The Towering Inferno (1974)

Humans on planet Earth originate from a variety of countries and cultures. Our choices, celebrations, and customs may vary dependent on our backgrounds. Individuals agglomerate in many locations – at parties, on trains, or in restaurants to name a few. Our separate, sometimes isolated lives may be quite evident even in circumstances whereby conversation could be perpetuated. However, we all experience a broad facet of emotions associated with universal experiences of joy ranging to fear. The sweeping 1974 disaster epic “The Towering Inferno” directed by John Guillermin showcases collective mayhem with the best and worst of humanity materializing in the midst of devastation.

Jim Duncan (William Holden) is the principal instigator of “The Glass Tower”, a 138-story building beaming into the San Francisco skyline. It has been designed by architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) with electrical engineering provided by Duncan’s self-centred son-in-law, Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain). It seems as if Simmons used cheaper wiring to lower building costs, blaming Duncan for that idea. On the same night as the grand opening gala for this extravagant tower, a small fire in a storage room of the 81st floor balloons with Murphy’s Law ever present. Β Fire chief Michael O’Halloran (Steve McQueen) effectively leads and collaborates with a multitude of fellow firefighters and civilians to try to mitigate this blazing “towering inferno” in the face of numerous challenges.


Many elements of this film encourage its intrigue. The stunts and sheer grandiosity of the tale are quite impressive feats to embark upon in the film’s creation. It has an extremely strong ensemble cast with Jennifer Jones, Faye Dunaway, and Fred Astaire as some of the supporting players. I feel that each character introduced in the film highlights numerous human qualities which encompasses the very core of being human. For example, Harlee Claiborne (Fred Astaire) is a swindler who decides that true passion and care must eclipse exploitation. Lisolette Mueller’s (Jennifer Jones) timid nature is sidelined at the thought of treasured neighbours lost. Lastly, Jim Duncan experienced an ego battle swimming through his guilty conscience at the thought of place lives in peril due to budget cuts. A great deal of effort was required for him to succumb to reluctant leadership in the face of a personal and professional nightmare. Ultimately, each character, especially Holden’s in this supporting yet imperative role, recognizes the importance of appreciating human life and emotion due to our interconnectedness.


With prestige and leadership comes great responsibility. This truth is encapsulated in the film with some definitively rising and others crashing with this calling. Emergencies demand experienced guidance and authority, but initiatives can only be achieved with strong teamwork. Each person has a vital role to play in accomplishing the most desirable outcome for all involved. Human lives are at stake when emergency responders, especially firefighters, leap to action. Society owes a great debt to their skill, knowledge, bravery, and dedication to an occupation with so many emotions and ultimately lives swinging in the balance.


I don’t own any of the pictures in this post! As well, this post is a part of the 2nd William Holden Blogathon hosted by Virginie atΒ The Wonderful World of Cinema. Please check out other posts dedicated to this most excellent actor over the weekend!



24 thoughts on “The Towering Inferno (1974)

  1. My favourite disaster film. Holden is a supporting player in this, but he makes you notice him when he’s on screen. On the Blu-ray there is a quite moving deleted scene between Jim(Holden)and his daughter, where she says she had a happy childhood and she never told him that(it would have been included in the sequence when they are trying to get out of the ballroom.) Holden makes you feel his characters guilt and pain(even though he’s not to blame for the wiring faults.) Excellent film. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: A Golden Weekend for the 2nd Golden Boy Blogathon! | The Wonderful World of Cinema

  3. What a well-written and fascinating review of The Towering Inferno! I love all your thoughts about the different characters! I have to say I was really impatient to read your article since I love this film and wrote about it very recently for a school term paper. Of course, it’s not a perfect film, but it certainly is a masterpiece of disaster movies and a great entertainment.
    If you are curious to read my own review, her it is. πŸ™‚
    By the way, I’ve included a link to a short documentary about the film in my review that I highly recommend you to see if you haven’t!
    Thanks so much for joining this blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve always wanted to see this movie in full. I got a chance to watch part of it when it first came to TV (back when there were only 3 networks and one of the big three broadcast it on one of those Saturday Night at the Movies extravaganzas…), but me and my sister fell asleep before it was over. I’ll be looking to see if my library has it, now.

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  5. I am so glad to see a review forbthisfor incredible movie, and such a good one as well 😊 This is one of those films that is simply put a classic it isn’t dated by any means, and still one of the finest disaster movies ever made. Together with The Poseidon Adventure, they are simply put utterly amazing. The movie has heart, great characters and plenty of action, but does not forget the human drama element at all. I could go on talking about this one the whole day πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh thank you! I love to talk about overarching themes in movies and how they can be relatable to most if not all moviegoers. I also have a background in and a love for public health, so that is probably where the social justice element in my writing comes in πŸ™‚


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