Towering Inferno, The (1974)

Towering Inferno, The (1974)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“For what it’s worth, architect, this is one building I figured would never burn.”

A fire chief (Steve McQueen) collaborates with the architect (Paul Newman) of a burning high-rise to help save the hundreds of people inside.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Disaster Flicks
  • Ensemble Cast
  • Faye Dunaway Films
  • Fred Astaire Films
  • Jennifer Jones Films
  • Paul Newman Films
  • Richard Chamberlain Films
  • Steve McQueen Films
  • William Holden Films

It’s not clear to me why Peary left out this blockbuster disaster flick — which deservedly won Oscars for both best cinematography and best editing — from his GFTFF, given that it remains one of the best of this distinctive (albeit overly and badly populated) genre. Despite its nearly three-hour running time, The Towering Inferno — unlike oh-so-many of its would-be imitators — never lags, providing thrill after thrill, and keeping us consistently engaged in the fates of its cast members from the opening scenes. Newman and McQueen are both excellent (and appropriately stalwart) in critical leading roles:

and several other Big Names (Fred Astaire, Jennifer Jones, William Holden):

are given worthy supporting roles. Meanwhile, the film’s very premise — a wealthy playboy (Richard Chamberlain, giving a truly hiss-worthy performance):

cuts costs by ordering inferior materials, which ultimately compromise the structure’s integrity — is gripping through-and-through, given how feasible this type of high-level corruption could easily be. Holden’s role — as Chamberlain’s father-in-law, and the building’s financier — is particularly interesting to watch, as he comes to acknowledge his own implicit participation in the eventual manslaughter, and is crushingly humbled.

Be forewarned, however, that TTI (as it’s affectionately referred to by its cult fans) really isn’t for the faint of heart. Nice people die throughout this movie — several times, badly, of horrible deaths. Certain images eerily evoke 9/11; the comparison is undeniable. Indeed, if you possess even a shred of fear about dying in a fire one day, stay far, far away from this film, as it presents this possibility in all its visceral horror. Actually, I’m seriously tempted to label TTI a “horror flick”, given the sheer potency of its death scenes, and the way in which Fire is posited as an outrageously powerful Monster, capable of causing unspeakable harm to those in its wake. Be sure to read TCM’s article for plenty of interesting background information about the film’s production (and infamously sticky inter-cast relations) — or go straight to the source and check out this impressive website (19 years old! beware of some dead links…) dedicated exclusively to the film.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Truly impressive special effects

  • Stirling Silliphant’s surprisingly smart screenplay

Must See?
Yes, for its historical relevance as one of the best of the early big-budget, big-cast, big-money-making disaster flicks.


  • Cult Movie
  • Historically Relevant
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


One thought on “Towering Inferno, The (1974)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Solid, enjoyable disaster epic which has the usual quota of silliness with an all-star cast. Pretty spectacular when seen on a large screen.

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