inspired by the building of the world trade center this film asks the question: what would happen if there were a fire in a high rise building? the fictional building is 140 stories tall and there’s a fire on the 81st floor. newman plays the architect, holden is the building’s owner, and mcqueen is the fire chief responsible for the response. other stars include: faye dunaway, fred astaire, robert wagner, oj simpson, etc. to my knowledge it’s the only time mcqueen and newman appear in a film together and for some reason i’ve always thought of them as the pacino and deniro of their time. so i guess that would make this the “heat” of their time, which is interesting since this film is about a fire and “heat” is named heat.
anyway, this is one of irwin allen’s disaster films that were big in the 70s. this and poseiden adventure were probably the two most popular, but there are more: beyond the poseiden adventure, flood, swarm, etc. the formula is pretty simple: lots of stars and contrived hysteria. i preferred the poseiden adventure because it’s shorter (towering inferno is 165 minutes long) and has a better subtext. the commentary here was one that looked at greed and hubris as the cause of suffering. in the end mcqueen remarks “one of these days they’re going to kill 10,000 in one of these firetraps and i’m going to keep eating smoke and bringing out bodies until somebody asks us how to build em.” newman replies “ok, i’m asking.” here the problem appears solved, in the poseiden adventure things are more bleak. i definitely thought this one was good, but it was too long for its own good and the ending was a bit syrupy sweet.