Architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) returns to San Francisco for the dedication of the Glass Tower, which he designed for owner James Duncan (William Holden). At 138 stories, it is the world's tallest building. During a routine systems check before the ceremonies, an electrical short in the upper floors starts a small fire in a storage room on the 81st floor, which goes undetected. Roberts confronts the building's electrical engineer, Duncan's son-in-law Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain), accusing him of cutting corners. Simmons insists the building is up to standards but Roberts demands to see the specifications.

During the dedication ceremony, public relations chief Dan Bigelow (Robert Wagner) turns on the tower's exterior lights to impress the 294 guests arriving for a party in the Promenade Room on the 135th floor. The lighting overloads the system and Roberts orders it shut off. The building's security guards see the smoke from the fire on the 81st floor and summon the San Francisco Fire Department. Roberts and engineer Will Giddings (Norman Burton) head to the 81st floor, and Giddings pushes a security guard away from the door to the burning room shortly before it explodes, severely burning him. Roberts tells Duncan of the fire; he insists that the party continue, believing a fire on the 81st floor will not affect the party. Firemen begin fighting the fast-growing blaze, unbeknownst to the party guests, using Roberts' office on the 79th floor as a command post and the lobby as a mass casualty and staging area. SFFD 5th Battalion Chief Mike O'Hallorhan (Steve McQueen) takes charge and forces Duncan to evacuate the party guests. Everyone is directed to the express elevators. Party guest and building resident Lisolette Mueller (Jennifer Jones), who was romanced at the party by con man Harlee Claiborne (Fred Astaire), is one of the first to leave. She heads to the 87th floor to check on a family with two children and a deaf mother. Simmons admits to Duncan that he changed Roberts' specifications at Duncan's request to stay under budget.

The express elevators are rendered unsafe as the fire spreads to the elevators' main bank. The last occupied elevator opens directly on the 81st floor fire, killing the occupants. The elevator then returns to the Promenade Room where the doors open and one man runs out engulfed in flames in view of the horrified guests. Claiborne smothers the man as he dies with his tuxedo jacket. The stairwells are rendered impassable, as one is filled with smoke and the door to the other is jammed shut. Bigelow and his secretary/mistress Lorrie (Susan Flannery) are trapped in his office on the 65th floor and killed by the fire. Security Chief Harry Jernigan (O.J. Simpson) and Roberts notice on a monitor Mueller trying to get into an apartment on 87 and head up to assist. Jernigan takes the mother, the deaf widow, to safety. Roberts and Lisolette save the two children, but are halted after part of the stairwell explodes due to a ruptured gas line. They climb up to the Promenade Room via a service elevator, but the door has been sealed by spilled cement. Roberts escapes through a pipe shaft. Two firemen rescue Lisolette and the children by blowing open the door with C-4. Suppression by the fire department becomes nearly impossible. The building loses almost all electrical power, halting a service elevator that O'Hallorhan and his men are on, forcing them to rappel down the shaft.

A rooftop helicopter rescue attempt results in further disaster when two women rush the aircraft, causing it to crash and explode. Naval Rescue teams attach a breeches buoy to the adjacent 107-story Peerless Building and rescue a number of guests. Roberts activates a gravity brake on the scenic elevator, enabling it to coast down to the lobby. Twelve people board it, including Roberts' girlfriend Susan, Lisolette and the children, along with a supervising fireman. As it descends an explosion rips the elevator off its track at the 110th floor, leaving it hanging by a cable. Lisolette falls to her death before the others are saved by a helicopter rescue by O'Halloran. As the fire reaches the Promenade Room, the remaining guests panic. Simmons forces his way onto the breeches buoy. Senator Gary Parker (Robert Vaughn), who has been helping Duncan with rescue efforts, is among several guests who attempt to prevent Simmons from commandeering the breeches buoy. During the ensuing struggle an explosion breaks the breeches buoy. Simmons, Parker and the other guests on the buoy are killed.

