Monday, June 16, 2008

Monday Mayhem

In the words of Elvis Costello, welcome to the working week... That's right Internet, another weekend has passed us by, and we are back in the throws of e-mail, reports, budgets, phone calls, blah...blah...blah...

Do not fret my digital denizens, while some may see the work week ahead as a depressing pit of despair, others view it as an opportunity... An opportunity for what, you ask? Why, an opportunity to recant the tales of the weekend past in a humorously slanted manner of course!

My weekend was filled with cinema... Cinema ranging from grand, to down right unwatchable... So to kick off the week on the right note, we shall begin with the grand...

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present The Towering Inferno...



As I'm sure many of you are aware, the 70's was a decade of excess... Sexual promiscuity, rampant drug use, horrid clothing, untamed hair growing from damn near everywhere, the unabashed refrains of southern rock and Disco filling the radio stations from Maine to San Diego... I can only posit a theory, as I was blessed to only have to live through the last 18 months of the decade in question, but I really have to assume it was as close as possible to hell on earth... Especially since Andy Gibb was involved... However, from the outside looking in, all the turmoil of the 70's had a highly pleasing side effect. That of course being the big budget all-star-cast disaster picture...

Poor Andy, sold his soul to Satan for Shadow Dancing...



There were many, many of them in the decade, but only one in which we see a post-coital Robert Wagner wrap his head in a damp towel and run head first into an out of control conflagration where his stylishly appointed offices used to be... That'll learn ya for boffin' your secretary! Alas, I am getting ahead of myself...



WET TOWEL STOP FIRE...

The Towering Inferno, a shining example of the 70's disaster flick, begins innocuously enough, with a chopper flyover of beautiful San Francisco, CA. We know it is beautiful San Francisco, CA. because of the omnipresent Golden Gate Bridge looming in either the foreground or background of every segment of the opening flyover scene. That is until we are greeted with the sight of this film's biggest star, Duncan Tower, the world's tallest building!!

The aforementioned chopper lands on the roof of Duncan Tower, and out steps the film's SECOND biggest star, Paul Newman. Newman plays architect-on-the-go Doug Roberts, who we soon learn was the designer of this grand glass and steel structure that thrusts skyward, almost daring the gods to strike it down... Why the world's largest building would be built squarely on top of the world's largest fault line is beyond me, but no matter... Something far less earth-shaking (HAHA!!) will bring this hulking behemoth to it's knees... What you ask? We'll get to that later, but if you want a hint, remind yourself that the film is called The Towering INFERNO... There's not a whole lot of surprise goin' on here... We've all got a pretty good idea about the shit that's going to go down in Duncan Tower...

At this point you're probably thinking to yourself 'OK, we've introduced the setting, and the leading man, we're pretty well informed on where this one's going from the film's title... Cool, another hour and a half of so, and we should have this thing wrapped up.' That my friend, is where you're wrong... If the 70's taught us anything, it's that you cannot make a true disaster flick without making it almost 3 hours long, and The Towering Inferno is a TRUE disaster flick, so settle in for some long, drawn out story telling, and the introduction of far more characters than you really need to wrap your mind around. Actually, this would probably be a good point to go over the film's cast list, because it's a doozy...
  1. Paul Newman as Doug Roberts


  2. Steve McQueen as Chief O'Hallorhan of the SFFD


  3. William Holden as Jim Duncan, owner of Duncan Towers


  4. Faye Dunaway as Susan. Susan doesn't get a last name, but she does get nailed by Paul Newman


  5. Fred Astaire as Harlee Claiborne, a small time grifter looking for investors into his latest confidence scheme


  6. Susan Blakely as Patty Duncan, daughter of Jim Duncan and wife of stodgy prick Richard Chamberlain


  7. The Aforementioned Richard Chamberlain as Roger Simmons, the stodgy prick electrician who louses up the whole works, turning this tower into an INFERNO!!!


