The Towering Inferno

Posted: August 21, 2011 by S. Trevor Swenson in Entertainment
Tags: , , , ,

Yay! The Towering Inferno is on!


Nothing better than a 1970’s disaster film. There were plenty of them and I have been blessed to enjoy them twice and with two separate perspectives. First I saw them as a young lad either in the theaters or on one of the three networks ‘movies of the week’. (There were only three networks back then youngsters NBC, ABC and CBS. No cable, no MTV,no “reality TV”, no Martha Stewart, no DVDs or videos. If you missed something at the movie theater it was at least two years before it made its way to network TV. One also had to get up and turn a knob on the TV set to get it to one of the three channels. If you were unlucky enough to be the youngest child sometimes you had to fiddle with a TV antenna while the rest of the family bellowed instructions at you. “Little to the left, no…no you just had it… now to the right…the right..the OTHER right…OK stay right there.” My grandfather would make me stand for hours at a time with one hand on the antenna and my other hand pointed in the direction of the TV station until my grandmother caught him and put the kibosh on that. Grandpa felt my work as antenna boy “built character”…but I digress) Now I can enjoy them as a bitter, middle aged man with the benefit of youthful pharmacological experimentation enhancing my appreciation for the arts.

Top o' the line, back in the day


Suffice to say when a movie came on TV that you had either seen in the movie theater and liked or had missed, you were psyched. As I said, the 70s had lots of disaster films, which makes sense, as the 70’s, as far as I can remember, were, essentially a disaster. Here are a couple links to support my statement. When I Googled “70’s Disaster Movies” there were literally too many to choose from.

The 70’s Disaster Film was a cash cow and something to keep Hollywood agents busy until cocaine became more popular in the 80’s. Every single one of them had lots of celebrities. I tried to see all of them, and would then spend the next day at school telling my friends in gory detail everything that happened. There were at least 3 or 4 “Airport” movies followed by the last two digits of the year in which they were made. Airport ’75, Airport ’77, Airport ’79… You get the picture. The premise was always the same…Plane crashes into mountain, into ocean, pilot is drugged and it was up to some washed up star to save the day. “Captain, we’ve just lost two engines, and the radio is out!!!” “Not to worry, I think I saw Ricardo Montalban back in first class…get him up here right away, he’ll know what to do.”

"Where da white women at?"       Oh . . . wait . . . sorry . . . wrong movie

"Where da white women at?" Oh . . . wait . . . sorry . . . wrong movie

The Towering Inferno had bad actors/celebrities in abundance. Richard Chamberlain, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Paul Newman, and best of all….OJ Simpson. Yes friends, “The Juice” was there in all his handsome, afro spouting glory. He was an athlete, super star and household name back then. (Later he would reinvent himself as husband of the year and civil rights activist.) People actually went to see movies because OJ Simpson was in them. I have a theory that he would still be a cinematic draw today. If he would only abandon his golfing and fiction writing and find the right agent. Reality TV has been looking for the lowest common denominator ever since one of the “ladies” competing for Flavor Flav’s love dropped a deuce on VH-1. OJ could do a “The Bachelor” type show with vapid blond bimbos vying for the chance to be the next Mrs. Simpson. Of course he would need a catch phrase as he dismisses a different girl every week. I’m thinking “You’re dead to me” might work. As Oscar Wilde said “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” People protesting a film is free press. I once suggested having an OJ Simpson film festival at a local art theater. The manager said he’d get back to me, but hasn’t done so yet. If he steals my idea…..

"Can you dig it? I knew that you could." Oh, uh, wrong movie again.


The Towering Inferno was about a one hundred and twenty-something story skyscraper that goes tits up in a blaze. The fire department is helpless as their ladders don’t go past the 15th floor, and the elevators are out. Worst of all, it was the 1970’s, and everyone was wearing polyester prints, so the potential for second and third degree fabric burns were running at an all-time high. the good news was that Steve McQueen was the fire chief, so he drove there very quickly, plus OJ was on the 80th floor and you just knew he was going to make it, and finally Robert Wagner was there because…well he looks great in a circa 1970’s style tux.

To rescue the people trapped on the upper floors, choppers were dispatched. The people who were attending a gala affair on the top floor were very brave and civilized shouting “Save the women!” and “Let the women go first!” Luckily, there were no radical 1970’s feminists in attendance. Of course there is the token rich sleaze ball that jeopardizes everyone’s life. In this cinematic gem he was played perfectly by Oscar Award winning drunkard; William Holden in a red tuxedo. Never trust a man in a red tuxedo.

As I sit and watch, more and more over the hill and past their prime stars keep popping up. Fred Astaire.. well surely he can’t die. Paul Newman played the architect who designed the soon to be toasty tower. Sadly, no one thinks to chuck him off the 90th floor to test the wind velocity while letting him know what they think of his design. The only disappointing thing about the film is that not one single person had the gumption to make the obvious, but distasteful joke of asking for a light.


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