Tag Archives: Steve McQueen

Top 15 Heist Movies of the 60’s

 

The 1960’s seemed to break out with a whole bunch of fantastic Heist Films. Several of them from this decade have been remade into some great films in their own right. It’s always fun to watch a bunch of crooks fail or succeed at these heists and so I guess that’s why they keep making these kinds of films.  I’m very thankful that they do. Here’s my favorite top 15 heist films of the 1960’s:

15.  Kaleidoscope (1966)Kaleidoscope

Warren Beatty breaks into the Kaleidoscope company’s manufacturing plant to mark all of their cards set to be delivered to a whole bunch of casinos. This puts card-cheating on a whole new level. The film was released 1 year before Bonnie and Clyde (1967), which made him an International star. Technically, that film could be considered a “heist” film as well, but to me it doesn’t have the traditional sneak factor. If you go in and rob a place with a gun, it is a heist, but the good heist type films all have a con going on or intricate plot of people sneaking around. I also love it when my heist films have a bit of romance going on. This one is a bit of a romantic comedy and I definitely think it benefits from it. Jack Smight directed this. He directed a lot of tight thrillers in his time.

14.  Fitzwilly (1967)fitzwilly-movie-1968

Faithful butler, Dick Van Dyke, leads an elaborate criminal enterprise to keep their beloved Miss Vicki from realizing that she is flat broke! It’s the first half of the storyline that appears later in Disney’s Candleshoe (1977)(only that one has a treasure hunt to boot!). This one has a little romance as well when Barbara Feldon is hired to help Miss Vicki write a dictionary. She slowly learns what Dick Van Dyke and crew is up to and threatens to break the whole thing apart until she falls in love with him. Delbert Mann directed this and a lot of great romantic comedies besides this one.

13.  Seven Thieves (1960)seven thieves

Henry Hathaway directed this great cast of Edward G. Robinson, Rod Steiger, Joan Collins, Sebastian Cabot and Eli Wallach about a planned heist on a Monte Carlo Casino. A truly classic film director, he would direct some of the finest films over a 30 year period. The most frequent actor that appears on this list, just happens to be Edward G. Robinson. This just happens to be the first of three. He is viewed as the ultimate mastermind behind these heists, so I wonder if that ever hurt his feelings that people saw him as the best crime plotter.

12.  Grand Slam (1967)grand slam

Edward G. Robinson leads the heist on his second entry as well and recruits a group of men this time to break into a diamond company to steal 10 million dollars in diamonds!  Directed by Italian director Giuliano Montaldo and starring Janet Leigh as the only woman in a cast full of guys…oh, wait, I see a pattern here. This is the decade where heist films got their formula and it’s a formula that is used even today when you look at the heist films of the last 10 years.

11.  Topkapi (1964)topkapi

Now the grand-daddy of all heists is said to have been a very low budget french film named…Rififi (1955), directed by Jules Dassin. That movie put him on the map and gave us the decade that followed, full of heist films. He also films another heist with this entry, Topkapi, about a conman, who gets mixed up with a group of thieves who plan to rob an Istanbul museum to retrieve a jeweled dagger. Cited by Mission: Impossible (1966) TV series creator Bruce Geller as the inspiration for his own series. It’s also one of director Christopher Nolan’s favorite movies, who would go on to direct an ultimate heist movie of his own, Inception (2010). It’s also interesting to note, Jules Dassin originally planned to cast Peter Sellers as Arthur Simpson, but Sellers later dropped out, to be replaced by Peter Ustinov, whom Sellers had, in turn, replaced in The Pink Panther(1963) as Inspector Clouseau.

10.  Ocean’s Eleven (1960)Oceans11

I actually liked the remake, Ocean’s Eleven (2001) with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts a little bit more than this original, but it’s good too. Directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Angie Dickinson, it’s about Danny Ocean, who gathers a group of his World War II compatriots to pull off the ultimate Las Vegas heist. Together the eleven friends plan to rob five Las Vegas casinos in one night.

