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Monday, April 08, 2013

The Towering Inferno

This might seem like a bit of a strange question to open a blog entry, but how many of you have a plan of escape if a fire were to break out at your home or your workplace?

If a fire were to break out, and you found yourself trapped inside a burning building, would you know what to do in order to get out alive?

By all accounts, every household should have at least one smoke detector somewhere inside (preferably closest to the sleeping areas of the home), and every household should have at least two exit plans. Whether you leave out the front door, the back door, or busting through a window and climbing out, if the building is on fire, get out!

The same thing applies to your workplace as well. I can only speak for my own workplace, but we have a definite plan in place to get all of the customers and employees out of the building safely. There's at least two dozen emergency exits located within the store that I work at, and my store regularly does safety checks on the dozens of fire extinguishers that are located throughout each area. I've even been at the store when the fire alarm accidentally got pulled, and we were forced to evacuate the store. Everybody in the store left in a quick fashion, and we all met up at our designated spot. Needless to say, if a fire ever did break out in the store, I would probably have a very good chance of surviving.

Of course, this is also a store that is built in a fairly open area and is only one story.

Picture this scenario. Imagine being trapped inside of an office in a high-rise building, or a suite in a 40-story hotel. If a fire were to break out somewhere in that building, would you know what to do in order to get out of there alive?

It would not be much of a problem if you happened to be on a floor that was below the source of the blaze. All you would have to do is head towards the closest stairwell and run as fast as you can down to the nearest exit below. Being above the fire poses a whole new set of problems, as you're more or less trapped.
In a lot of cases, it would be easiest to run up the stairs to the roof and just stay up there until the fire is put out. But if that's not an option, the most important thing that you should probably do is stay calm, and try to keep a straight head about it all. Mind you, if you're actually in a situation where the building that you're in is ablaze...well, let's face'll instantly go into panic mode regardless.

Of course, there are some things that you must never do if you expect to survive being trapped in a burning building. Stand near a water source and keep dousing yourself with water. This might buy you some time until firefighters can reach you. And, do NOT use any elevators to get out of the building. Otherwise, you might end up like these toasty warm people...

If that image seems a bit familiar, it's because it's a screenshot of today's Monday Matinee subject...and it's connected to my opening spiel about what to do if you're trapped in a high-rise building while it is burning down.

Today's topic? The 1974 disaster film, “The Towering Inferno”, directed by Irwin Allen.

The movie was released on December 14, 1974 and was a co-production between Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox. It was also a movie that took much of its inspiration from two novels - “The Tower” by Richard Martin Stern (which I have not read), and “The Glass Inferno” by Thomas M. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson (which I HAVE read, and highly recommend).

The film is set in San Francisco, California, where the dedication ceremony for The Glass Tower is set to take place. The high-rise is a massive office building, complete with a restaurant/dance hall on the 135th floor, and measuring at 1,800 feet in height is the tallest building in the world.

(Or at least it was at the time that the film was shot...the CN Tower would be fifteen feet taller when it opened to the general public in 1976.)

Now, the building was supposed to be at the height of quality and luxury, and as the partygoers arrived in full force to celebrate the grand opening of the building, none of them were aware that in order to complete the building, a lot of corners were cut...particularly with the electrical system.

So, when the exterior lights of The Glass Tower were switched on as part of the opening ceremonies, the action overloads the circuits, which causes a fire to break out on the eighty-first floor of the building. Thanks to the highly flammable materials located throughout the building (as well as people lacking common sense, as the people in that elevator in the image above showed), the fire quickly spreads between floors, and put the lives of thousands of people above the fire at risk.

In order to make the film as believable as possible, the film boasted a star-studded cast, some of them being real Hollywood legends. Among the cast were...

Steve McQueen (San Francisco Fire Chief Michael O'Hallorhan)
Paul Newman (Architect Doug Roberts)
William Holden (Builder James Duncan)
Faye Dunaway (Susan Franklin, engaged to Roberts)
Fred Astaire (Harlee Claiborne)
Jennifer Jones (Lisolette Mueller)
Richard Chamberlain (Electrical Engineer Roger Simmons)
Susan Blakely (Patty Duncan Simmons, daughter of Duncan)
Robert Wagner (Public Relations Chief Dan Bigelow)
O.J. Simpson (Chief Security Officer Harry Jernigan)

(Kind of weird how O.J. Simpson played a security officer given everything that happened two decades after this film was shot, huh?)

