In the 1970s moviegoers developed a love for disaster on film. In 1974 the studios focused on a disaster in a skyscraper, with the blockbuster The Towering Inferno.
A co-production of Warner Bros. and Twentieth Century Fox, The Towering Inferno was adapted by Sterling Silliphant from two books – The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. Both novels had been inspired by the building of the World Trade Centre in New York City.
Directed by John Guillermin, the film had a long line up of stars in the cast including Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlin, O.J. Simpson, Robert Wagner, Susan Blakely and Robert Vaughan.
The plot: the world’s tallest building at 138 stories has its grand opening in San Francisco; during the opening a small fire starts in a storage room and goes undetected. The fire spreads but the party continues, unknown to guests – mayhem!
Each character showed a different point of view from the architect (Newman) to the fire chief (McQueen), a soon to be resident (Blakely), the security chief (Simpson) or the owner (Holden) and as the story unfolded, the drama comes from those who rise to the occasion to those who deny what’s really going on.
This was one of the first joint studio projects – Twentieth Century Fox has bought The Tower while Warner Bros. had bought The Glass Inferno and they decided to combine the project with a budget of $14 million. Fox would handle domestic release while Warner would focus on international. Filmmakers used the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, Bank of America building and the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco for key parts of the film as well as a soundstage. Fifty seven sets were created for the film, and only eight survived at the end of production.
I did get to see this film – which was all about running, fire, yelling, fire, close ups of upset party people, fire, running, fire to a young child. But I got caught up in the drama and wanted to know that everyone was ok.
Released in December 1974, The Towering Inferno was a success with $116 million gross in box office receipts. The film won three Academy Awards, two Golden Globes and two BAFTA awards.
After Airport and The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno helped cement the trend of disaster films in the 1970s, and has laid the pathway for the genre well-into the 21st century.