The Towering Inferno

The Towering Inferno is a 1974 American drama disaster film produced by Irwin Allen[4] featuring an ensemble cast led by Paul Newman[5][6][7] and Steve McQueen.[8] Directed by John Guillermin,[4] the film is a co-production between 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., the first to be a joint venture by two major Hollywood studios. It was adapted by Stirling Silliphant[4] from a pair of novels, The Tower by Richard Martin Stern[9][10][11][12][13] and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson.[10][11][12][13][14]

The Towering Inferno
Theatrical release poster by John Berkey[1]
Directed byJohn Guillermin
Produced byIrwin Allen
Screenplay byStirling Silliphant
Based onThe Tower
by Richard Martin Stern
The Glass Inferno
by Thomas N. Scortia
Frank M. Robinson
Music byJohn Williams
Edited byCarl Kress
Harold F. Kress
20th Century Fox
Warner Bros.
Irwin Allen Productions
Distributed by20th Century Fox
(United States)
Warner Bros.
Release date
  • December 14, 1974 (1974-12-14)
Running time
165 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$14 million[2]
Box office$139.7 million[2][3]

The film earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture and was the highest-grossing film released in 1974. The picture was nominated for eight Oscars in all, winning three. In addition to McQueen and Newman, the cast includes William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, O. J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner, Susan Flannery, Gregory Sierra, Dabney Coleman and, in her final role, Jennifer Jones.[4][10]


Architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) returns to San Francisco for the dedication of the Glass Tower, which he designed for developer James Duncan (William Holden). The Tower, 1,688 feet (515 m) tall and 138 stories, is the world's tallest building. During pre-dedication testing, an electrical short starts an undetected fire on the 81st floor. Roberts suspects that Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) the electrical subcontractor and Duncan's son-in-law, cut corners. Roberts confronts Simmons, who feigns innocence.

During the dedication ceremony, chief of Public Relations Dan Bigelow (Robert Wagner) turns on all the tower's lights, but Roberts orders them shut off to reduce the load on the electrical system. Smoke is seen on the 81st floor, and the San Francisco Fire Department is summoned. Roberts and engineer Will Giddings (Norman Burton) go to the 81st floor, where Giddings is fatally burned pushing a guard away from the fire. Roberts reports the fire to Duncan, who is courting Senator Gary Parker (Robert Vaughn) for an urban renewal contract and refuses to order an evacuation.

SFFD Chief Michael O'Halloran (Steve McQueen) arrives and forces Duncan to evacuate the guests from the Promenade Room on the 135th floor. Simmons admits to Duncan that he cut corners, doing so to bring the project back under budget, and suggests other subcontractors did likewise. Lisolette Mueller (Jennifer Jones) a guest being wooed by con man Harlee Claiborne (Fred Astaire) rushes to the 87th floor to check on a deaf mother and her two children. Security Chief Jernigan (OJ Simpson) rescues the mother, but as the rest makes their way down, a ruptured gas line explodes, dangerously mangling the stairwell from the 86th floor down. The explosion takes Roberts with it but he safely reaches a ledge on the 83rd Floor. After some tense minutes they all make it down, and take a service elevator up to the 134th floor, just below the Promenade Room. They await the firemen who blow up the hardened cement blocking access into the Promenade Room. Bigelow and his mistress Lorrie (Susan Flannery) are killed when fire traps them in the Duncan Enterprises offices on the 65th floor.

Fire overtakes the express elevators, killing a group whose elevator stops on the engulfed 81st floor. Though the scenic elevator is still working, the stairways from the Promenade Room are blocked – one by fire, the other by mishandled cement. Just as the firemen begin to bring the fire under control, the electrical system fails, deactivating the passenger elevators; O’Hallorhan must rappel down the elevator shaft to safety.

An attempt at a helicopter rescue fails when panicky party-goers rush the helipad, causing the helicopter to veer off, crash, and set the roof ablaze. Naval rescue teams attach a breeches buoy between the Promenade Room and the roof of the adjacent 102 storey Peerless Building, and rescue a number of guests, including Patty Simmons (Susan Blakely) Duncan's daughter. Roberts rigs a gravity brake on the scenic elevator, allowing one trip down for twelve people, including Roberts fiancee Susan Franklin (Faye Dunaway) Lisolette and the children. An explosion near the 110th floor throws Lisolette from the elevator to her death and leaves the elevator hanging by a single cable, but O’Hallorhan rescues the elevator with a Navy helicopter.

As fire reaches the Promenade Room, a group of men led by Simmons attempts to commandeer the breeches buoy, which is subsequently destroyed in an explosion, killing Simmons, Senator Parker, and several other men. In a last-ditch strategy, O'Halloran and Roberts blow up water tanks atop the Tower with plastic explosives. Most of the party-goers survive as water rushes through the ruined building, extinguishing the flames.

