TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)

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THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)

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Another Irwin Allen production, The Towering Inferno is one of the all-time great 70s disaster epics that I was privileged to see in a theater…the now long gone Park Lane…as a kid. The flick follows the formula of an all-star cast of characters embroiled in their own personal melodrama until a disaster brings them together…or tears them apart. Here,  the setting is the world’s tallest skyscraper in San Franscico. While the building is enjoying it’s dedication ceremony with a massive party, the shortcuts taken by owner James Duncan (William Holden) and his jerk son-in-law Roger (Richard Chamberlain), catch up with them when an electrical fire breaks out on the 81st floor and quickly spreads. Now it’s up to angry architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) and Fire Chief Mike O’Halloran (Steve McQueen) to figure out a way to stop the blaze before it reaches the 300 guests at the penthouse floor party, who are now trapped.

Another movie that is well-written by Stirling Silliphant based on two books, The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. As with his Poseidon Adventure script, he keeps the melodrama to a minimum and maintains a claustrophobic setting inside the building for most of the film. While John Guillermin directs the film fairly by-the-numbers, the script affords him plenty of opportunity for suspenseful action, daring escapes and some nail-biting rescues. The fact that we also have some well-written characters and the dialog stays remotely grounded, makes for a more realistic and relatable drama. The fire scenes are really intense and well orchestrated, as are some of the sequences outside the building, such as one involving a teetering glass elevator. The action is solid and while the film is moderately paced, it is never dull. If the film has any main flaw, it’s that at 165 minutes it is about 30 minutes too long and thus there is some repetition in the action and subplots that really don’t further the story. For example…Robert Wagner’s entire character and scenes with his secretary (Susan Flannery) could have been removed without effecting the film and trimming it by a good 15 minutes. There is also some weak model work during the climax, but it’s brief and not enough to tarnish a first rate thriller. Back on the plus side, there is yet another effective score from master composer John Williams and Fred J. Koenekamp provides the vibrant cinematography.

There are a lot of characters in this flick With Newman, McQueen and Holden being the top three spots. Newman is a legendary performer and is solid here as the architect who finds out his specs were changed to cut costs and now it has caused a disaster. He dives right in saving lives and assisting McQueen’s fire chief and is a memorable hero. Same said for McQueen. His fire chief is tough, but remains cool under pressure and he is put through the ringer with this out of control blaze in the worst possible place. He and Paul Newman work well as a team and the flick smartly gives them numerous scenes together. Holden’s Duncan is interesting as he is not an outright villain, a role reserved for Chamberlain. He admits he made mistakes and shows remorse and sorrow over the death and destruction it has caused, so we don’t readily hate him like we do his son-in-law. Supporting them are Faye Dunaway, Robert Vaughn, Susan Blakely, Fred Astaire and the infamous O.J. Simpson as the head of security.

Definitely one of the best of this type of flick due to a toning down of the cheesy melodrama and some very intense action and suspense sequences. It maintains a large cast well and presents a very straightforward depiction of what a disaster like this might be like. If it has any flaws worth mentioning, it’s that it could have lost about a half hour and still been a solid action thriller. The leads are legendary performers who give it their all and the support is generally strong too. There are the usual disaster clichés, but that’s why we watch these flicks! Another 70s disaster movie classic!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 towering infernos.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972)

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THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Produced by prolific 70s disaster movie producer Irwin Allen, this is simply one of the best, if not the best of the 70s disaster flicks. Story finds an assortment of characters, like a rebellious preacher (Gene Hackman), a New York detective (Ernest Borgnine) and a kindly Jewish couple (Jack Albertson and Shelly Winters) traveling from NYC to Athens on the final voyage of the S.S. Poseidon. It’s New Years Eve, and while there is a lavish celebration in the ship’s grand ballroom, a massive underwater earthquake triggers a 90 foot tidal wave and sends it in the aging ship’s direction. The wave slams into the vessel, capsizing it and setting the remaining survivors on a journey upwards through the upside-down decks, towards the hull of the ship in hope of rescue.

Flick is well-written by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes from a book by Paul Gallico. What makes it a step above most others is that it is directed with passion and intensity by Ronald Neame, where most of these types of flicks are very by-the-numbers. The characters are well-rounded and appear very human and even our hero is flawed. The melodrama between them is kept to a minimum, as the action starts within the first half-hour and doesn’t stop till the end. Along the way we get some very thrilling action and escapes, as our group overcomes one challenge after another, all the while trying to keep their heads above water…literally. It makes for a very exciting and suspenseful two hours and the sets the survivors climb through are very impressive. It’s a maze of pipes and steel, either flooded or on fire and the benefit of this is that models and miniatures are kept to a bare minimum, making it far more realistic feeling than say, Earthquake. The cheese factor here is limited to the heavy 70s vibe and a few over-the-top performances like Stella Stevens’ ex-hooker turned policeman’s wife. There is also a heavier religious undertone, with it’s preacher hero and Israel bound Jewish couple, than is fashionable today, but I find that very charming and old-fashioned…as is the rest of this fun flick. There is a rousing score by John Williams and crisp cinematography by Harold E. Stine to accent a top-notch suspense thriller.

The cast here is not as obnoxiously star-studded, as some of these movies can be, containing more character actors. This gives it a more identifiable feel than with an all A-listers cast. Hackman really sells it as the preacher who walks to the beat of his own drum. He’s a bit more relatable than a more larger-than-life actor like Charlton Heston and more passionate in his portrayal. Borgnine gives us a Lt. Rogo with a fiery temper who battles Hackman’s preacher at every turn. The quality script and Borgnine being an absolute pro, makes the character more than a stereotypical antagonist. He’s angry, afraid and even though the two man battle for leadership, Rogo can be seen in a heroic light by the end credits. Albertson and Winters are very endearing as the old Jewish couple headed to Israel to meet their grandson. Winters can lay it on thick here and there, but is never out of control. We also have Red Buttons, Roddy McDowall, Carol Lynley and Pamela Sue Martin as accompanying survivors with Stella Stevens a bit overacting as Rogo’s wife and Leslie Nielsen, before Airplane turned him into a comic actor, as the ship’s ill-fated captain. A great cast.

This might be one of my all-time favorites of this era and genre. It’s well-written, intensely directed and has a wonderful cast of character actors to give some dimension to the struggling survivors. There is a lot of personal nostalgia, as it is another flick seen with the folks at the long gone Park Lane Theater, but is also just a really good flick that holds up to the test of time. It’s setting cleverly omits the need for SPFX that may be seen as cheesy in today’s digital world, instead settling for well-crafted sets and dramatic set pieces that still work. Add in some 70s nostalgia to an already solid adventure flick and you have a film that earns the title classic easily! Still as effective today as back in 1972!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2.

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