Category Archives: 1974

Madeline Kahn, Comedienne

 

Madeline Kahn’s first role was as the dowdy fiancee to Ryan O’Neal’s professor in Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? and she steals the movie right out from under him and the film’s star Barbra Steisand. In defense of Barbra, she has stated in interviews that she didn’t get the comedy…but it’s obvious that Madeline did, because she nailed it. I talk about that film here. It’s no surprise that she would become a star in her own right and a permanent fixture over the next 20 years with the biggest comedy filmmakers, like Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Burt Reynolds and Neil Simon.madeline-kahn-whats-up-doc

Her next follow-up film was again for Peter Bogdanovich and Ryan O’Neal in Paper Moon. She would go up for an Oscar nomination, but in that film, 9 year old, Tatum O’Neal, Ryan’s real-life daughter steals the show and walks away with the Academy Award, to boot. Madeline is good as always. She soon found more comedians to work with when she did Blazing Saddles the very next year with Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. They really loved her and would spent the next ten years casting her in Young Frankenstein, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother, High Anxiety, and History of the World, Part 1.paper-moon-madeline-kahn-1973

Burt Reynolds would work with her the year after that for the first time in Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love, which was a musical. It played to Madeline’s strengths as she was an Operatically trained singer. The film failed at the box office, however, I believe because no one wanted to see Burt sing, although he does it well. She would work again with Burt in City Heat along with Clint Eastwood.  Neil Simon would work with her for the first time in 1978 in The Cheap Detective, with Peter Falk. Madeline Kahn’s Mrs. Montenegro character is a spoof of Mary Astor’s Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon. She would do another Neil Simon years later for London Suite in 1996. The third of Neil Simon’s “Suite” movies, the others being Plaza Suite (1971) (remade as Plaza Suite (1987)) and California Suite (1978). It’s the fourth made of Simon’s “Suite” movies counting the TV remake.madeline-kahn-in-cheaper-detective

Now all of these films of hers are worth watching, but my favorite of hers is the movie Clue, which came out in 1985. If you haven’t seen this movie based on the board game, it’s fantastic. The cast is amazing and was given some leeway in improvising some of their dialogue. An example of this is Madeline Kahn’s improvising of “flames, flames…” which is just brilliant. It’s been said that the cast of great comedians loved working together on that film and it’s no wonder that Madeline is a favorite of everyones. Many directors, writers, actors and filmmakers would recast her time and time again. She was that good.  She’s definitely missed.madeline-kahn-in-clue

Top 15 Gene Wilder Movies

 

Many of us were shocked to hear of Gene Wilder’s death this week due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease, and so it’s given us a chance to pause and think about this great actor and comedian. It was interesting to me listen to a recent interview of his and he said that he really didn’t consider himself to be a comedian as he didn’t find himself to be very funny. That may be true, but to us, he was hilarious. Here is my list of his top 15 movies, let’s see if your list would be similar to mine:

15.  Thursday’s Game (1974)Thursday's Game

This would be a banner year for Gene Wilder as 3 of the movies on this list were released in 1974. 2 of them would be considered to be “classics” to most people. Classify this one as a forgotten little gem. Thursday’s Game was released as a TV movie and starred Gene with a great cast of comedians with Bob Newhart, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Nancy Walker, Valerie Harper, Norman Fell, Rob Reiner and Martha Scott. The movie is about two guys who’ve been going to a Thursday night poker game for years, when suddenly a disagreement breaks up the game. The two guys then decide to keep getting together every Thursday night doing different things, under the pretense that the game is still going on. When the wives find out they are upset and wondering what they’ve been doing all that time. The budget for this film was so tight that the wardrobe department was practically non-existent. According to Gene Wilder, he and co-star Bob Newhart had to make do with their actual clothes.

14.  The Producers (1967)Producers

We mention the Producers in another blog, CLICK HERE TO READ THAT BLOG POST.  Mel Brooks is almost synonymous with Gene Wilder as they made 3 movies together. These 3 are almost always mentioned as their top 3 movies respectively.  That wasn’t always the case, as the Producers flopped initially but found new life when Mel made it into a smash hit on Broadway. Now, of course, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder were great in this but, Kenneth Mars is also really fantastic in this as well. I talk about him in a blog CLICK HERE.