9.  Thomas Crown Affair (1968)thomascrown

Another one where I liked the Thomas Crown Affair (1999) remake better than the original. Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo and that fantastic elaborate heist sequence at the end is just awesome. I still like the original which is about a debonair, adventuresome bank executive who believes he has pulled off the perfect multi-million dollar heist, only to match wits with a sexy insurance investigator who will do anything to get her man. Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway act in this Norman Jewison film. An added bonus is that Faye Dunaway appears in both films. One of the coolest aspects of the film is its split screen opening sequence. While some claim that this is an example of style over content, the real reason the split screen was adopted was because editor Hal Ashby was tasked with reducing the running time of the opening.

8.  Italian Job (1969)italian job lobby card

Now this one I liked the original better than the Italian Job (2003), but I liked that one a lot too. It had a better cast with Donald Sutherland, Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, and Jason Statham. The original had Michael Caine, Noel Coward and Benny Hill! This is a Comic caper movie about a plan to steal a gold shipment from the streets of Turin by creating a traffic jam. Directed by Peter Collinson.  According to Michael Caine, the film did not perform well at the US box-office due to a misleading advertising campaign. The US poster featured a scantily clad woman with a map on her back kneeling in front of a Mafioso holding a machine gun. While promoting the film in the US, Caine saw the poster and became so upset that he immediately flew home to England. In a 2003 UK movie survey, Charlie Croker’s (Michael Caine) line, “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” was voted the most memorable line in any film.

7.  Goldfinger (1964)Goldfinger

Yes, I would consider this a heist movie as spies all sneak around and break into places all the time and also the main bad guy, Goldfinger himself is scheming to break into Fort Knox…the ultimate heist. Directed by James Bond favorite, Guy Hamilton and starring Sean Connery, it’s a great entry for the series. Steven Spielberg cites this as his personal favorite of all the Bond movies and even owns an Aston Martin DB5 due to the impact Goldfinger had on him.  Due to the popularity and success of this movie and its spy car the Aston Martin DB5, the vehicle gained the nickname, “The Most Famous Car in the World”. Sales of the Aston Martin DB5 increased by fifty per cent after the release of the movie. The Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) featured the Lotus Esprit and sales would also increase for that car after the movie premiered.

6.  Never a Dull Moment (1968)never a dull moment

Edward G. Robinson leads another heist! This time in this fantastic comedy starring one of my favorite actors…Dick Van Dyke. It’s directed by Dick’s next door neighbor on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Jerry Paris! My brother and I LOVE this movie. When practicing for a role, actor Jack is mistaken for the killer Ace. He doesn’t realize this until it’s too late and is carried off to gangster boss Leo Smooth, who wants Ace to do a job for him. Fearing for his life, Jack plays his role, but always searching for a way out of the well-guarded house. This one has a lot of great character actors along for the ride like Henry Silva, Jack Elam and Slim Pickens.

5.  Gambit (1966)gambit

This one also had a recent remake done, but let’s just keep to the good stuff, why don’t we. Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine and Herbert Lom…shine in this one. Directed by Ronald Neame, this one is about an English cat burglar, who needs a Eurasian dancer’s help to pull off the perfect heist, but even the most foolproof schemes have a way of backfiring. The first draft of the screenplay was written by Bryan Forbes in 1960, when the story was designed as a vehicle for Cary Grant. He eventually dropped out of the project, which subsequently underwent many changes. It was eventually decided to make the girl the central character and Shirley Maclaine was signed for the lead. After seeing The Ipcress File, she suggested Michael Caine as her leading man, which led to still more rewriting to accommodate his working-class cockney persona.

4.  Sam Whiskey (1969)sam whiskey

Burt Reynolds, Ossie Davis, Clint Walker and Angie Dickinson are a lot of fun in this film. It’s a comedy directed by Arnold Lavin and is about Sam Whiskey, a civil war gambler, who is offered a job from the attractive widow Laura. She wants him to salvage gold bars, which Laura’s dead husband stole recently, from a sunken ship and secretly bring them back to the mint before they are missed. But how shall he manage to get several hundred pounds of gold into the mint without anyone noticing? Now, I should mention that Angie Dickinson flashes some naughty bits in the beginning of this movie, but if you can bypass that, it’s a very clean and entertaining film.

