Posts Tagged ‘steve mcqueen’

A couple of years after making the hugely successful The Poseidon Adventure, producer Irwin Allen made The Towering Inferno, another disaster movie with a top-notch cast (Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Fred Astaire – in an Oscar nominated turn – Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughn, Richard Chamberlain, Faye Dunaway, Jennifer Jones; it’s practically a who’s who of Hollywood at the time.) Newman and McQueen share top billing (at McQueen’s insistence) as architect Doug Roberts and firefighter Chief Mike O’Halloran.  William Holden as James Duncan, is the head of the company who built the tower, and it turns out that his son-in-law Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) has cut corners and compromised safety in order to save money.  Astaire puts in a touching performance as con artist Harlee Claiborne, who falls for his intended con victim Lisolette (Jennifer Jones).

As the name of the film indicates, these characters and others besides all find themselves trapped at the top of a skyscraper designed by Roberts, when a fire breaks out and threatens to engulf them all.  The action scenes are genuinely edge-of-the-seat stuff, and there are some truly shocking moments, and lots of tension throughout.  Despite the impressive roll call of names on the cast list, the true star of the show, as Newman himself acknowledged, is the fire itself.

It isn’t a perfect film by any means – in fact some of the dialogue is downright hammy, and feels false.  I don’t feel that the cast are at fault for this (after all, you only have to look at their other films to know just how good most of these actors are), but it’s fair to say that there isn’t much character development.  For me, McQueen is the stand-out cast member, with the best performance of the lot (and I say this as a big fan of Newman, Holden and Astaire).  But despite its flaws, there is just SO much to enjoy about this film – it’s not often that a film with a running time of almost three hours, keeps me engaged from start to finish, but this one certainly did.  It might not be the best film of any of the cast members, but on a pure entertainment level, it’s a winner, and I would definitely recommend it.

(Incidentally, there is a lot of interesting trivia about this film.  McQueen was originally pegged for the role of Doug Roberts, but he lobbied to get the part of the heroic O’Halloran – not that Roberts isn’t also a hero.  He also insisted that he get equal billing with Newman, which is why in the opening titles, his name appears on the lower left hand side of the screen, while Newman’s appears on the top right.  That way, if you read from top to bottom, Newman comes first, and if you read from left to right, McQueen comes first.  He also insisted that he be given extra lines, in order that he and Newman – with whom he always had a professional rivalry – had the same amount of dialogue!  Nonetheless, he took Newman’s son Scott, who has a small role as a nervous firefighter, under his wing during the filming.)

Year of release: 1974

Director: John Guillerman

Producers: Irwin Allen, Sidney Marshall

Writers: Richard Martin Stern (novel ‘The Tower’), Thomas N. Scortia (novel ‘The Glass Inferno’), Frank M. Robinson (novel ‘The Glass Inferno’), Stirling Silliphant

Main cast: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Faye Dunaway, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, Robert Vaughn

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Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway steam up the screen in this drama/thriller.  McQueen is the eponymous anti-hero, an incredibly rich, charismatic man, who organises a bank heist, not for the money, but just for the kicks.  Dunaway is Vicki Anderson, an insurance investigator, who has about as many morals as Thomas Crown – that is to say, very few.  Although they both know that she is trying to expose him as the man behind the heist, they are very attracted to each other, and start a relationship…but with one of them trying to catch out the other, just how far can such a relationship go?

I found this film flawed, but nonetheless enjoyable.  To get the major gripe out of the way first, there is excessive use of a split-screen in this film, and I found it annoying after a while.  I could see the need for it in some instances – for example where it was showing what five separate characters were doing at the same time, but there were times when it was completely unnecessary.  (For example, in one scene, Vicki is watching Thomas play Polo, and the screen divides up into multiple little boxes, all showing the same picture.  To compound the problem, occasionally one of the boxes would shrink and take up a corner of the screen while the rest of it was black.  In 1968, this may have been innovative, but in 2013, it was just annoying! (For this viewer anyway).

As for the story itself, it was wildly implausible, but a lot of fun for all that.  The soundtrack does date the film somewhat, but doesn’t diminish the enjoyment.  Steve McQueen just oozes charisma, in a role that was something of a departure for him. No matter – he was excellent, being one of those actors who you just can’t take your eyes off when he’s on screen.  Faye Dunaway too, looked stunning, and was fine as Vicki Anderson.  They definitely made a beautiful couple!  The most famous scene in this film is probably the chess sequence, where the sexual tension between Thomas and Vicki is almost palpable.  Although by today’s standards its fairly tame, I can imagine the reaction it caused when the film came out!

The ending was something of a surprise as well, and rounded it off satisfactorily.  I would recommend this film to fans of 60s movies, and/or fans of either McQueen or Dunaway.

Year of release: 1968

Director: Norman Jewison

Producers: Norman Jewison, Hal Ashby, Walter Mirisch

Writer: Alan R. Trustman

Main cast: Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Paul Burke, Jack Weston


Click here for my review of the 1999 film.


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