Although cable TV chipped away at their audience, the Big Three networks were still in the theatrical knockoff movie business, with ABC-TV airing this disaster tale on February 18, 1991. While, at first, it reminds of the A-List blockbuster The Towering Inferno (1974), the real inspiration here is Ron Howard’s Backdraft, released that same year. And since we named dropped Jerry Jameson during our “Lee Majors Week” review of Starflight One, we’ll have to mention Jameson’s more timely TV movie lookalike with 1974’s The Blazing Tower, which circulated on the U.S. home video and overseas theatrical marketplace as Terror on the 40th Floor.
The difference between that influential Irwin Allen epic is that this harrowing tale is based on a real life fire that broke out on the 12th floor of the 62-floored First Interstate Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles on May 4, 1988, and raged into May 5. As result of the building’s sprinkler system not operating at full capacity, along with the main water valves that supplied the fire pumps turned off due to building construction, the fire quickly spread upwards to the 16th floor. And not only was there mechanical failure, but human failure at the hands of security guards ignoring smoke alarm warnings.
Of course, as with any TV film based on “real events,” dramatic licenses are taken with incidents tweaked and buoyed by composite and fictitious character creations. To that end we have familiar ’80’s TV actors Lisa Hartman and Peter Scolari as two trapped survivors on the 37th floor. Keener TV eyes will pick up on the somewhat lesser known, ’80s small screen stars in the fire brigade with Paul Linke (CHiPs), Ronald William Lawerence (Hunter), John Laughlin (The White Shadow), and yes, that’s the always great Micheal Beach, aka Taddarius Orwell ‘T.O.’ Cross from FX’s Sons of Anarchy, just starting out his long TV career and on his way to recurring roles in Under Suspicion, ER, and Third Watch, but these days, you know his work in The 100 and Chicago P.D. Also look out for a young Angela Bassett just starting her career with support roles in various TV series and telefilms. Lee Majors heads the cast (but everyone else is here a bit more than him), as Sterling, the stoic, no nonsense Deputy Fire Chief working against the endless array of errors exacerbating the tragedy.
Screenwriter Jeffrey Bloom’s career goes back to some late ’70s episodes of Starsky and Hutch (and a couple of David Soul-starring TV movies) and the popular VHS Jaws-knockoff, Blood Beach, which he also directed. In the director’s chair — and in his final TV project — is Robert Day, whose writing and directing efforts date back to Tarzan in the early ’60s. Bringing us a wealth of TV series episodes and movies across all three networks, we know Day best at B&S About Movies for the late ’70s de rigueur witchcraft flick, The Initiation of Sarah.
This is one of those old TV flicks that, while it lacks the dramatic punch of Backdraft or the thespian skills offered by Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in The Towering Inferno, this is, none the less, a well-down film rife with credible, practical in-camera effects on-a-budget that still holds up in today’s CGI world.
You can enjoy the film courtesy of You Tube.
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