3.  The War Wagon (1967)the-war-wagon

John Wayne and Kirk Douglas in a movie together…I’m soooo there. The story of a man who was shot, robbed and imprisoned who returns to steal a large gold shipment from the man who wronged him. The gold is transported in an armored stage coach, the War Wagon. Who wouldn’t want to see this? Directed by Burt Kennedy, who would go on to direct James Garner in Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter, which I also love!

John Wayne, who had lost his entire left lung and several ribs in major surgery for cancer in 1964, had great difficulty breathing on an airplane while flying to the location for the start of filming and had to use an oxygen mask throughout the journey. Kirk Douglas recalled that he hadn’t realized just how fragile Wayne was until this moment. Kirk Douglas and John Wayne had previously starred together in In Harm’s Way (1965) and Cast a Giant Shadow (1966). This film was their third and final teaming. John Wayne was not very fond of the finished film, although he said he felt that Kirk Douglas was very funny as Lomax.

2.  How to Steal a Million (1966)how-to-steal-a-million-movie-poster-1966

Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn with a little Eli Wallach on the side please. Waa-laa…How to Steal a Million, directed by William Wyler is a romantic comedy about a woman who must steal a statue from a Paris museum to help conceal her father’s art forgeries, and the man who helps her. They are both delightful together but the real genius here is Wyler. Wyler has directed some of the biggest films with Ben Hur, The Best Years of Our Lives, Funny Girl, Roman Holiday, The Children’s Hour and The Desperate Hours.  He’s top notch.

1.   Pink Panther (1963)pink panther lobby card

Blake Edwards does it right with this first Pink Panther movie and set the tone for a slew of great films to come. Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau is just perfect in every way. Originally intended as a vehicle for David Niven as the cat burglar The Phantom, Peter Sellers quickly started to improv his way through all his scenes and stole the movie right out from under him. The biggest heist of them all, as Peter Sellers would go on to reprise his role 5 more times after this.  The character of Sir Charles Lytton does return to the Pink Panther movies in the third film The Return of the Pink Panther (1975). Peter Sellers again portrays the bumbling Clouseau but Christopher Plummer plays the role of Sir Charles in that film. The precious Pink Panther jewel is once again the focus as in the beginning of the film it is stolen. This time from a museum.

I write about the Pink Panther series in another blog post, click here to find out more about it…

 

Best Movie Stunts of the Year List 1960-1969

 

Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1960-1969 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

1960 – Spartacusspartacus_fight

I would argue that this is the best Gladiator movie ever made.  The stunt team on this film was the who’s who in the stunt world at that time including, Yakima, Tap and Joe Canutt, Harvey Parry, Tom Steele, Richard Farnsworth, Buddy Van Horn, Dale Van Sickel, Polly Bursen, Carey Loftkin, Loren James, Cliff Lyons and on and on.

1961 – The Guns of Navaroneguns-of-navarone-original

Alistair MacLane seemed to create a genre all his own that started with this picture and had the feel of a heist film but with a mixture of spies and betrayal mixed in.  Some great stunts appear in this film.

1962 – Lawrence of ArabiaLawrence Of Arabia-21

This film is fantastic, but was a very perilous film shoot.  War films, especially with horses are extremely hard.  But boy does it look great.

1963 – The Great Escapegreat bud eikins

Arguably the best motorcycle stunt ever made, but I would venture to say it’s not the best ever made, just the most famous.  It is a pretty nifty stunt for a VERY heavy bike.

1964 – Circus WorldCircus World Lobby Card

This movie has two stunts that blow the mind.  The first is the real sinking of a large carrier ship sinking, live, and then the second is a huge circus tent fire.  Both staged by Richard Talmadge and front and center is a man with only one lung, John Wayne!

