The Towering Inferno (1974)

John Guillermin didn’t shy away from big movies, directing King KongKing Kong LivesSkyjackedDeath On the Nile and this film, possibly the best regarded of all disaster movies. Based on The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson, the screenplay was written by Stirling Silliphant, who created the series Route 66Naked City and Perry Mason.

Architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) comes to San Francisco to see The Glass Tower, the building he designed for James Duncan (Willam Holden) be unveiled. It’s 138 stories but he worries that the electrical wiring is safe after a fire starts during testing. When he tells Duncan that his son-in-law and electrical subcontractor Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) is doing bad work, it gets blown off. When Roberts takes Will Giddings (Norman Burton), the electrical engineer, to see what’s happening on the 81st floor, all hell breaks loose and the building starts to burn.

Meanwhile, chief of public relations Dan Bigelow (Robert Wagner) is throwing a party for Senator Gary Parker (Robert Vaughn) and refuses to stop the party, which ends up with all sorts of people trapped up on the roof and the fire lurching skyward.

Leave it to San Francisco Fire Department 5th Battalion Chief Michael O’Halloran (Steve McQueen) to save the day which, as always in these movies, involves using firehoses as makeshift elevator devices. Also, as always, many stars are thrown at the disaster, including Faye Dunaway as Roberts’ fiancee, Susan Blakely as Duncan’s daughter and Simmons’ wife, Fred Astaire as a conman, O.J. Simpson as a security guard, Dabney Coleman as a fire chief and even Bobby Brady shows up.

Here’s what’s really amazing about this and why there were two books used to make the movie. Warner Brothers had the rights to The Tower. Fox had The Glass Tower. Irwin Allen remembered when in the 60s, two studios both made movies about Jean Harlow and Oscar Wilde and everyone lost. He convinced executives at both Warner Bros. and Fox to join forces and make one movie. It cost $14,300,000 which is $86 million in today’s money. It made $203 million back or $1.2 billion today.

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