Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Infernal Inferno

Viewing the film "The Towering Inferno" is sort of like being set on fire but without all the laughter. This 1974 epic was typical of the '70s "disaster movie" genre, where a cast of dozens of well-known celebrities are thrust into a story with overwrought plot-lines, and they all have to overcome some sort of major disaster. In the "Poseidon Adventure" Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine have to escape an ocean liner that has capsized. In "Earthquake", Charlton Heston and Victoria Principal have to survive (you guessed it) an earthquake. The "Airport" series involved famous casts on a plane in danger, and finally "The Swarm" involved a killer bee attack. I'm still waiting for a film about an earthquake that capsizes a boat that gets hit by an airplane that caught on fire after being attacked by bees. Fingers crossed! "Inferno" featured a tower built in San Francisco that was supposedly the world's tallest, and a big party in the top floor lounge for all the notables of San Francisco. William Holden is the rich industrialist who built it, Richard Chamberlain is his unscrupulous son-in-law who installed cheap wiring to save a buck, Paul Newman is the architect, Steve McQueen is the fire chief, and several other celebrities make cameos in this. Little do they know, cheap wiring causes fires, and a massive conflagration breaks out on the lower floors! Eek! Hilariously, when the rich industrialist hosting the top-floor party is told of the fire below, he remarks that this really isn't a big deal because it's so many stories below them. See, he's not aware that fire tends to rise. Surely the fire will burn itself out by the time the party is over! And that's not all--everyone, including the rescue workers, continuously take the elevator throughout the fire! Fire safety during the Nixon years just wasn't what it is now. Did I mention O.J. Simpson plays a heroic security guard who dies saving children from the fire? His lawyers could have shown that clip during his murder trial, there would have been not a dry eye in the jury chamber after that! Of course if you watch the scene carefully you see him slash and slash his way through the fire. Fortunately his ill-fitting gloves helped him save a child before his demise. Of course, at the very end of the film--after losing plenty of people and helicopters to the fire and to hilariously ill-conceived rescue attempts--the heroes decide to put the fire out by opening the big water tanks that are on the roof of the building. Er, wait, you mean they had big water tanks up there the whole time and they only wait until the fire has reached the top floor to use them? Did any of these people go to genius school? Because they could have learned a few lessons! Finally, a comment. As in all movies of this type, it's the corporate cost-cutters that are to blame for the disaster. Always putting profits over other people's lives--even if something as simple as using wiring that's up to code would not just prevent a major fire but something as likely as failing an inspection and getting a massive fine. Why do movie producers think that corporations are so cartoonishly evil that they defy the common sense that is better for the corporation in the long run? The reason is simple--the movies are made by people who deal with corporations that produce Hollywood films--the same people who won't bother with original scripts when there's a buck to be made on Transformers 3.

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