Towering Inferno, The (1974): John Guillermin’s Blockbuster Disaster Movie, Starring Paul Newman and Steve McQueen

Fox/Warner (Irwin Allen production)

One of the most dubious choices of the Academy for Best Picture considerations, “The Towering Inferno” is routine disaster flick,

Its star cast is headed by Paul Newman and Steve McQueen (in their first-co-starring) but second appearance together; McQueen had played a cameo in Newman’s breakthrough picture, “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956).

The film was released in 1974, in the midst of a cycle of disaster movies that began in 1970 with “Airport” and its sequels continued with “The Poseidon Adventure” and others, culminating around 1975 with the best of them, Spielberg’s “Jaws,” which went beyond the cliches’ of the genre.

The setting is the inauguration of the world’s biggest skyscraper in San Francisco, an event attended by luminaries, politicians, and professionals.  When the building catches fire, fire chief McQueen and architect Newman join forces in trying to save some of the guests.

Like other features of its kind, the secondary characters are a demographic and social-class mix, thus offering jobs to old movie stars, such as Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones, dragging them out of semi-retirement.

The blockbuster movie became known for its melodic song, “WE May Never Love Again Like This Again,” which won the Oscar.  The flick’s director, John Guillermin, was not nominated




The only epic element of this schlock mass entertainment was its running time, 165 minutes!




The Oscar-winner that year was Coppola’s masterpiece, “The Godfather: Part II,” though inexplicably that picture’s cinematographer, the brilliant Gordon Willis, was snubbed.  Was it because he lived in New York and was associated with such quintessential East Coast auteurs as Woody Allen and










Fire Chief Michael O’Hallorhan (Steve McQueen)


Doug Roberts (Paul Newman)


Jim Duncan (William Holden)


Susan Franklin (Faye Dunaway)


Harlee Claiborne (Fred Astaire)


Patty Simmons (Susan Franklin)


Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain)


Lisolette Mueller (Jennifer Jones)


Security Chief Jernigan (O.J. Simpson)


Senator Gary Parker (Robert Vaughn)






Oscar Nominations:  7




Picture, produced by Irwin Allen.


Supporting Actor: Fred Astaire


Cinematography: Fred Koenekamp and Joseph Biroc


Art Direction-Set Decoration: William Creber and Ward Preston; Raphael Bretton


Film Editing: Harold F. Kress and Carl Kress.


Original Dramatic Score: John Williams


Original Song: “We May Never Love Like This Again,” music and lyrics by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn




Oscar Awards: 3












Oscar Context:




In 1974, two movies were nominated for 11 Oscars: “The Godfather, Part II” and Polanski’s Depression-era, well-crafted noir “Chinatown.”  While Coppola’s second installment won the largest (6) number of awards, “Chinatown” received only one, for Original Screenplay.




The three other nominees were Coppola (again) for “The Conversation” with 3 nominations; Bob Fosse’s biopicture “Lenny” with 6 nods but no wins; and the disaster-adventure flick, “The Towering Inferno,” which won 3 technical awards out of its 7 nominations.