13.  Haunted Honeymoon (1986)haunted-honeymoon

I find Dom Deluise to be hilarious, but put him in drag and he’s drop dead funny. Gene and Dom appeared in 4 movies together. Now, if you don’t know already, Gene Wilder was a wonderful writer and director in his own right and this is one of the films he wrote and directed. It also stars his then wife and comedian Gilda Radner. This is a notable entry also because it was Gilda’s last movie before she died of cancer. It did not do well at the box office, but I like it because of the 3 actors and I especially like the scenes from the radio show.

12.  Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975)the-adventures-of-sherlock-holmes-smarter-brother

Gene reunites with Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman in this gem that he also wrote and directed after they did Young Frankenstein. Favorites of mine, Dom Deluise, Leo McKern and Roy Kinnear round out the cast! Originally, Gene tried to get Mel Brooks to direct this film as well, after they did Young Frankenstein, but he declined and convinced Gene that he could direct it himself. Gen would go on to direct 4 movies and 1 segment of a 5th one. This one is my favorite of all the films he directed.

11.  Death of a Salesman (1966)deathofasalesman

Up until Gene did the made-for-tv version of Death of a Salesman in 1966, he only had acted in a handful of TV shows. It was this film that ultimately put him on the path of stardom. This movie was relatively forgotten over time but had some very strong performances and included some very fine actors with Lee J. Cobb leading the cast. In his autobiography “Timebends”, Arthur Miller says that Lee J. Cobb was his favorite Willy Loman. The original Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller opened at the Morosco Theater on February 10, 1949, ran for 742 performances and won the 1949 Tony Award (New York City) for the Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize. Lee J. Cobb recreated his stage role 17 years later in this television production.

10.  Murder in a Small Town (1999)murder in a small town

Gene Wilder would write 8 movies over his career and a segment of a 9th one. This is the 2nd to the last one he would write and was 1 of 2 mysteries featuring his Cash Carter character for A&E. I enjoy a good mystery and for some reason I really like it when my mysteries are a little understated as these two mysteries are. This one is about a widowed theatre director who moves to a small Connecticut town where he gets involved in solving the murder of a millionaire, who was the most despised man in town. Gene is very good in this.

9.  Start the Revolution Without Me (1970)start the revolution without me

When 1 Gene Wilder is not enough, we get two! This one has Gene and Donald Sutherland playing two mismatched sets of identical twins – one aristocrat, one peasant – who mistakenly exchange identities on the eve of the French Revolution. Gene Wilder originally wanted Charles Grodin to play the part of Charles/Pierre, but Grodin declined, having committed to directing the original Broadway production of Lovers and Other Strangers, which would have been really fun to see, but Donald does a great job. Gene liked this film especially because he got to fence. Gene was already adept with a sword from his days on his college fencing team.

8.  Bonnie and Clyde (1967)bonnie-clyde-gene-laughing

In less than a year after his appearance in Death of a Salesman, Gene would be cast in 2 films Bonnie and Clyde and The Producers. He would never look back. In Bonnie and Clyde, he got to work with Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Denver Pyle and Michael J. Pollard. This was technically his theatrical feature film debut. Gene Hackman and Gene Wilder would later appear together in Young Frankenstein (1974). Hackman had a small, uncredited cameo as the blind hermit while Wilder portrayed the title character.

7.  Stir Crazy (1980)

We talk about the greatest comedy teams of all time in a previous blog post, CLICK HERE TO VIEW THAT BLOG…but definitely one of the best comedy teams of all time would have to be Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. They hit the list with 3 of their collaborations…almost 4, more on that in a sec…Stir-Crazy

Sidney Poitier directed this movie, and enjoyed working with Gene and Richard, even though Richard was sometimes difficult to work with on this production due to his frequent drug use. When they clicked, they were quite funny.  Sidney would let them improvise during scenes for the movie. This is one of the four movies Pryor and Wilder teamed together, and was the most successful of the four at the box-office. There was no doubting their second match-up was an all-around success. “Our instincts seem to coalesce. The difference, this time, is that ‘Stir Crazy’ is an out-and-out comedy while Silver Streak (1976) was a mixture of mystery, adventure and romance”. Pryor interjected: “You might say that our Pryor picture was a ball but this one is Wilder”. Wilder responded: “You might,” needles Wilder, “But you’ll say anything”.