A desperate plan is hatched by the top SFFD Fire Chiefs to explode the million-gallon water tanks at the top of the building to extinguish the fire. O'Hallorhan meets with Roberts; they set plastic explosives to the six water tanks on the 138th floor, then they return to the Promenade Room. The remaining guests are ordered to tie themselves to heavy objects. O'Hallorhan, Roberts, Duncan, Claiborne and most of the party-goers survive as the tanks are blown, sending thousands of gallons of water through the ceiling and throughout the building, extinguishing the flames. The torrent sweeps away those not securely tied down, including the city's Mayor Ramsay (Jack Collins).

On the ground, Roberts says to Susan that he does not know what will become of the building, but perhaps it should be left as a symbol of all that is wrong with society. O'Hallorhan says that fewer than 200 people were killed and that builders must take fire safety into account to avoid greater disasters. Roberts agrees to consult with O'Hallorhan on future projects.

Oscar
8 Nominations
3 Awards
Best Cinematography
Best Film Editing
Best Original Song

Golden Globes
5 Nominations
2 Awards
Best Supporting Actor
Most Promising Newcomer - Female
Producer Irwin Allen, nicknamed "The Master of Disaster", finished with another popular disaster movie “The Poseidon Adventure” two years earlier with great success. Warner Bros. then bought the rights to The Tower by Richard Martin Stern for $390,000 and eight weeks later, Allen discovered another novel, The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson, and bought the rights for $400,000 for 20th Century Fox. The productions were combined, with each studio agreeing to pay half the production costs if Allen produced. And so began one of the largest budgets at that time (1974) on a single movie, $14 million, which was unheard of, not to mention two studios combining their ownership. 20th Century Fox had domestic box office, while Warner Bros. would distribute the film in all foreign territories around the world.

Stirling Silliphant, the Oscar winning writer for “In The Heat Of The Night” just 7 years earlier, was asked to combine both novels (The Tower and The Glass Inferno) to bring about one film, “The Towering Inferno”. He took seven characters from each and combined the two plots.

The star-studded cast was also unbelievable. So many stars under one roof for one picture: Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Paul Newman, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Jennifer Jones, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughn, Susan Blakely and O.J. Simpson. Many of the smaller roles were offered to actors who had completed “The Poseidon Adventure” for Allen 2 year’s prior.

Initially the role of the fire chief was offered to Ernest Borgnine, who was also in ‘Poseidon’, and the role of the architect was offered to Steve McQueen. The fire chief was the hero in the original script and a much larger role. However, McQueen wanted the role of the fire chief and Borgnine backed out. Ultimately the role of the architect went to Newman, which was re-written and enlarged quite a bit. Outside of Paul Newman having 12 more lines than McQueen, (which caused quite a ruckus and was quickly rectified), the only commotion caused was McQueen, Newman, and William Holden all wanting top billing. Holden was refused, as he was no longer in the league of McQueen and Newman. So, to make everyone happy, the credits were arranged diagonally to provide dual top billing for all.
Faye Dunaway, fresh from her Oscar nominated shoot on “Chinatown”, loved working with Newman and McQueen. And it showed. Their scenes together had heat (no pun intended) and loads of chemistry. Since landing the lead role of bank robber Bonnie Parker in “Bonnie and Clyde” opposite Warren Beatty, she was in demand everywhere and was able to hold her own against some of the biggest macho stars of the period, including McQueen and Newman.

Olivia de Havilland was originally offered the role of Lisolette Mueller, opposite Fred Astair, but she declined and it was offered to Jennifer Jones instead, which ended up being her last role before retiring from acting.
The music score was composed and conducted by composer John Williams. While the score was nominated for an Academy Award, it didn’t receive it. It went instead to the original song by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, We May Never Love Like This Again sung by Maureen McGovern. Ironically, Kasha and Hirschhorn also won the Academy Award for The Morning After 2 years earlier from “The Poseidon Adventure” also produced by Irwin Allen and sung by Maureen McGovern as well.

In the film's opening credits, there is a dedication, which reads: "To those who give their lives so that others might live, to the firefighters of the world, this picture is gratefully dedicated".

...I think that says it all.

Click on the title for my review of Irwin Allen’s "The Poseidon Adventure"
We May Never Love Like This Again
Maureen McGovern