Jernigan gives Claiborne, who is heartbroken at Lisolette's death, her cat. Duncan, consoling his grieving daughter, promises that such a tragic debacle will never happen again. Roberts accepts O’Hallorhan's offer of guidance on how to build a fire-safe skyscraper. O’Hallorhan drives away, exhausted.



The Books

Warner Brothers outbid Fox to obtain the rights to Stern's The Tower for $400,000. Fox, in turn, spent $300,000[15] to obtain the rights to Scortia's The Glass Inferno. Irwin Allen realized that two films about a tall building on fire would cannibalize each other (as actually happened a couple decades later in the case of the two films about active volcanoes, released nearly simultaneously, Volcano (released by Fox) and Dante's Peak (released by Universal)[16]), convinced executives at both studios to join forces to make a single film on the subject. The studios issued a joint press release announcing the single film collaboration in October, 1973.[17]

The total cost for the film was US$14,300,000. The two studios agreed to split the box office revenues, Fox getting all U.S. receipts while Warner Brothers getting all foreign revenues.[18]


Several actors who appeared in small roles, including John Crawford, Erik Nelson, Elizabeth Rogers, Ernie Orsatti, and Sheila Matthews, had previously appeared in The Poseidon Adventure, which Irwin Allen also produced. (Allen and Matthews were husband and wife.) Paul Newman's son Scott played the acrophobic fireman afraid to rappel down the elevator shaft.

McQueen and Newman

McQueen, Newman, and William Holden all wanted top billing. Holden was refused, his long-term standing as a box office draw having been eclipsed by both McQueen and Newman. To provide dual top billing, the credits were arranged diagonally, with McQueen lower left and Newman upper right. Thus, each appeared to have "first" billing depending on whether the credit was read left-to-right or top-to-bottom.[19] This was the first time this "staggered but equal" billing was used in a movie although it had been considered earlier for the same two actors regarding Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid until McQueen turned the Sundance Kid role down. McQueen is mentioned first in the film's trailers. In the cast list rolling from top to bottom at the film's end, however, McQueen and Newman's names were arranged diagonally as at the beginning; as a consequence, Newman's name is fully visible first there.

Fred Astaire

Although famed for his dancing and singing in musical movies, Fred Astaire received his only Oscar nomination for this film.[20] He also won both a BAFTA Award and Golden Globe Award for his performance.[21]


The score was composed and conducted by John Williams, orchestrated by Herbert W. Spencer and Al Woodbury, and recorded at the 20th Century Fox scoring stage on October 31 and November 4, 7 and 11, 1974. The original recording engineer was Ted Keep.

Source music in portions of the film includes instrumental versions of "Again" by Lionel Newman and Dorcas Cochran, "You Make Me Feel So Young" by Josef Myrow and Mack Gordon, and "The More I See You" by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon.[22]

A snippet of a cue from Williams’ score to Cinderella Liberty titled 'Maggie Shoots Pool' is heard in a scene when William Holden's character converses on the phone with Paul Newman's character. It is not the recording on the soundtrack album but a newer arrangement recorded for The Towering Inferno. An extended version is heard, ostensibly as source music in a deleted theatrical scene sometimes shown as part of a longer scene from the TV broadcast version.

One of the most sought-after unreleased music cues from the film is the one where Williams provides low-key lounge music during a party prior to the announcement of a fire. O’Hallorhan orders Duncan to evacuate the party; the music becomes louder as Lisolette and Harlee are seen dancing and Duncan lectures son-in-law Roger. Titled "The Promenade Room" on the conductor's cue sheet, the track features a ragged ending as Duncan asks the house band to stop playing. Because of this, Film Score Monthly did not add this cue to the expanded soundtrack album.

The Academy Award-winning song "We May Never Love Like This Again" was composed by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn and performed by Maureen McGovern, who appears in a cameo as a lounge singer and on the score's soundtrack album, which features the film recording plus the commercially released single version. Additionally, the theme tune is interpolated into the film's underscore by Williams. The song's writers collaborated on "The Morning After" from The Poseidon Adventure, an Oscar-winning song which was also recorded by McGovern, although hers was not the vocal used in that film.

