' Cinema Romantico: The Most Unprescient Scene In Movie History

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Most Unprescient Scene In Movie History

Recently, to get myself in the "spirit" of summer movies, I rented "The Towering Inferno", the 1974 disaster movie epic from Irwin Allen, the same man who brought you the original "Poseidon Adventure". These sorts of movies were all the rage back when people wore leisure suits and "The Towering Inferno" was arguably the most famous of the lot.

It contained an All Star cast, in the truest sense of the term - Paul Newman and Steve McQueen received top billing, with people like William Holden, Faye Dunaway (getting less to do here than Zooey Deschanel in "The Happening"), Fred Astaire, Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner, and someone else whose name I will not reveal until a little later in support. The "story" concerns ace architect Doug Roberts (Newman), the sort of guy who "used to wrestle grizzly bears", who has helped build the world's tallest skyscraper, 135 floors, in San Francisco, called The Glass Tower. Unbeknownst to Doug, however, the building's owner (Holden) and his dastardly son (Richard Chamberlain) cut costs during the construction by skimping on the electricity and safety portions of the tower. Uh oh!

So wouldn't you know that the same night of the luxurious party meant to christen the beautiful new building that a huge fire would break out on Floor 81, below The Promenade Room where the party is taking place. The Fire Chief (McQueen) shows up on the scene but can only do so much and, soon enough, the majority of the party-goers are trapped at the top of the Glass Tower as the flames rages out of control.

Admittedly some of this footage is a little freaky in the light of 9/11 and some of the action sequences are actually kinda riveting and some not so much. Your standard disaster pic, I guess. My favorite touch comes in the opening credits where they advise us Irwin Allen (the aforementioned producer) specifically directed the "action scenes". (The rest of the movie was apparently directed by some poor sap named John Guillermen. How much, I wonder, did that guy hate his job? Guillermen: "C'mon, Irwin, can I just shoot one scene where something blows up?" Allen: "No, no, John, we discussed this. I'll handle things blowing up, you worry about William Holden looking good in his smoking jacket.")

I mean, this is just great. I envision Michael Bay graduating to only directing the "action scenes" at some point in the future. Really, that's all he does anyway - direct action scenes. Take the scene in the dreaded "Armageddon" between father and daughter (Bruce Willis and Liv Tyler) just before he's about to set out for the asteroid. It's supposed to be, you know, tender and serious and at the end of it, as father and daughter embrace, what happens? A bunch of helicopters fly by overhead. Even in the most "heartfelt" of scenes he couldn't help but squeeze in a few helicopters. God, I hate Michael Bay.

But I digress. The most important part of "The Towering Inferno", as far as I'm concerned, is a scene that does the worst job of foreshadowing future real life events that I have ever encountered and, thus, it must be applauded.

As the fire breaks out on Floor 81 the Glass Tower's head of security watches it happen from his control room, which looks suspiciously like the bridge of the Star Trek: Enterprise. Really. He bravely heads up to the fiery floor to make sure everyone is evacuated and, sure enough, enters a room to find a cute kitten all by its lonesome and so he heroically rescues the kitten from certain death. This scene is a staple of these sorts of movies, as we all know, but the key issue is the actor portraying the head of security.

O.J. Simpson. Yes, O.J. Simpson saves the cute kitten from the fire.

Do you think the day of the white Ford Bronco that "The Towering Inferno's" filmmakers were thinking, Gee, we really screwed the pooch on that one.

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