Sunday, June 18, 2006

"Now, you know we don't have a sure way to fight a fire over the seventh floor, but you just keep building 'em higher and higher."

So as mentioned in my blog entry yesterday, I purchased the new 2 disc DVD version of The Towering Inferno. The DVD includes tones of extras, probably more than this movie deserves with commentaries by film historian F.X. Feeney and scene-specific commentaries by Mike Vezina (X Men 3) and Branko Racki (The Day After Tomorrow). As well as nine featurettes, 30 extended/deleted scenes. As well as smaller features too numerous to mention.

Sure the movie is cheesy, but it's not as bad as any other disaster movies from the 70s like Airport, The Poseiden Adventure or Earthquake. Why? Because, as I kept reminding J-Mac as I was convincing her to watch it last night, it freaking stars Steve McQueen and Paul Newman.

Top 5 Paul Newman Movies
1. The Hustler
2. Cool Hand Luke
3. The Sting
4. Hud
5. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

There is no way The Towering Inferno should have worked. Essentially, two different movie studios were rushing to film disaster films set inside buildings. One was to be based on The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. The two studios, instead of competing against each other pooled their resources and created one big epic film.

Watching this film with a more critical eye post 9/11, the film was clearly inspired by the making of the World Trade Center and watching the film get destroyed, people get trapped above and below the fire, watching people jump to their death as opposed to dying of smoke inhallation is sad and the connection to what happened to those poor people in the world trade centre is obvious.

What kills me about the film is that there are no less than 4 weasles in the movie and most of them do have an appropriate death. The best of the weasels is Richard Chamberlain. His performance is even more interesting now that we all know that the actor is gay. Throughout the movie who knows that his wife, the daughter of the building's owner, does not believe he is enough of a man. He uses shoddy wiring to help get the approval of his father-in-law and to receive kickbacks. His living room features a large gun on the wall and a tartan spread over the couch but the room still feels like someone who is trying to look masculine, not someone who actually is masculine. However, near the end of the movie, he finally tries to assert himself which eventually leads to his own death.

Robert Wagner and Robert Vaughn, two classic movie slimeballs, are equally weasally in this film. Both find an appropriate fate by the end of the film. William Holden, whose character is probably most implicit in the building's eventual fate does survive but probably the guilt in what happened to all those people is much worse for him than actually dying.

Of course the film's most bizarre casting is OJ Simpson as the building's head of security. In this post Bronco era, seeing Simpson on screen is now just plain icky. This is probably one of his first roles and his lack of skills is obvious. He has a scene where HE has to yell at Paul Newman and despite the fact that his character should be the more dominant one in the scene, Newman ends up communicating more by not saying anything.

I really love McQueen and Newman in this film. Though, their performances are so good, it is almost like they are in a different movie. McQueen was originally supposed to play Newman's character, the building's architect. While Ernest Borgnine, would handle the role of the fire chief. When the producers saw they could get Newman, they jumped at the chance. Though, at McQueen insistence, they had to have EXACTLY the same amount of lines during the film.

The combination had been worked on in the past, they almost did Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid together years earlier. But when McQueen dropped out, Robert Redford joined the cast and the rest is history.

The true hero of the Towering Inferno is probably the writer Stirling Silliphant. He is the one who melded the two books together taking 7 characters from each book as well as the climax from each of them the lifeline across to the other building and the blowing up of the water tanks to drown out the fire.



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