DVD Review: The Towering Inferno (Special Edition)
Release Date: May 9, 2006
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
· John Guillermin
· Irwin Allen
· Steve McQueen
· Paul Newman
· William Holden
· Faye Dunaway
· Fred Astaire
by Paul Schultz
Published: May 16, 2006
Hot on the heels of Irwin Allen's unanticipated success with The
Poseidon Adventure, Hollywood burned with desire for another
disaster picture and he delivered a blaze of glory with 1974's skyscraper-on-fire epic, The Towering Inferno. Based on not one, but two novels ("The Glass Inferno" by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson, and "The Tower" by Richard Martin Stern), this all-star spectacle brings new meaning to the term "celebrity roast" and contains a most impressive assemblage of Hollywood stardom. Elements of it are ridiculously dated (such as the monstrosity of a computer O.J. must wrestle with, and the absurdly large "portable music player" wrapped around a kid's head) but the suspense is real, and the special effects utilize real flames for added authenticity. This larger-than-life event has been cleaned up with a great new transfer, and your passion for this cinematic calamity will be enflamed anew as you burn through the generous special features included in this "Special Edition" release.
As the movie opens, Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) swoops in via helicopter to admire his architectural achievement, an immense skyscraper rising with over 130 stories to the pinnacle of the city's skyline. His pride is quickly snuffed out when he discovers that contractor Roger Simmons (a mighty young Richard Chamberlain) has not followed his specifications, and instead has cut corners to save money and line his own pockets. Doug has it out with the developer, James Duncan (William Holden), who doesn't want to ruffle too many feathers on the day of the big dedication ceremony party. Besides, Roger is his son-in-law and, well, Rome wasn't built in a day, and nepotism won't be dismantled that quickly, either. Dan Bigelow (Robert Wagner) is the head of marketing and leasing, and wouldn't dream of interrupting the party for unwarranted concerns.
Thanks to the shoddy wiring system, a small fire breaks out in a utility
closet, but goes undetected for a time until security chief Harry Jernigan (O.J. Simpson) deciphers one of a million blinking lights in front of him that indicates the presence of a fire. Meanwhile, honored guests, including Senator Gary Parker (Robert Vaughn), are congregating in "The Promenade Room" on the top floor of the tower to party like it's 1974 (and are wearing the gaudy clothes to prove it!). Maureen McGovern appears as the singer and performs her Oscar-winning song "We May Never Love Like This Again",
aided with some soft steppin' on the dance floor by none other than Fred Astaire, who plays a lovable old grifter. He's got his eyes on retired widow Lisolette Mueller (Jennifer Jones, who's come a long way since The Song of Bernadette and, in fact, this was her last screen appearance) as much because of attraction as the money signs he sees in her eyes. Susan Franklin (Faye Dunaway)
is the daughter of the developer and in love with Doug, though their on-screen
chemistry didn't really light a fire with me.
Chief Michael O'Hallorhan (Steve McQueen) and the San Francisco Fire Department arrive on the scene, and acknowledge difficulty in getting equipment up to the fire, which is on the 81st floor. They try their best, but the fire escalates into an uncontrollable inferno. Party guests are reluctantly
evacuated via the elevators, until the cars start returning with flaming extras. Next, they try to descend in the scenic elevator attached to the outside of the building (and not for those afraid of heights!). These cars are only able to hold twelve people at a time, lengthening the evacuation to hours. Unfortunately, this means of escape ends badly, and desperation leads them to attach a breeches buoy from the roof of a neighboring skyscraper. All I have to say is I would have to be extremely desperate to climb into a small cage and be transported over a rope to the roof of another building with, like, a gazillion feet between me and the ground. Again, a scene to skip for those not enamored with heights.
Several floors down, the fire is ascending, and Dan is dispatching his staff
for the evening. All except for his lovely secretary, whom he requests to
stay to dictate a letter. This has "having an affair" written all over it and, sure enough, before the stenographer's pad hits the desk they are going at it. Unfortunately for the lovebirds, the fire has trapped them, and in the midst of an unsuccessful escape attempt, Robert Wagner falls flaming from the building, fulfilling the time-honored cinematic adage that sex equals death.
The ultimate solution for extinguishing the fire is as dramatic as it is
implausible. In a post-9/11 world, seeing people escaping flames by
jumping out of windows most definitely detracts from the entertainment value. The filmmakers' dedication to the firefighting vocation at the beginning of the movie is as relevant and heart-felt then as it still is. John Williams' superb score accentuates the action, and the direction clearly positions your location in the building. In addition to winning an Academy Award for Best Song, The Towering Inferno took home the prize for Best Cinematography, and Best Special Effects, as well as being nominated for Best Picture.
The DVD menu for disc one of The Towering Inferno SE.
- Commentary by Film Historian F.X. Feeney - An engaging commentary that covers many bases -- and all of them interesting. He notes that this movie was a milestone for Hollywood in that it was the first time two studios had co-produced a feature. Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox owned the two separate books and both planned to make two competing movies on the same subject. Instead, writer Stirling Silliphant was able to craft a screenplay that successfully merged the two storylines. Also unique was that there were two filming teams. Irwin Allen went off and shot the action sequences with John Guillermin filming the dramatic scenes.
- Scene Specific Commentary
by: Mike Venzina, Special Effects Director on X3 - Explosion on 81, Fire Chief Arrives on 81, "I Used to Run the 100 in 10 Flat", Explosion in
Stairwell, Roger Tries to Escape, Elevator Explosion, Breeches Buoy, Water Explosion
- Scene Specific Commentary by Branko Racki, Stunt
Coordinator on The Day After Tomorrow - Will Giddings Catches Fire,
Battling Fire, Man on Fire, "I Used to Run the 100 in 10 Flat", Fallen
Stairwell, Scenic Elevator Brought to Safety, Fight Over Breeches Buoy,
Prepping the Water Tanks, Water Tanks Explosion
- AMC Backstory: The Towering Inferno - a cable special talking about the film's production, release, and legacy.
- Inside the Tower: We Remember (8:14)
- Innovating Tower: The SPFX of An Inferno (6:50)
- The Art of Towering (5:14)
- Irwin Allen: The Great Producer (6:22)
- Directing the Inferno (4:24)
- Putting Out Fire (4:53)
- Running On Fire (5:46)
- Still The World's Tallest Building (8:18)
- The Writer: Stirling Silliphant (9:11)
- Vintage Promotional Material - NATO Presentation Reel (11:05),
original 1974 featurette #1 (8:09), original 1974 featurette #2 (7:15),
Irwin Allen 1977 interview (12:17), the original teaser and theatrical
trailer, and a trailer for The Poseidon Adventure.
- Extended and Deleted Scenes - 33 scenes that were originally
part of a longer television broadcast version, but were of insufficient
quality to clean up for insertion back into the theatrical copy of the film.
- American Cinematographer Articles - "The Towering Inferno and
How It Was Filmed" by Charles Long (23 pages), "Photographing the
Dramatic Sequences for 'The Towering Inferno'" by Bob Fisher (26 pages),
"'Action Unit' Lives Up To Its Name While Shooting 'The Towering
Inferno'" by David Hammond (34 pages).
- Galleries - Shot Compositions, Publicity, Behind-the-Scenes,
Conceptual Sketches, Costumes
- Storyboard Comparisons - Fallen Stairwell, Helicopter Crash,
Elevator Shaft, Scenic Elevator, Buoy Chair, Water Tank Explosion.