It’s time to go to the movies again and last night I watched the Towering Inferno to remind me of life in San Francisco back in the 70’s. This is one of those movies that you have to watch to get a feel of what the city was like back in 1975 even though it has plenty of Hollywood sheen added to it.
I first have to give props to Hollywood in that a large amount of the movie was actually filmed in San Francisco. I remember when the film came out there was a big opening night screening with lots of the cast members in attendance here in San Francisco and not Hollywood. This movie came out at a time when disaster movies were all the rage until they started being spoofed by movies like Airplane! The set designs were über 70’s chic that reminded me of an old James Bond movie more than a place were people actually lived and worked. All the men wore suits and had voices like they smoked too much [which they did back then] and women wore, well I’m not sure what the style was called, but when you see it there is definitely a 70’s fashion sense that comes through. The good thing is that women did look kind of hot back in the 70’s until you realize that the younger women in their 20’s are now pushing 70 today. The men were dashing and a bit on the overly macho side. I had to think for a minute to realize that Fred Astaire would be 114 years old if he was still around today. The lifestyle was pure decadent 70’s in this new high rise building. So decadent that the main office had a secret bedroom off to the side which Robert Wagner and Susan Flannery make use of within the first 10 minutes of the movie.
The cast is a definite who’s who of 70’s actors and actresses. If you don’t know their names you certainly will know their faces. Steve McQueen and Paul Newman are the best known and this movies just shows why people would sometimes confuse the two. Faye Dunaway is absolutely gorgeous in this movie as Paul Newman’s high society girlfriend who is always dressed to the nines throughout the film. One of the things I noticed was how white the movie was, but that was back in the 70’s and that’s the way people watching TV and going to the movies liked it back then. You have two token cast members with O.J. Simpson playing the head of security and Gregory Sierra [anyone remember him?] playing a bartender, so they got their ethnic bases covered for the 70’s. Not a single Asian was used in the filming of this movie which I thought was kind of odd since you’re in San Francisco which has one of the most well known Chinatowns in the world, yet there are no Asians on the streets anywhere. Now that I think about you saw very few Asians in TV and movies back then except for the occasional comic relief in a western or George Takei in Star Trek.
Now then, onto the plot. This is where the movie gets funny looking back. A skyscraper is built in San Francisco which is the tallest building in the world. Obviously since this was the time of disaster movies building up to code wasn’t good enough and they needed better, but they just stuck to the rules and built to code along with leaving a large pile of oily rags surrounded by containers of flammable liquid next to a main electrical box that shorts out. The fire starts on the 81st floor while a party to celebrate San Francisco having the tallest building in the world is going on at the top in the Promenade Room. Apparently back in the 70’s nobody had learned that in case of fire take the stairs not the elevator. This is shown very quickly when Steve McQueen’s character walks in calmly and takes a look at the fire then hops in an elevator three feet away that he takes up to the Promenade Room. Note this is the same elevator that ten minutes later a group of people crowd onto to get away from the Promenade Room only to have the doors mysteriously open up on the floor of the fire serving up roast human to the firefighters. My cousin is a retired fireman and I’ll have to ask him how horribly wrong the fire department handled the fire during the movie. In the end the movie sticks to disaster theme formula of I die, you die, we all die pretty much with only the most righteous believers surviving.
If you see nothing else you should at least see the opening of the movie with the helicopter ride over San Francisco. While not a car chase, the helicopter visuals were spliced together in such a way that wasn’t linear, but hits all the sites of San Francisco. Enjoy the trailer and watch the film if you can find it.