1965 – The Sons of Katie Eldersons-of-katie-elder

John Wayne earns the nod for Best Movie Stunts two years running due to his stunts in this movie.  Remember, he’s got only one lung!

1966 – Grand PrixGrandPrix_garnerglare

James Garner found out that he’s a pretty good driver and gets to show his chops here.  He would go on to race professionally after this in several races and drove the pace car several times as well.

1967 – War and Peacewarandpeace

Russia busts out of the gate with this long masterpiece.  It’s epic in every way and beautifully done.  It took them years to make this movie and was finally released in 1967.

1968 – Bullittbullitt (1)

This film is known for an 11 minute long car chase that appears out of the end of the movie and is very tense and breathtaking.  You can never talk about movie stunts without seeing this chase mentioned.

1969 – Battle of BritainBattle_of_Britain

War movies are incredibly difficult and massive undertakings.  Put that in the air and it doubles all the troubles.  This really is the best of these films.

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Bud Eikins and The Great Escape

 

One of the great things about hindsight is I can now give awards to moments in film history deemed as “classic” to most.  This one falls in that category.  This is not the most amazing motorcycle stunt to ever grace the silver screen but arguably the most famous.  Because of that fact, this one makes my list.  Bud Eikins also drives the Mustang in most of Bullitt, doubling for Steve McQueen in that movie as well.great bud eikins

“I’d never done anything like that before” he told Matt Stone in an interview for the book, McQueen’s Machines: The Cars and Bikes of a Hollywood Icon. “Steve just told me, ‘C’mon, we’re going to meet the director. Do you have a suit? Put it on and I’ll pick you up.’ The next thing I knew, I was on my way to Germany.” And on his way into the annals of movie history by nailing the dangerous jump — which McQueen was probably capable of, but also which the producers wouldn’t even let him perform — on the first and only take.

The motorcycle that Hilts (McQueen) rides is a cosmetically modified Triumph TR6 Trophy. Ekins who performed the barbed wire leap stunt, was a Triumph dealer. Triumph was McQueen’s favorite motorcycle marque. The motorcycle sidecar combination that crashes into a ditch is revealed to be a Triumph motorcycle, too. As is well known, these British motorcycle models were not in existence during the Second World War and their appearance is somewhat incongruous.

So even though the producers refused to let McQueen do the jump during the climatic motorcycle chase, John Sturges, the director, allowed him to ride (in disguise) as one of the pursuing German soldiers, so that in the final sequence, through the magic of editing, he’s actually chasing himself.  It’s also been said that when McQueen’s character Hilts strings a wire across the road to obtain the motorcycle originally, that it’s McQueen himself again playing the German motorcyclist who hits the wire.great motorcycle

McQueen really had an influence on the film, because these scenes are arguably the most thrilling scenes in the movie and were not originally in the book. The motorcycle scenes were not based on real life but were added at McQueen’s suggestion. He always wanted to ride a motorcycle in a film and initially accepted the role of Hilts on the condition that he got to show off his motorcycle skills. At one point, during filming, McQueen even held up production because he demanded that the script be rewritten to give his character more to do. In the end, all of this seemed to really work in McQueen’s favor as he has been credited by many with the most significant performance. Critic Leonard Maltin wrote that “the large, international cast is superb, but the standout is McQueen; it’s easy to see why this cemented his status as a superstar.”

The Great Escape was directed by John Sturges for the Mirisch Company.great bud and steve

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB):

History of film companies as defined by Wikipedia: The Mirisch Company was a film production company owned by Walter Mirisch and his brothers, Marvin and Harold Mirisch. The company also had sister firms known at various times as Mirisch Production Company, Mirisch Pictures, Inc., Mirisch Films, and The Mirisch Corporation.

Walter Mirisch began producing at Monogram Pictures beginning with Fall Guy (1947), the profitable Bomba the Jungle Boy series, Wichita (1955), The First Texan (1956), and many others.

Walter Mirisch was in charge of production at Allied Artists when the studio made Friendly Persuasion, Love in the Afternoon (1957 film), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), and numerous others.