The first release of portions of the score from The Towering Inferno was on Warner Bros. Records early in 1975 (Catalog No. BS-2840)

  1. "Main Title" (5:00)
  2. "An Architect's Dream" (3:28)
  3. "Lisolette And Harlee" (2:34)
  4. "Something For Susan" (2:42)
  5. "Trapped Lovers" (4:28)
  6. "We May Never Love Like This Again" – Kasha/Hirschhorn, performed by Maureen McGovern (2:11)
  7. "Susan And Doug" (2:30)
  8. "The Helicopter Explosion" (2:50)
  9. "Planting The Charges – And Finale" (10:17)

A near-complete release came on the Film Score Monthly label (FSM) on April 1, 2001 and was produced by Lukas Kendall and Nick Redman. FSM's was an almost completely expanded version remixed from album masters at Warner Bros. archives and the multi-track 35mm magnetic film stems at 20th Century Fox. Placed into chronological order and restoring action cues, it became one of the company's biggest sellers; only 4000 copies were pressed and it is now out of print.

Reports that this soundtrack and that of the film Earthquake (also composed by Williams) borrowed cues from each other are inaccurate. The version of "Main Title" on the FSM disc is the film version. It differs from the original soundtrack album version. There is a different balance of instruments in two spots, and in particular the snare drum is more prominent than the album version which also features additional cymbal work. Although the album was not a re-recording, the original LP tracks were recorded during the same sessions and several cues were combined. The film version sound was reportedly better than the quarter-inch WB two-track album master. Although some minor incidental cues were lost, some sonically 'damaged' cues – so called due to a deterioration of the surviving audio elements – are placed at the end of the disc's program time following the track "An Architect's Dream" which is used over the end credits sequence.[23]

  1. "Main Title" (5:01)
  2. "Something For Susan" (2:42)
  3. "Lisolette and Harlee" (2:35)
  4. "The Flame Ignites" (1:01)
  5. "More For Susan" (1:55)
  6. "Harlee Dressing" (1:37)
  7. "Let There Be Light" (:37)
  8. "Alone At Last" (:51)
  9. "We May Never Love Like This Again (Film Version)" – Maureen McGovern (2:04)
  10. "The First Victims" (3:24)
  11. "Not A Cigarette" (1:18)
  12. "Trapped Lovers" (4:44)
  13. "Doug's Fall/Piggy Back Ride" (2:18)
  14. "Lisolette's Descent" (3:07)
  15. "Down The Pipes/The Door Opens" (2:59)
  16. "Couples" (3:38)
  17. "Short Goodbyes" (2:26)
  18. "Helicopter Rescue" (3:07)
  19. "Passing The Word" (1:12)
  20. "Planting The Charges" (9:04)
  21. "Finale" (3:57)
  22. "An Architect's Dream" (3:28)
  23. "We May Never Love Like This Again (Album Version)" – Maureen McGovern (2:13)
  24. "The Morning After (Instrumental)" (2:07)
  25. "Susan And Doug (Album Track)" (2:33)
  26. "Departmental Pride and The Cat (Damaged)" (2:34)
  27. "Helicopter Explosion (Damaged)" (2:34)
  28. "Waking Up (Damaged)" (2:39)


The Towering Inferno was released in theatres on December 14, 1974.

Home media

The film was initially released on DVD by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment on April 15, 2003, with a special edition released on May 9, 2006.[24]


Critical reaction

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four stars and praised it as "the best of the mid-1970s wave of disaster films".[25] Variety praised the film as "one of the greatest disaster pictures made, a personal and professional triumph for producer Irwin Allen. The $14 million cost has yielded a truly magnificent production which complements but does not at all overwhelm a thoughtful personal drama."[26] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film is "overwrought and silly in its personal drama, but the visual spectacle is first rate. You may not come out of the theater with any important ideas about American architecture or enterprise, but you will have had a vivid, completely safe nightmare."[27] Pauline Kael, writing for The New Yorker, panned the writing and characters as retreads from The Poseidon Adventure, and further wrote "What was left out this time was the hokey fun. When a picture has any kind of entertainment in it, viewers don't much care about credibility, but when it isn't entertaining we do. And when a turkey bores us and insults our intelligence for close to three hours, it shouldn't preen itself on its own morality."[28] Gene Siskel of The Chicago Tribune gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four, calling it "a stunt and not a story. It's a technical achievement more concerned with special effects than with people. That's why our attitude toward the film's cardboard characters is: let 'em burn."[29]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 70% based on 30 reviews with an average rating of 6.57/10.[30]

Box office

The film was one of the biggest grossing films of 1975 with domestic rentals of $48,838,000.[31] In January 1976, it was claimed that the film had attained the highest foreign film rental for any film in its initial release with $43 million.[3] When combined with the rentals from the United States and Canada, the worldwide rental is $91,838,000.

The film grossed $116 million,[32] and when combined with the foreign film rentals, the worldwide gross is in the region of $200 million.

