferno called The Towering Inferno�The Musical . More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Feb 1975
pp. 158-169, 228-229.
Box Office
23 Dec 1974
p. 4746.
Daily Variety
8 May 1973.
---
Daily Variety
8 Aug 1973.
---
Daily Variety
8 May 1974.
---
Daily Variety
24 Oct 1974.
---
Daily Variety
16 Dec 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Apr 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Sep 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Apr 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 May 1974
p. 20.
Hollywood Reporter
17 May 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Sep 1974
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Dec 1974
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
15 Dec 1974
Calendar, p. 1.
New York Times
20 Dec 1974
p. 20.
Newsweek
30 Dec 1974.
---
Variety
15 May 1974.
---
Variety
18 Dec 1974
p. 13.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Action seq dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir, action seq
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
Asst dir, trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog action seq
Still photog
Still photog
Cam op, action seq
Key grip
Key grip, action seq
Gaffer
Gaffer, action seq
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
Prod des
Prod illustrator
Prod illustrator
Prod illustrator
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
Negative cutting
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Prop master, action seq
Lead man
Standby painter
COSTUMES
Men's cost
Men's cost
Men's cost
Women's cost
MUSIC
Supv mus ed
SOUND
Sd supv
Prod mixer
Re-rec mixer
Scoring mixer
Supv sd ed
Boom man
Cable man
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Mechanical eff
Mechanical eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv for Twentieth Century-Fox
Prod supv for Warner Bros.
Exec prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
Casting
Exec asst to prod
Exec asst to prod
Prod coord
Post prod coord
Tech adv
Tech adv
Prod controller
Prod asst
Dial coach
Scr supv
Scr supv, action seq
Unit pub
Real estate consultant
Crafts services
Prod's secy
Dir's secy
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novels The Tower by Richard Martin Stern (New York, 1973) and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson (Garden City, NY, 1974).
SONGS
"We May Never Love Like This Again," words and music by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, sung by Maureen McGovern.
DETAILS
Release Date:
December 1974
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere: 16 December 1974
New York opening: 19 December 1974
Production Date:
8 May--late September 1974
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation and Warner Brothers, Inc.
Copyright Date:
18 December 1974
Copyright Number:
LP44088
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
De Luxe
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
165 or 170
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24028
SYNOPSIS

Architect Doug Roberts returns to San Francisco after a business trip to attend the dedication ceremony of the one hundred thirty-eight story glass tower apartment and office building he designed for Duncan Enterprises. Met at the tower by company president Jim Duncan, Doug evades talk of collaborating with Duncan again in order to meet with his girl friend, editor Susan Franklin. As preparations proceed elsewhere in the tower for the evening’s gala celebration, a power generator overheats in the main utility room and burns through wiring. This raises concerns for chief technician Callahan and security head Harry Jernigan who notes that the security sensor did not automatically trigger the fire department alarm. Unknown to anyone, in a storage room on the eighty-first floor, a circuit breaker blows and sparks emanating from a burned out wire set fire to a pile of rags on a nearby cart. Meanwhile, Doug and Susan’s reunion is interrupted by Callahan’s supervisor, Will Giddings, who reports the wiring problems. Confirming that the material is not what was requested by his building specifications, Doug confronts Duncan, who refuses Giddings’ suggestion to postpone the dedication party until the building’s entire safety equipment has been completed. Frustrated, Doug goes to the home of Duncan’s daughter Patty and her husband, contractor Roger Simmons, whom he accuses him of using inferior materials in the tower, motivated by kickbacks. Meanwhile the press and public begin gathering at the tower entrance to watch the ceremony, which is led by Mayor Robert Ramsay and his wife Paula. Among the others attending the event are Senator Gary Parker, the Simmons, Susan, and ... +