The Mirisch Company was founded in August 1957 at which time it signed a 12-picture deal with United Artists (UA), which was extended to 20 films two years later. UA acquired the company on March 1, 1963, but the Mirisch brothers continued to produce for their distribution, under other corporate names, in rented space at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio.

It produced many famous motion pictures for United Artists, starting with Fort Massacre (1958) but later including Some Like It Hot (1959), The Horse Soldiers (1959), The Apartment (1960), The Magnificent Seven (1960), West Side Story (1961), The Great Escape (1963), The Pink Panther (1963), In the Heat of the Night (1967), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Fiddler on the Roof(1971), and many others.great

In 1964 Mirisch Films Ltd, or Mirisch Films GB was formed in the United Kingdom that produced 633 Squadron, A Shot in the Dark and several other films.

The Pink Panther featured an animated Pink Panther (character) that soon became a star of a series of cinema cartoons made by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises that were released by Mirisch/UA.

Mirisch first entered television in 1959 with the series, Wichita Town for NBC. It also co-produced live action television shows such as The Rat Patrol, Hey Landlord and The Magnificent Seven (TV series) as well as a number of television movies and cartoon shows of The Super 6 and The Pink Panther Show.

They forged long term relationships with such directors as Billy Wilder, Blake Edwards, Robert Wise, George Roy Hill, William Wyler, J. Lee Thompson, John Sturges and Norman Jewison, who directed three consecutive successes for them – The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966), In the Heat of the Night (1967) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968).

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Steve McQueen, Carey Loftkin, Bud Eikins, Loren Janes and Bill Hickman for Bullitt

 

Carey gets the nod for designing arguably the most famous car chase scene in history.  He was one of the quintessential stunt car drivers in the business when he was asked to be the stunt coordinator for the sequence and this became an instant indelible classic.  Not only did he design it, but he was one of the stunt drivers (doubling for Steve McQueen) as well as Bud Eikins and Loren Janes. Bill Hickman, gets the nod for driving the famous black Charger chasing McQueen.  Arguably, McQueen is added to the roster, ’cause how can you do this scene without Steve McQueen?
bullitt (1)

The total time of the scene is 10 minutes and 53 seconds, beginning in the Fisherman’s Wharf area at Columbus and Chestnut, followed by Midtown shooting on Hyde and Laguna Streets, with shots of Coit Tower and locations around and on Filbert and University Streets. The scene ends outside the city at the Guadalupe Canyon Parkway in Brisbane. Filming took three weeks. Due to multiple takes spliced into a single end product, heavy damage on the passenger side of Bullitt’s car can be seen much earlier than the incident producing it and the Charger loses five wheel covers, with different ones missing in different shots.

Bullitt’s reverse burnout during the chase scene actually wasn’t in the script – Steve McQueen had mistakenly missed the turn. Initially the car chase was supposed to be scored, but composer Lalo Schifrin suggested that no music be added to that sequence, pointing out that the soundtrack was powerful enough as it was. The film’s famous chase scene wasn’t originally in the script. In the first draft of “Bullitt”, adapted from Robert L. Pike’s novel “Mute Witness”, Det. Frank Bullitt was a Boston policeman who ate a lot of ice cream and never solved a case. The book had originally been bought with Spencer Tracy in mind; but with Tracy’s death, the property fell into the hands of Steve McQueen and Producer Philip D’Antoni. D’Antoni added the chase and changed the location to San Francisco.bullitt cars

Bullitt was directed by Peter Yates for Warner Bros.

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page ):

Glossary of stunt terms as defined by Wikipedia:  CAR CHASE –  In television and film, the term “car chase” refers to a scene involving one or more automobiles pursuing one another; the chase may or may not involve a police car. Car chases are a staple of the action movie genre, and feature-length films have been built entirely around car chases, often featuring high-powered, exotic vehicles. They are popular because they are fast moving scenes that generate a great deal of excitement and action, due to the speed of the vehicles involved, and the potential collisions and the debris resulting from the wreckage, while not being hugely expensive to stage.

