The Infernal Tower: a disaster film memorial

The Infernal Tower: a disaster film memorial

In the 1970s, a popular but discreet cinema genre reached its peak: the disaster film. Fashion was launched in 1970 with Airport by George Seaton. Then come two great classics of cinema: The Poseidon Adventure (1972) by Ronald Neame, an odyssey of an overturned ocean liner amidst a bottom swell; and especially, The Tower of Hell by John Guillermin, published 1974.

Their success led to the production of a dozen disaster films by the end of the decade, but these proved failures and audience weariness heralded the demise of an exploited genre. The disaster film won’t regain its shine until the 1990s, thanks to tremendous advances in special effects. The essentials of this time are Independence Day (1996) Roland Emmerich, Armageddon (1998) by Michael Bay and of course titanic (1997) by James Cameron, which is notable for its combination of historical drama, romance and poetic appeal. Now let’s get back to one of the biggest hits at the American box office, a masterpiece of blockbuster cinema: The Tower of Hell (The mighty inferno).

Douglas Roberts (Paul Newman) returns to San Francisco for the opening night of the world’s tallest skyscraper – a gargantuan tower reaching the irrational height of 550m – which he designed himself and whose work was overseen by James Duncan (William Holden). . After a short circuit caused by a faulty plumbing, a fire breaks out and spreads to the rest of the building while the party is in full swing on the 135th floor. Fireman Captain Michael O’Hallorhan (Steve McQueen) and his entire brigade try to come to the rescue of the guests trapped in the flames.

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The Tower of Hell Considered by many critics to be the greatest disaster film of the 1970s and perhaps one of the best of its kind. It benefits from an extraordinarily prestigious cast, bringing together four major stars of the time, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden and Faye Dunaway, as headliners , supported by no fewer than twelve stars including Richard Chamberlain, Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughn and Susan Blakely . On the other hand, Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones, two stars of Hollywood’s golden age, made their last notable appearances in cinema. Produced on a budget of more than $14 million, it was the origin of the extraordinary union of two major Hollywood studios – Warner Bros and 20th Century Fox – a first in the history of the 7th Art, and grossed $139,700,000 in box office receipts. It was also nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture, but won only three: Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Original Song We may never love like this againplayed by Maureen McGovern.

The film owes much of its success to the realism of the special effects, and while they’ve aged a bit for a 2014 audience, aside from some garish special effects, there’s nothing visually shocking about the film. The voltage increases crescendo and keeps the viewer engaged throughout the film, which has the benefit of developing without downtime. About two and a half hours The Tower of Hell never stops surprising us. The recipe for this feature film is based on spectacular ingredients: a blaze of flames, a helicopter crash, an elevator accident in which a poor woman falls… all this without forgetting the numerous explosions that punctuate the story and a saving tide that rises announces a flood of waves, the quenching of the terrible fire. The simplicity of the synopsis forms a work that is coherent and accessible to all. The result is a gallery of more or less stereotyped characters, symbolic of the Manichaean vision of good and evil. So we have the kindhearted fireman, the guilt-ridden architect, the disillusioned builder, the kindly old crook, the benevolent babysitter, the dishonest engineer, and the seedy politicians. In addition, the film exudes an authentic charm that is typical of feature films of the time. Opening night is a distillation of class and elegance; we will remember a touching passage where Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones start a few dance steps hand in hand. Without forgetting the scene of the lighting of the tower that moves and trembles at will.

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The Tower of Hell reflects an apparent sociological malaise. The screenplay based on the novels The towerby Richard Martin Stern and The glass inferno, by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson, clearly denounces the excessiveness of technical progress and architectural development. At the heart of this urban epic would almost resonate the biblical metaphor of the Tower of Babel and the Greek myth of Icarus: “Those who want to touch the sun too much will end up burning their wings. The architect is confronted with the omissions of his profession; This heartbreaking episode fatally challenges his abilities and the validity of his calling. In the heat of disaster – it has to be said – the dishonest characters wake up and indulge in immoral acts and outbursts of violence; like the panic scene where guests throw a fragile rescue cage and are ejected into the void. Played by Richard Chamberlain, the character embodies the unworthy par excellence. Cheating, selfish and disloyal, he uses discounted and therefore logically lower quality materials to make profit and speed up the construction of the skyscraper. His guilt in the fire is undeniable. In such a situation, no one is safe from an accident; Fatalism is thus one of the founding elements of The Tower of Hellas illustrated by Steve McQueen’s final tirade, which closes this adventure on a moralizing but undoubtedly rational note:

“You know, we were lucky tonight. The death toll is less than 200. One day they will kill 10,000 in one of these fire traps. And I will keep eating smoke and bringing out corpses until someone asks us how to make them.”