Awards and nominations

Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Fred Astaire Nominated [33][34][33]
Best Art Direction William J. Creber Nominated [33][34][33]
Ward Preston Nominated [33][34][33]
Raphaël Bretton Nominated [33][34][33]
Best Original Song ("We May Never Love Like This Again") Al Kasha Won [33][34][33]
Joel Hirschhorn Won [33][34][33]
Best Original Score John Williams Nominated [33][34][33]
Best Film Editing Carl Kress Won [33][34][33]
Harold F. Kress Won [33][34][33]
Best Sound Theodore Soderberg Nominated [33][34][33]
Herman Lewis Nominated [33][34][33]
Best Cinematography Fred J. Koenekamp & Joseph Biroc Won [33][34][33]
Best Picture Irwin Allen Nominated [33][34][33]
ACE Eddie Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic Carl Kress Nominated [35]
Harold F. Kress Nominated [12][35]
BAFTA Best Music John Williams Won [36]
Best Production Design William J. Creber Nominated [37]
Ward Preston Nominated [37]
Raphaël Bretton Nominated [37]
Best Cinematography Fred J. Koenekamp Nominated [38]
Best Supporting Actor Fred Astaire Won [39]
Golden Globe Award Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Won [40]
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Jennifer Jones Nominated [40]
New Star of the Year – Actress Susan Flannery Won [40]
Best Screenplay Stirling Silliphant Nominated [40]
Best Original Song ("We May Never Love Like This Again") Al Kasha Nominated [40]
Joel Hirschhorn Nominated [40]

See also


  1. "The Towering Inferno Movie Poster (#1 of 3)".
  2. "The Towering Inferno". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
  3. Advertisement in The Hollywood Reporter. January 27, 1976
  4. "The Towering Inferno". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  5. Schleier 2009, p. 273.
  6. Mell 2005, p. 244.
  7. Itzkoff 2014, p. 82.
  8. Zimmerman, Dwight (2015). Steve McQueen: Full-Throttle Cool. Osceola, Wisconsin: Motorbooks International Publishers & Wholesalers. ISBN 978-0760347454.
  9. Stern, Richard Martin (1973). The Tower. Philadelphia: David McKay Publications. ISBN 978-0679503637.
  10. Green 2011, p. 190.
  11. Pollock 2013, p. 199.
  12. Santas et al. 2014, p. 522.
  13. Seger 1992, p. 88.
  14. Scortia, Thomas N.; Robinson, Frank M. (1974). The Glass Inferno (1st ed.). New York City: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0385051477.
  15. The $300,000 figure for Glass Inferno is disputed by (retrieved May 29, 2017) which quotes a figure of $410,000 from a press release.
  16. The Towering Inferno, retrieved March 23, 2019
  17. Collins, Andrew (January 1, 2000). "The Towering Inferno". Empire. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  18. "production".
  19. " - Posters, Art Prints, Framed Art, and Wall Art Collection".
  20. Higgins, Bill (July 12, 2018). "Hollywood Flashback: The Biggest Stars Battled a 'Towering Inferno' in 1974". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  21. Levinson, Peter (2015). Puttin' On the Ritz: Fred Astaire and the Fine Art of Panache, A Biography. St. Martin's Press. pp. 371–372. ISBN 9781250091499.
  22. Eldridge & Williams 2001, p. 13.
  23. Additional notes by Geoff Brown – Melbourne, Australia.
  24. The Towering Inferno. 20th Century Fox. New York City: 21st Century Fox. ASIN 6305280762.CS1 maint: ASIN uses ISBN (link)
  25. Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1974). "The Towering Inferno". Chicago: Ebert Digit LLC. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  26. Variety Staff (December 18, 1974). "Review: 'The Towering Inferno'". Variety. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  27. Canby, Vincent (December 20, 1974). "'The Towering Inferno' First‐Rate Visual Spectacle". The New York Times. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  28. Kael, Pauline (December 30, 1974). "A Magnetic Blur". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  29. Siskel, Gene (December 23, 1974). "'Towering Inferno': Campfire of the '70s?" Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 11.
  30. "The Towering Inferno (1974)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  31. "All-Time Top Film Rentals". Variety. October 7, 1999. Archived from the original on October 7, 1999.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  32. "The Towering Inferno". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  33. "The 47th Academy Awards (1975) Nominees and Winners". Academy Awards. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  34. "The Official Academy Awards® Database". Academy Awards. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  35. Franks 2004, p. 242.
  36. "John Williams' BAFTA wins and nominations". British Academy Film Awards. (BAFTA)Piccadilly: British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  37. "BAFTA 1976: British Academy Film Awards (Movies from 1975)". FilmAffinity. Madrid. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  38. Derry 2009, p. 378.
  39. Levinson 2009, pp. 371–372.
  40. "Golden Globe Winners for the year 1974 held in 1975". Golden Globe Award. United States: Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). Retrieved November 24, 2016.
  41. "DeepSoul: The Trammps - "Disco Inferno"". Archived from the original on March 27, 2012. Retrieved June 3, 2012.


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