Although car chases on film were staged as early as the motor vehicle itself, the consensus among historians and film critics is that the first modern car chase movie was 1968’s Bullitt. The revolutionary 10-minute-long chase scene in Bullitt was far longer and far faster than what had gone before, and placed cameras so that the audience felt as though they were inside the cars. Even during the most calamitous scenes, the star – Steve McQueen – could be clearly seen at the wheel of the vehicle.bullitt57

The French Connection further increased the realism. While previous chases had obviously been filmed on closed roads, isolated highways, or Sunday mornings (including Bullitt), The French Connection placed the chase in the midst of busy New York traffic and pedestrians. The producer of both Bullitt and The French Connection, Philip D’Antoni, went on to direct The Seven-Ups with yet another trademark chase sequence through New York featuring Roy Scheider from The French Connection as well as Bill Hickman, one of the drivers who had previously appeared in Bullitt.

As time went on, so did the expectations of the movie car chase. Since Bullitt, car chases featured in movies have become more advanced and arguably more entertaining. Car crashes have also formed an increasingly important role, with the destruction of any vehicle often coming as a delight to the viewer. An early example of a staged but startling accident in a movie chase can be found in the 1974 movie McQ, which featured an incredible rollover, the first cannon rollover in fact, across a beach. The spectacle came at a cost, however, for stunt driver Hal Needham, who sustained multiple injuries after setting the explosives too high.

Eventually this resulted in movies which are not much more than a series of linked car chases, such as Gone in 60 Seconds (1974 film), which culminated in a 40 minute car chase scene with multiple crashes (some of them unplanned, real accidents) and a 30-foot-high, 128-feet-long airborne jump over crashed cars that block a road.

Arguably the most typical car chase is one in which a car is being pursued by police cars. In part because car chases are so common many movie makers try to introduce a new twists to them. One of the most famous variations is from The French Connection and involves a car chasing an elevated train. Chases involving buses, trucks, snowmobiles, trains, tanks, and virtually every other type of vehicle (with or without wheels) have appeared at some point.

Car chases can also be played for laughs. Films such as: The Keystone Kops; W.C. Fields comedies; The Three Stooges; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The Shaggy Dog; No Deposit, No Return; Freaky Friday; The Gnome Mobile; The Million Dollar Duck and many others have car chases that are used for comedy.

Probably the most complex type of car chase involves going the wrong way at high speed against moderately congested freeway traffic, most notably in To Live and Die in L.A. and Ronin which, by no small coincidence, were directed by William Friedkin (The French Connection) and John Frankenheimer (French Connection II), respectively.bullitt32

Several films that feature complex large-scale chases involving a lot of vehicles in the pursuit include The Blues Brothers, The Transporter, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Mad Max 2. Another method of escalating a car chase scene is to have a character move from one vehicle to another and to fight in or on top of a moving vehicle as the Wachowski Brothers employed very effectively in The Matrix Reloaded.

A number of television shows have been built around the popularity of car chases, such as The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, Airwolf, and most recently, Chase.

In more modern times, the use of computer-generated imagery is becoming increasingly popular, and, although costly, eliminates any danger level. While impressive at times, it is often argued that it eliminates the realism of the chase scene, which can then in turn damage the established thrill factor. Recent examples of this computer-generated imagery can be found in the Michael Bay films Bad Boys II and The Island. An example of a lower budget film using computer-generated imagery in a car chase is RSTC: Reserve Spy Training Corps. Driven was particularly panned for its CGI car chase sequences. Such criticism has affected recent Hollywood productions; for example, films like Ronin, The Bourne Supremacy, The Kingdom, and The Dark Knight all had actual live-action chases with minimal use of CGI, if at all.

In the action comedy film Hot Fuzz, the scene in which Sergeant Angel chases the speeding car has been declared the shortest car chase in film history. The brevity of the scene, as acknowledged in interviews, was itself the joke.

For more about the world’s greatest movie stunts, check out the 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!

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