  8. Jennifer Jones as Lisolette, the object of Harlee's con, and later, affection


  9. O.J. Simpson as Jernigan, the head of security for Duncan Towers... This wasn't nearly as humorous in 1974 as it is now...


  10. Robert Vaughn as Senator Parker, a Senator, named Parker, who ends up in the building...


  11. Robert Wagner as Bigelow, one of Doug Roberts' business partners, and the above mentioned human torch...


  12. Susan Flannery as Lorrie, the secretary that's got more than stenography on her mind when Bob Wagner's in the office...

There's also the mayor and his wife, a couple of kids with a deaf mother, Lisolette's cat, assorted upper-crust party goers, a handful of bartenders and wait staff, about 4,397 fire fighters, an additional employee of Roberts' firm who gets his face burned off, Maureen McGovern since no 70's flick is complete without a misplaced theme song, and according to the IMDB page, Lady in Buoy played adeptly by disaster movie regular Elizabeth Rogers also of The Poseidon Adventure, and Flood!. What I'm getting at here is that this cast is not only star-studded, but EXCESSIVE... Throughout the course of the film we're expected to create a deep emotional tie to every one of these people, which explains the almost 3 hour run time, but for the most part the only thing I find myself caring about is seeing how the fire gets them...

Hey! Why weren't ANY of us in this cast?


Lucky for us, this movie was made in the 70's, and not the 90's, so anybody is fair game... When comparing this flick to disaster films of the 90's like Volcano, or Dante's Peak:The Good Version of Volcano, that is the biggest difference. If you're cast in a 70's disaster film, your job is simple, find an interesting way to die. By the 90's we became softer as a movie going public, and we wanted to see our favorite characters either survive, or die honorably, while saving the life of another... This brings us to the lead up of Bob Wagner's early exit from the film...

So it's the opening night of Duncan Towers, and while many well dressed dignitaries and fancy-pantses of San Francisco society are streaming in for the gala on the 135th floor, architect-by-day-fire-fighting-hero-by-night Doug Roberts is trying his best to convince the building's owner Jim Duncan and his stodgy prick son in law Roger Simmons that the building is NOT up to the standard in which he designed it. Bob Wagner also finds himself in the middle of this discussion, but doesn't think too much of it, because instead of trying to solve the problem, he'd rather head down to the 68th floor and give it to his secretary. Bob shuts off the phones, sends the rest of the steno pool home and starts makin' with the lovin'...

Meanwhile, a fire has broken out in a small utility closet on 81! What's worse is no one knows about it because the security system is malfunctioning... Soon enough we find out that's not the only system that isn't working, the fire sprinklers are also out... Needless to say the fire spreads, Doug's buddy who's been wandering the floors with him trying to isolate the dangers gets his face burned off, Doug calls the fire department, prompting Steve McQueen and everyone who's every worked on a fire in the history of California to show up and put out the blaze. The blaze spreads, further electrical problems create more blazes on other floors, Bob Wagner finishes his business on 68 and is ready to send his secretary on her merry way so he can attend the gala upstairs, but lo and behold! The whole damn joint is on fire!!

Whole joint, on fire...

Bob, being both a considerate lover and a man of action decides he will risk life and limb to save his beloved. He plans to run through the fire to the stairway so he can make his way to a lower floor and summon help. He does what anyone would do when they're about to run through a fire... He moistens a bath towel and wraps it around his head! THAT'LL keep the flames away! It is at this point that we are given a specific lesson in how 70's disaster films work. If you come up with a stupid plan, it's NOT GOING TO WORK, unless of course it's the stupid plan that brings the film to resolution, but more on that later.

Good old Bob takes 2 steps out of the office of carnal passion and into the flaming wreckage of the main lobby and is already thoroughly engulfed in flames... It's as if the fire didn't even recognize he had a wet towel on his head! Bob burns to a crisp long before summoning help, and his paramour, still standing pantless in the lovin' office is also shortly overtaken by flames. Not only did Bob's stupid plan not save his own life, but he didn't even die heroically saving the life of his love... To add insult to injury, when the fire fighters eventually make their way to 68 to battle the blaze, no tears are shed for these two, all that's left is a monogrammed watch that chief O'Hallorhan tosses aside as it doesn't belong to one of his men.