6.  Blazing Saddles (1974)

Full shot of Cleavon Little as Bart offering whiskey bottle for Gene Wilder as Jim, both seated in sheriff's office. PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Here’s the almost in that last paragraph…believe it or not, Richard Pryor was set to play the role that eventually went to Clevon Little in Blazing Saddles. Richard Pryor even wrote some of the script with Mel Brooks. Although, Gene Wilder was not the original choice for his role either. They had cast and went into production with Gig Young, but he was coming off of alcohol and couldn’t function properly and Mel had to call upon his friend Gene to fly out last second to fill in, as a personal favor to him. One of the best comedy pairings of all time almost happened, two years before they finally appeared together in Silver Streak.

5.  Young Frankenstein (1974)young frankenstein

First film written by Gene Wilder and the only film directed by Mel Brooks, that Mel didn’t write. He didn’t direct anything he didn’t also write, but Gene talked him into directing as a personal favor to him. According to Mel Brooks (in the commentary for Spaceballs (1987)) when Gene Wilder came on to Blazing Saddles at the last minute as a favor to Mel, he requested that Mel Brooks do “his” movie idea next; that movie turned out to be this film. It was a perfect match. Gene Wilder has stated that this is his favorite of all the films he’s made. The cast and especially Mel Brooks had so much fun and were so upset when principal photography was almost completed, that Mel added scenes to continue shooting.

4.  See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)See no evil hear no evil

I forgot Kevin Spacey was in this with Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor and Joan Severance. Gene Wilder almost wasn’t in this movie. Per his autobiography, he turned the script down twice (due to its treatment of the deaf and the blind). He intended to do the same when offered it a third time, but his agent talked him into meeting with TriStar (the studio behind the film). The TriStar people asked Gene to re-write the script for himself and Richard Pryor, which he agreed to do…and the rest is history. Gene Wilder went to the NY League for the Hard of Hearing to study for his role. There he was assigned to speech pathologist Karen Webb, who would ultimately become his fourth wife. They were married 25 years, up until his death. With its dead body murder plot and villainous crime characters, the movie returned director Arthur Hiller and stars Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor to the suspense-adventure-comedy genre that had made their earlier picture Silver Streak a success around thirteen years earlier.

3.  Frisco Kid (1979)The_Frisco_Kid

Now this one is probably the biggest surprise on the list, but it’s just so under-appreciated! Not only is Gene Wilder pitch-perfect in this film as a Jewish Rabbi, Harrison Ford plays an old school cowboy like he was born to it. I just love this movie. In his autobiography, Gene Wilder says that John Wayne was offered the part that was eventually played by Harrison Ford. Wayne loved the role and was eager to work with Wilder. However, an agent tried to offer Wayne less than his usual fee and the legendary actor turned the film down. The sad thing about this movie is that it was a flop when released and has had a very small but devoted following on VHS and DVD…but it’s a wonderful film!

2.  Silver Streak (1976)Silver-Streak

One of five movies where actor Gene Wilder plays a man wrongly accused of committing a crime. The films include Silver Streak (1976), The Frisco Kid (1979), Stir Crazy (1980), Hanky Panky (1982), and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). Actor Gene Wilder loved his part because he could get to do scenes which were fitting of Errol Flynn doing action or Cary Grant being romantic. When meeting Gene Wilder after having seen Silver Streak, Cary Grant asked him if the script had been in anyway inspired by North by Northwest (1959). As Wilder admitted it was correct, Grant then added, “I knew it! Have you noticed that each time you take ordinary people, say, like you and me, then take them in a situation way above their heads, it makes a great thriller?” First of two consecutive comedy thrillers written by Colin Higgins. The second released two years later was Foul Play (1978). Higgins conceived “Silver Streak” in mid 1974 when he was traveling by train from LA to Chicago. We talk about Foul Play in another blog post, CLICK HERE TO READ IT.

On a sad note…Director Arthur Hiller and co-star Gene Wilder died within 12 days of each other.