I will say that for 1974 standards, this film had some fantastic special effects. Watching the film almost 40 years after it was made, it still looks incredibly crisp and clean. And, the film ended up winning three Academy Awards – Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Song.

(In the case of Best Original Song, the song was “We May Never Love Like This Again”, which was performed by Maureen McGovern. It wasn't the first disaster film she provided music for either...two years earlier, she sang the theme for “The Poseidon Adventure”.)

I've actually got loads more trivia for this film as well...but if you expect me to reveal the ending for this film...well, I'm unfortunately unable to because I never reveal endings. All that I will say is that not all of the main characters of the film make it out alive. I'll show you a couple of examples, but not all of them. I really want you all to watch this movie for yourselves because it really is fantastic.

Here's what I can tell you...

01 – Apparently this was one film in which William Holden, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman all wanted top billing! William Holden was eventually refused top billing, and settled for being the third name listed in the credits, but with there being a stalemate between the other two, the decision was made to have both names at the top of the movie poster going diagonally, so that depending on the direction in which you looked at the poster, both men would get top billing. Kind of a petty argument if you ask me, but whatever.

02 – The movie was actually the inspiration behind the 1976 song “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps.

03 – If the woman jumping out of the window after she catches on fire looks familiar, she is actress Susan Flannery, who went on to star as Stephanie Forrester on “The Bold and the Beautiful” from 1987-2012.

04 – This was Jennifer Jones' last appearance in a motion picture. Her character was paired up with Fred Astaire's character, and they danced together in the scenes that took place at the Promenade Room. Her performance earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

05 – The principal photography of the movie was completed on September 11, 1974. This is a rather eerie fact, given that twenty-seven years later, many people who were in the World Trade Center in New York City were faced with the same frightening situation that the people in the film experienced.

06 – Steve McQueen refused to give any interviews while he was on the set. In contrast, Paul Newman simply requested not to be “surprised”.

07 – Director Irwin Allen employed some rather unconventional methods when it came to nailing the perfect shot. He actually fired a gun into the ceiling in order to get the reaction shot of several people screaming in shock!

08 – Both Paul Newman and Steve McQueen were paid the same exact salary - $1.5 million plus 7.5% of all box office profits (which must have made both men very, very rich, given that it made $140 million total!)

09 – Speaking of sharing, did you know that Steve McQueen insisted that he and Paul Newman had the same amount of lines of dialogue in the script? Wow...McQueen kind of came across as a male diva here!

10 – Several actors who appeared in “The Poseidon Adventure” also made cameo roles in “The Towering Inferno”. From water to fire in just two years! Kind of makes you wonder what gluttons for punishment these actors were!

11 – Jennifer Jones was not the only actress considered for the role of Lisolette. Olivia de Haviland was offered the part first, but she declined. But de Haviland would later appear in the box office bomb, “The Swarm”.

12 – Believe it or not, a real fire broke out during the filming, and Paul Newman found himself assisting the real firefighters in putting the blaze out!

13 – Paul Newman also did the majority of his own stuntwork, as did Steve McQueen.

14 – There were 57 sets used during the course of the film. By the time filming ended in late 1974, only eight remained intact. The rest were destroyed by fire or water damage.

15 – The scenic elevator that is seen in the film? It's actually one of two that could be found at San Francisco's Hyatt Regency hotel.

16 – When the film was released in 1974, the First Interstate Tower in Los Angeles, California was completed. Fourteen years later, a fire would destroy five of the middle floors at the building. The Los Angeles Herald actually did a feature on the fire, comparing the real fire to the fictional Glass House building in “The Towering Inferno”. Fortunately, only one person was killed in the Los Angeles fire, as compared to dozens in “The Towering Inferno”.

17 – Paul Newman's son, Scott, had a role in the film as a firefighter.

18 – Recognize the young boy that Lisolette tries to help during the film? That would be then-fourteen year old Mike Lookinland...otherwise known as Bobby from “The Brady Bunch”.

19 – Faye Dunaway's role was originally offered to both Katharine Ross and Natalie Wood.

20 – Here's another interesting fact about Faye Dunaway, as told from the perspective of stuntman Ernie Orsatti. Apparently, Faye Dunaway was not exactly the most reliable of actresses, often showing up late for filming, or even skipping days of filming altogether. It wasn't until William Holden reportedly threatened Faye to shape up her act that she began to make her scheduled call times.

21 – A fire broke out in a Manteca, California movie theatre while the film was showing! One of the few things that survived the blaze was the movie poster!

22 – John Williams composed the entire score for the movie.

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