I WANT MY PANTS!!!

Cutting to the chase, lots of stuff catches fire, some people get burned, some people jump to their deaths, an old lady saves 2 kids and their deaf mom, OJ saves the old lady's cat, and everyone who isn't already dead finds their way up to 135 and the Promenade room where the gala is being held. The cast runs through a seemingly endless string of ideas on how to get people out of the tower and to safety including taking the elevator past 50 floors of fire (this, as you can imagine, does not work so well) trying a different elevator, that eventually ends up separated from the shaft and hanging precariously over the side of the building (this is how cat lady meets her doom, falling out of the elevator even though she saved the lives of two young children... Film makers in the 70's were bastards...), and shooting a line from the promenade room to the roof of another building so people can be moved across in a buoy one by one (this is where we meet buoy lady). Eventually all these plans fail either by sheer stupidity, or by human nature in the form of stodgy prick Roger Simmons who decides to cut past the line of partygoers to get into the buoy. Another group of partygoers revolts, including the otherwise useless Senator, and all of them end up falling to their deaths as the buoy line inevitably breaks...

Now is when the film makers decide the madness must stop, so they write in some previously unmentioned water tanks on the 138th floor, just above the promenade room, filled with millions of gallons of water, which we are told is more than enough to put out the fire... The only problem is, somebody's going to have to lay the explosives to blow the water tanks, thereby saving hundreds of lives! The only problem is, there's a good chance that person (or persons) won't make it out alive. I don't know about you, but if I'm trapped in a life or death situation in 1974, there's only two dudes I want saving the day, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen... Well shit howdy! They're BOTH in this movie!!

Newman and McQueen head up to 138 to set the charges while the partygoers all use what's left of the buoy rope to tie themselves off to fixtures as a flood's about to roll through. Irony, thy name is 70's disaster flick... All these folks scared of burning alive NOW have to worry about drowning, or being swept away to their deaths by a wall of water! OK, that pretty much rules... Newman and McQueen set the charges, set a timer for 5 minutes, and head back down to 135 to tie themselves off. Both make it in plenty of time, leading one to ask, 'why were these guys in any more danger than the other folks trapped on 135'? Soon we learn they weren't.

The charges go, and here comes the water. A bunch of folks who's survived the flames do not survive the rushing onslaught that now faces them, and they are swept out the broken out windows of the 135th floor. Call me a cynic, but from this height, I'm thinking they're not going to survive the fall... Past the mass carnage caused by the rush of water, the plan actually works! The water puts out the fire, and the people left alive make their way out of the tower... Poor Fred Astaire wanders around looking for the cat lady he'd fallen in love with on 135, only to be told she didn't survive. Luckily for him, OJ's got her cat...

Hey... Wanna cat?

It's fatalistic, it's ridiculous, it's overly long, it has a horrific song in the middle, and for all these reasons and more, The Towering Inferno is one of the most entertaining films you could hope for... Enjoy the flesh burning, corpse falling action today!!

4 comments:

ARBOGAST said...

I love this movie. And for the record, we never loved like that again.

OCKerouac said...

Good to hear I'm not the only one... So why do modern movies no longer get theme songs? I'm sure The Day After Tomorrow would have been vastly improved by an imprompteu Hootie and the Blowfish number just before the everybody had to outrun the cold...

Thx for visiting!

Your Brother said...

I'm a big fan of "The Towering Inferno". It is, IMO, the 2nd best 70s disaster epic ("The Poseidon Adventure" is still the gold standard).

Oh, and in your discussion of actors, you failed to mention that the actor who played the mayor in "The Towering Inferno" also played Mike Brady's boss Mr. Phillips on the original "Brady Bunch"!

Bethieslug said...

I'll have you know the Secretary throws herself from the window after RJ is engulfed in flames. She just couldn't face the fact she'd just screwed a moron.