1  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

This is number 1 for me. It’s his most iconic role and to be honest, one of my favorite films of all time. willy wonka

According to director Mel Stuart’s “Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka”, when Gene Wilder walked in to audition, Stuart knew before he’d even uttered a single word that he had found his Willy Wonka. The audition convinced him even further, so when Wilder finished and left the room, Stuart chased him down the hallway, cut him off at the elevator bank, grabbed his arm and told him “You’re doing this picture, no two ways about it! You are Willy Wonka!” Producer David L. Wolper, however, was furious because he hadn’t yet had the chance to negotiate a fee. After reading the script, Gene Wilder said he would take the role of Willy Wonka under one condition: that he would be allowed to limp, then suddenly somersault in the scene when he first meets the children. When the director asked why, Gene Wilder replied that having Wonka do this meant that “from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” The director asked, “If I say no, you won’t do the picture?”, and Gene Wilder said “I’m afraid that’s the truth.” Even Julie Dawn Cole was fooled by the scene in which Willy limps out of his factory to greet the Golden Ticket winners. She mentions in the DVD commentary that she thought that Gene Wilder had injured his leg for real (and that the filming would have to be temporarily halted because of it). This resulted in her being just as stunned by Willy’s somersault as the audience is.

Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, got very close to Gene while filming. He later told ABC News, “As a young actor filming ‘Willy Wonka,’ I had the rare privilege of working with Gene who I greatly admired,” he continued. “He became my mentor and personal friend. For that I will always be grateful. So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

The Front Page

 

This incredible Broadway play was made into several equally good movies over the years, my favorite being a gender-switch for the main character.  It was written in 1928 by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.  The first movie to be made was the faithful “The Front Page” (1931) directed by Lewis Milestone and features Pat O’Brien and Adolphe Menjou. It’s very much the play, with a lot of great dialogue and great character actors. It went on to 3 Academy Award nominations.The-Front-Page-1931

My favorite one was next and it features one of the most ingenious casting choices of all time when Howard Hawks decided to change the role of Hildebrand Johnson into Hildegard Johnson and cast Rosalind Russell. It was a brilliant move to have the two main characters divorced and sparing. Cary Grant plays the Walter Burns role perfectly and it is my FAVORITE of all of Cary Grant’s performances, in a plethora (Jefe, what is a plethora?) of perfect performances. They also switched the title to “His Girl Friday” (1940).Russell-Rosalind-His-Girl-Friday

I should mention that Howard Hawks very much wanted to keep the dialogue like it was in the play where it was fast paced and had a lot of the characters talking over each other.  Because of this, Hawks wanted each actor to come up with improvised bits and action for each of their characters.  Rosalind Russell, not to be outdone, hired an advertising writer that worked with her brother-in-law to make sure that her “improvisations” were especially witty and Hawks never caught on, but Cary Grant did and every morning would ask her, “What have you got today?”.  She was also perfectly cast and has fantastic chemistry with Grant and her fiancee in the film, Ralph Bellamy.His_Girl_Friday

The next version of “The Front Page” (1974) was directed by Billy Wilder and featured the male roles intact again with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon paired up. The pairing was so successful that they would go on to do a total of 10 movies together (although they do not have any scenes together in JFK) and were very good friends off camera as well. Jack Lemmon also directed only 1 movie his entire career, and he made sure the star was none other than Walter Matthau.  It was “Kotch“. Lemmon would go on to say about Matthau, “Walter is a helluva actor. The best I’ve ever worked with.”.

Matthau-Lemmon- Front Page

The last one really worth mentioning and that seems to have been really forgotten over time is the fabulous, “Switching Channels” directed by Ted Kotcheff and it switches the gender roles again with Kathleen Turner playing the Rosalind Russell role.  Burt Reynolds plays the Cary Grant role and Christopher Reeve plays the Ralph Bellamy role.  This time the setting has been changed as well to be in the world of broadcast news and so a lot of the newspaper men chatter has been completely cut from this version. It really focuses in on the relationships and works well, I think. All the actors are fantastic in their roles.switchingchannels

Now all of the other previous versions were pretty big hits, except this one and it’s a real shame as this is highly under-rated, in my opinion.  The failure may have been due to the release of the very popular and critically praised Broadcast News months before. People thought it was too much of the same thing. Burt Reynolds grabbed this film because Cary Grant was a big inspiration to him for years and this finally gave him an opportunity to play a role of his. I think you can really tell in this film that he studied Cary’s performance as it reflects his own.  Burt Reynolds and Cary Grant are two actors that I can honestly say, could do any genres as they were equally good at comedy, action, romance and drama over their careers.

