The Towering Inferno (1974)
The "Master of Disaster" Irwin Allen's follow-up to his hugely successful The Poseidon Adventure is larger, longer and more meticulous than its predecessor, to the point of being counterproductive. The all-star cast is headlined by jointly top-billed Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, and I can understand why they were getting hung up in the billing, because they don't have many challenges when it comes to the acting. They are basically playing second-fiddle to the real star of this film: the fire. And what a fire it is! Not only is it out of control, but it also spreads in accordance with the screenplay, which incidentally is a quite clever patchwork of two different novels about highrise fires: "The Tower" by Richard Martin Stern and "The Glass Inferno" by Thomas Scortia and Frank Robinson. The special effects are impressive, especially the interiors, and Irwin Allen's direction of the action-sequences is like watching a master at work. The miniature exterior shots leave a little more to be desired, but still this is 40-year-old workmanship that holds its own quite well against modern CGI.
So what's missing? The film has got most things going for it: it's stylish, well-scaled, suspenseful and cares about its thematics. It is on the human side The Towering Inferno isn't quite up to the task. The characters aren't real people as much as they're either cardboard figures or plot puppets, often used for a vapid moralizing effect, such as the characters of Robert Wagner or Richard Chamberlain (everyone knows that people who have sex must die first). The interpersonal parts of the film are either so cute and small that they're borderline ridiculous (O. J. Simpson saves a cat!) or they're lacking in narrative foundation, populated by people we don't really know. Of course, as with almost all disaster films, there are also numerous factual flaws, but I guess that without them, there'd be not much fun left. And all in all, The Towering Inferno is fun, if only a little short of enthralling.