Towering Inferno, The

Too Tall To Fail

Main Cast: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Fred Astaire

Director: Irwin Allen

Plot Summary: A gala celebration for the grand opening of the “tallest building in the world” turns to horror when a fire breaks out, trapping a crowd in the sky-top lounge. Meanwhile, down below, firefighters work to put out the blaze and rescue the celebrants.

Following in the footsteps of the successful The Poseidon Adventure, this film continued to define the disaster genre. The basic premise of a group of different personalities, sometimes working against each other despite the situation, trying to escape some sort of danger, held through the ’70s and ’80s until the slasher/horror genre took over. Regardless of the format, you could be sure that the villain would meet a grisly and justifiable end.

In this movie we have a skyscraper, rooted to the ground. Tricky, because at least with a ship in the deep ocean you can’t just walk away. The director and writer(s) solve this by sticking everyone far above normal, ladder rescue. Much of the time is spent following the architect of the building (Newman) as he tries to get as many people out as possible. The second lead, the firefighter captain (McQueen), does the same from the outside. Of course you know that one or both of them will be involved in the actual solution, but various other characters are fair game. Some survive, some do not, and this is driven mostly by character relationships. Random chance isn’t strong here, although it is simulated quite well.

Whether or not you like this movie depends on your take on the disaster genre. Sure it’s camp, but the fun thing about it is the anticipation of who will be knocked off. Unlike Poseidon the heroes are achingly noble, especially the fire captain, so basically the antagonist is nature herself. The movie is well crafted and the actors do their best with somewhat sketchy characters. Everything rests with the special effects, and in this case they are quite good.

I can recommend this movie as a very good selection of the genre.

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