LINKS:

THE FRONT PAGE (1931) CLIPS

THE FRONT PAGE (1974) TRAILER

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) TRAILER

Best Movie Stunts of the Year List 1970-1979

 

Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1970-1979 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

1970 – They Call Me Trinitythey_call_me_trinity_poster_02

The Spaghetti Western and Spaghetti Western Comedies were starting to come into their own and a string of “Trinity” films starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer would arise.  They became worldwide stars and did all their own fighting in their films.  These are great fun!

1971 – The Big Bossbig-boss-lobby

Bruce Lee would become a bonafide sensation after his first film and there really was no one quite like him. He had the skills and a way about him that everyone after him tried to copy.  Martial Arts got it’s very own movie genre after this.

1972 – The Poseidon Adventureposeidon-adventure wallpaper

Another new genre, would be this sub-category inside the action genre, that became the disaster film.  This one has a very good fall into a ballroom skylight done by a non-stuntman at the time, Ernie Orsatti.  He would go on to become a stuntman after this, he found he had a knack for it.

1973 – Live and Let DieLive Boat

James Bond would appear this decade a record 4 times!  This is the first on the list with a speedboat jump over land by Jerry Comeaux of 110 feet, which made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

1974 – The Man With The Golden Gunman_with_the_golden_gun_stunt

This one had a great car jump stunt that is a breath-taking, “I can’t believe I saw that” …mathematical stunt devised by Raymond McHenry at Cornell University and performed by Bumps Willard.

1975 – The Man Who Would Be Kingman who would be king

Joe Powell would perform a jump from a rope bridge between two ravines 100 feet into a pile of boxes that would lead legendary Director John Huston to say, ” That’s the damnest stunt I’ve ever seen.”

1976 – Gatorgator car

This would be the start of a great collaboration between Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds.  Hal Needham would body double Burt in this film and there’s a nifty car flip at the end of the movie with Hal in the truck bed.

1977 – The Spy Who Loved MeSPY-WHO-LOVED-SKI-1

This is a bond film with one of the most extensive pre-credit sequences than all the previous films and right before they go to the opening song and credits, they have a fantastic ski-stunt by Rick Sylvester right off a mountain and then slowly fall until finally has a parachute open. Really great opening.

1978 – HooperHooper3

Hal Needham directed Burt Reynolds this time in a movie inspired by and about stuntmen! Can’t name just one stunt to highlight in this film as it’s just chocked full of them, but if I had to, A. J. Bakunas has a world record breaking jump from a helicopter into an airbag (232 feet!).

1979 – MoonrakerMoonsky7

BJ Worth and Jake Lombard fight over a parachute in this Bond entry and it’s fun to watch.  I would definitely include all the camera men who had to jump and film the sequence which included 88 jumps over all.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Bumps Willard and Raymond McHenry For The Man With The Golden Gun

 

This is where the Bond films start to dominate the Best Movie Stunts. Every picture was designed to out-do the last and they definitely don’t disappoint in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974). This stunt literally was designed in the laboratory. Designed by Raymond McHenry, and conceived at Cornell Aeronautical University, it toured the US as the Astro Spiral in the All American Thrill Show before being used for the movie.man_with_the_golden_gun_stunt

The stunt is performed by Bumps Willard and involves him driving an AMC Hornet as Bond off of a specially designed ramp that’s made up to look like a broken bridge on one side of a creek, across the water doing a spiral flip (a 270 degree roll) and then touching down on an identical ramp on the other side and then driving on.  It’s a fantastic, mathematical stunt that was performed in one take. The jump is also credited with being the first stunt ever to be calculated by computer modeling.  “Bumps” Willard was an original member of ‘Helldrivers’; a stunt group specialists on dangerous car stunts; showcases. The Group leadrers was ‘The Bossle Brothers’ and also Joe Williams; famous for the ‘Two-Wheel-Stunt-Driving-Scene’ in Diamonds Are Forever.man with

I want to add a side note that Martial Arts is introduced as the fighting style in this movie because of the huge popularity of Bruce Lee and his films such as Fists of Fury and Enter the Dragon, so you can say that Bruce Lee had his affect not only in his own genre of Martial Arts films but in Hollywood as a whole. It’s impressive to come along and affect James Bond.