Architect Doug Roberts returns to San Francisco after a business trip to attend the dedication ceremony of the one hundred thirty-eight story glass tower apartment and office building he designed for Duncan Enterprises. Met at the tower by company president Jim Duncan, Doug evades talk of collaborating with Duncan again in order to meet with his girl friend, editor Susan Franklin. As preparations proceed elsewhere in the tower for the evening’s gala celebration, a power generator overheats in the main utility room and burns through wiring. This raises concerns for chief technician Callahan and security head Harry Jernigan who notes that the security sensor did not automatically trigger the fire department alarm. Unknown to anyone, in a storage room on the eighty-first floor, a circuit breaker blows and sparks emanating from a burned out wire set fire to a pile of rags on a nearby cart. Meanwhile, Doug and Susan’s reunion is interrupted by Callahan’s supervisor, Will Giddings, who reports the wiring problems. Confirming that the material is not what was requested by his building specifications, Doug confronts Duncan, who refuses Giddings’ suggestion to postpone the dedication party until the building’s entire safety equipment has been completed. Frustrated, Doug goes to the home of Duncan’s daughter Patty and her husband, contractor Roger Simmons, whom he accuses him of using inferior materials in the tower, motivated by kickbacks. Meanwhile the press and public begin gathering at the tower entrance to watch the ceremony, which is led by Mayor Robert Ramsay and his wife Paula. Among the others attending the event are Senator Gary Parker, the Simmons, Susan, and elderly tenant Harlee Claiborne, who is escorting his neighbor, art teacher Lisolette Mueller. After Ramsay dedicates the tower as the world’s tallest building, Duncan Enterprises public relations head Dan Bigelow orders all one hundred thirty-eight floors lit up. As the three hundred party guests head up to the Promenade deck on the hundred and thirty-fifth floor, the fire in the storage grows, while the extra lighting places an additional burden on the generators. After angrily ordering the extra lights turned off, Doug and Giddings proceed to check electrical relays on the eighty-first floor. When Jernigan receives a report of smoke on the same floor, he manually sets off a fire alarm. After the men arrive at the burning storage room, Giddings tries to prevent an anxious guard from opening the smoking storage room, but the built up pressure of the fire blows outward, setting Giddings on fire. Jernigan then arrives and orders the eighty-first floor and the floors immediately above evacuated. Learning of the storage room accident from Doug, Duncan nevertheless refuses to relocate the VIP party from the Promenade deck. Fire chief Mike O’Hallorhan arrives with the first fire trucks and sets up his command center near Doug’s offices on the seventy-ninth floor, observing that it is virtually impossible to contain a fire in any building over seven stories. After checking on the fire on the eighty-first floor, Mike visits the party to insist on moving the guests to the ground floor. Returning to his command post, Mike learns from his assistant Kappy that the fire is in danger of spreading to other floors through the building’s main core shaft and the numerous over-sized outer windows. Upon hearing an explosion, the men discover that the fire has jumped several floors, prompting Mike to order the heat-sensitive express elevators transporting party guests to be halted and requests additional fire unit backups. Doug contacts Duncan to tell him to direct guests to the scenic elevator which runs on a track on the outside of the building. Worried about deaf neighbor Mrs. Allbright and her two young children, Philip and Angela, Lisolette, one of the first guests to leave the party, goes to their apartment on the eighty-seventh floor. Meanwhile, in the Promenade deck, guests are stunned when the express elevator, which has automatically stopped on a fire floor, returns carrying the charred bodies of the last group of party goers. Unknown to anyone, Dan and his private secretary, Lorrie, have been having a romantic rendezvous in Dan’s offices on the sixty-fifth floor and, unaware that the fire has consumed their outer offices, are trapped and unable to escape. Seeing Lisolette on the security monitor, Jernigan and Doug hasten to the Allbrights’ apartment. Discovering Mrs. Allbright unconscious from smoke inhalation, Jernigan carries her away, while Doug locates Philip and Angela. Cut off by fire from one stairwell, Doug, Lisolette and the children head down another stairway where they are caught by an explosion of a ruptured gas line. Although they are uninjured, the stairwell is destroyed, forcing Doug to slide down to secure footing on the dangling remains of the stair railings as the others wait above. Although able to convince the nimble Philip to clamber down the railings, Doug must climb back up to rescue Angela, then encourage Lisolette to struggle down on her own. Discovering a safe service elevator that originates on that floor and only goes up, Doug takes Lisolette and the children just below the Promenade deck, but finds its south entrance blocked