The Man With The Golden Gun is directed by Guy Hamilton for Eon Productions.Man With Golden

Things to look up ( go to IMDB ):

  • Bumps Willard
  • Raymond McHenry
  • The Man With The Golden Gun
  • Guy Hamilton
  • Eon Productions

History of stunt terms as defined by Wikipedia: Hell Drivers – The frequently used term to describe, and the very popular title of, numerous automobile thrill-based productions performing at fairs and racetracks by various squads of stunt drivers since the 1930s. Earl “Lucky” Teter was the first to coin the phrase Hell Drivers, when he began touring his show in 1934. Hell Drivers provided massive audiences with an always exciting show filled with precision driving and deliberate crashes.

Featured stunts included driving cars on two wheels, crashing through flaming barricades, and jumping an automobile ramp to ramp through mid air. For many years, Hell Drivers were used to demonstrate the dependability of a manufacturer’s automotive product. Major Hell Driver automotive sponsors have included Chevrolet, Dodge, Chrysler, Ford, AMC, Nash, and Toyota.

Later thrill shows coining the phrase “Hell Drivers” were launched by such famous drivers and race promoters as Jack Kochman, John Francis “Irish” Horan, Danny Fleenor, Geoff Williams and Joie Chitwood.

General Manager of Kochman’s troupe was Bob Conto. Conto, a native of Malone, New York in the state’s North Country was a former radio-television announcer whose staccato delivery kept pace with the 50-mile per hour events.

The Danish city of Aalborg is known internationally as the world’s centre of Hell Drivers.

Currently, the only traditional new-car stunt show in the United States is Tonny Petersen’s Hell Drivers. There is a current documentary produced by filmmaker Dan T. Hall and Vizmo Films about the life and times of Lucky Teter.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

The Towering Inferno, Best of Irwin Allen’s Disaster Films

 pposter4 towering inferno irwin allen paul newman

The Towering Inferno is my favorite of Irwin Allen’s disaster film series.  It’s got everything that makes these films so much fun, a great all-star cast, lavish sets, tension, suspense and fantastic stunts! It missed being singled out in my book 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts for 1974 simply because of the complexity of Bumps Willard and Raymond McHenry’s incredible mathematical car stunt in The Man With The Golden Gun.  So it gets a mention in our 100 Years Blog!

Based on two novels: “The Tower” by Richard Martin Stern, and “The Glass Inferno” by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. After the success of The Poseidon Adventure(1972)(also mentioned in the book for Best Stunt of 1972), disaster was hot property and Warner Brothers bought the rights to film “The Tower” for $390,000. Eight weeks later Irwin Allen (of 20th Century Fox) discovered “The Glass Inferno” and bought the rights for $400,000. To avoid two similar films competing at the box office the two studios joined forces and pooled their resources, each paying half the production costs. In return, 20th Century Fox got the US box office receipts and Warners the receipts from the rest of the world.

steve mcqueen in towering inferno

Both novels were inspired by the construction of the World Trade Center in the early-1970s, and what could happen in fire in a skyscraper. In Richard Martin Stern’s novel, “The Tower”, the fictional 140-floor building was set next to the north tower of the World Trade Center. The climax of the novel was centered around a rescue mounted from the north tower of the World Trade Center. Sad fact is that the World Trade Center themselves were the setting of a real-life horror, when they were hit by airplanes flown by terrorists in September 11, 2001.  Strangely, the real events far surpassed anything that was imagined on any of these Irwin Allen films as way of unfathomable terrifying disaster.  If he would have gone to the studios with the script of 9/11, they would have laughed him out the door for what seems like pure science fiction.  One strange coincidence regarding The Towering Inferno and it’s close resemblance at times to 9/11 was the last day of film production occurred on September 11th, 1974.

I’m doubtful, a film of this type could ever be made today, as the events would seem too real for most people and not just a fun popcorn blockbuster action film, like it did in the early 70’s.  The audience flooded the theaters back then for films like these and if you can forget about real-life, are still quite enjoyable today.  The stunts are especially nice and are littered throughout the entire film.

paul newman in towering inferno

The expanse of the stunts were so broad that a lot of storyboards were made to visualize what we would be seeing on screen.  Here’s some examples of how big this production really was. These storyboards were created by Joe Musso. Courtesy of The Tom Pennock Collection.

towering_inferno_scene490 towering_inferno_scene488 towering_inferno_scene468 towering_inferno_scene137 towering_inferno_scene9

The thing that is remarkable in a film like this is that the stunts really are endured by everyone, the actors, the crew, and the stunt team.  The danger factor for everyone is extremely high.  You can see a lot of the actors doing the stunts themselves, Paul Newman did most of his own stunts, including climbing up and down the bent stairwell railing.  Steve McQueen did most of his stunts for the film, including having 7,000 gallons of water dumped on him in the climactic final attempt to put out the fire.  Throughout the entire film, as the disaster rages throughout the building, eventually everything gets destroyed.  Of the 57 sets built for the production, only eight remained standing when filming ended.

My favorite scenes have to be the ones with the grand outdoor elevator.  The scenic elevator is actually one of two in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco. This elevator was used in numerous movies including Time After Time (1979), High Anxiety (1977), Telefon (1977), and Freebie and The Bean (1974) (which we mentioned in the blog last week).  Irwin Allen directed all the action sequences in the film himself, including the climactic final explosions to put the fire out. According to Susan Flannery, 20th Century Fox refused Irwin Allen to direct all of The Towering Inferno. Irwin Allen directed all the action sequences and John Guillerman was hired only to direct the actors only for non-action sequences. There were a total of four separate camera crews were utilized in some scenes, a record at the time. The crews were designated with capturing different aspects of the scenes: character filming, action shots, special effects, and aerial shots.

Towering Painting

Producer Irwin Allen as defined by Wikipedia:  Irwin Allen (June 12, 1916 – November 2, 1991) was an American television, documentary and film director and producer with a varied career who became known as the “Master of Disaster” for his work in the disaster film genre. His most successful productions were The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). He also created several popular 1960s science fiction television series, such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, and Land of the Giants.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Freebie and the Bean

 

Alan Arkin has gone on record to say that he only did this movie for the paycheck and that he hated the movie, but I find it very entertaining. As an artist this film probably went against his sensibilities, because it is sheer frivolity.  I have to admit, my favorite thing about the movie is Alan Arkin and James Caan’s constant bickering.  They seem like a 40 year old married couple and it’s just fun all the way.  The comedy works very well.

The second reason to love this movie is for the incredible car chases!  There are so many chases in fact that Arkin and Caan threatened to quit the production because they felt the director Richard Rush unwisely prioritized stunts over their relationship, and I’m so glad he did.  Rush said the film contained “four major chase scenes and over 100 car crashes” and that it was comprised of many short scenes which required constant changing of filming locations throughout the day, which makes it understandable why Caan and Arkin would feel that he prioritized stunts over them.Car in Freebie and the Bean

Richard Rush would be the big reason I think this film is so entertaining…he simply made a film he would like to go see, and you can tell.  Ironically enough he would go on to make “The Stunt Man”.  In that movie, the amiable stunt coordinator character Chuck Barton was played by actor-director-stuntman Charles Bail…who just so happened to be the actual stunt coordinator on Freebie and the Bean!  It’s crazy how these things come full circle!

In my book, “100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts”, Freebie and the Bean missed out on being listed for 1974 due to an amazing car stunt in The Man With The Golden Gun, and in 1980, The Stunt Man missed out due to the amazing car chases in The Blues Brothers, but I still think that these films are fantastic in their own right and deserve to be mentioned in the blog.Freebie and the Bean Car Crash

There is a very good interview with Richard Rush at the website Spectacular Optical: http://www.spectacularoptical.ca/2011/10/cunning-stunts/

Things to look up on IMDB:

  • Alan Arkin
  • James Caan
  • Richard Rush
  • Charles Bail
  • Freebie and the Bean
  • The Stuntman
  • The Man With The Golden Gun
  • The Blues Brothers