by an overturned wheelbarrow of hardened cement. Now Navy Chief Flaker informs Mike of the arrival of air rescue helicopters, but admits that the winds are too high to land them on the tower’s roof. After Doug takes the crawl shaft to the roof and back into Promenade deck, Lisolette and the children are joined by firemen Scott and Mark Powers, who have been sent to dislodge the cement block with explosives. In the utility room, the master generator blows out and the back-up fails, cutting off most of the electricity in the tower. At the Promenade deck, Scott and Mark blow the blocked door and report that explosions several floors below have made the exit impassable. Despite their report, a frustrated Simmons declares his intention to take the stairs to safety, but is driven back moments later by an explosion and fire. Knowing that the power failure has affected the scenic elevator, Mike orders Flaker to set up a breeches buoy from the hundred-and-two story Peerless building next door, explaining that a helicopter can shoot a lanyard line into the Promenade deck. When weather reports indicate the winds have calmed, Flaker approves a rescue helicopter to make a landing to begin transporting guests to safety. After having the remaining guests in the Promenade deck draw numbers to designate their order of departure, the first group, including Susan and Paula, heads to the roof, but two overzealous women rush to the landing pad, forcing the helicopter to pull back, hit the railing and explode. Doug reports the disaster to Mike, who instructs him to have Scott and Mark prepare for the breeches buoy hook-up. As the firemen begin breaking the windows, Doug realizes that he can trip the scenic elevator gravity brake, which will allow it to make a single trip down. Placing the first group intended for the helicopter into the elevator, including a protesting Susan, Doug also adds Lisolette, the children and Mark. As Doug, Duncan, Scott, Parker and Ramsay assist in rigging the breeches buoy, the scenic elevator descends several floors before a nearby explosion buffets it off its track. As the elevator lurches sharply, Lisolette is thrown off balance, and while Mark wildly grabs Angela from her, he cannot hold Lisolette, who tumbles out of the elevator through the glass wall. When Kappy reports the latest calamity to Mike, Mike asks Flaker to have a helicopter pick him up on top of the Peerless building. As terrified women guests begin a one-by-one descent on the breeches buoy from the Promenade deck to the Peerless rooftop, Mike orders the rescue helicopter to carry him on a cable with a large crane hook to the top of the scenic elevator, which remains dangling by a single steel line. Once there, Mike and Mark attach the helicopter hook and cable to the elevator, but an explosion again goes off near them sending Mark slipping from the elevator top. Despite wearing heavy work gloves, Mike lunges for Mark and struggles to hold on to him as the helicopter pulls the elevator from the building and begins slowly lowering it down to the street. Even though Mark pulls off one of his gloves, Mike holds him single-handedly long enough for Mark to drop onto a safety net below. After a brief rest, Mike is summoned by the chief deputy, who informs him that they have ascertained that the fire will reach the Promenade deck in twenty minutes. A structural engineer has calculated that the building can withstand the explosion of five huge water tanks two floors above the room which would, theoretically, douse the fire. Incredulous, Mike realizes that he is the only surviving professional who has explosives knowledge and wearily agrees to return to the Promenade deck. Meanwhile, after the women all have been transported to safety on the breeches buoy, Simmons, who resents the selection process, incites several other men to rebel. As Doug is speaking to Mike on the phone, Simmons and his allies rush the buoy, and when Parker and others attempt to stop them, their combined weight pulls the small chair down, sending Parker, Simmons and other men to their death. Agreeing to help Mike set the charges, Doug then meets him on the roof, where Mike is dropped in a fire protection suit. Setting the explosive on a five-minute delayed detonator, Mike and Doug hurry back to the Promenade deck where they tie themselves down with the remaining men. The explosions release millions of gallons of water that crash through the ceilings down upon the men. Several men are swept away by the force of the rushing waters, including the mayor, but the majority, including Mike, Doug, Duncan and Harlee, survive and as the waters cascade through the tower, the fire gradually is snuffed out. Much later, Mike sees Doug and Susan outside the gutted tower and tells them that if architects learned to work with fire experts, they could at last begin to construct a safer world together. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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