Towers of strength in 'Towering Inferno'
Characteristically catching the mood of the moment,. the film industry• has launched the year on a disaster or catastrOphe cycle. We have already seen and perversely enjoyed "Earthquake". With
Towering Inferno ("A" Warner West End 2) we share the thrill of fire breaking out in a high tower block and at the very opening ceremony too. Ironically also San Francisco seems to have been chosen as the favourite disaster area, partly perhaps because its town-.
scape is the most photogenic of American cities: partly because
it has had its own historic dis
asters by fire and earthquake, whichever they chose to blame. In "Towering Inferno," William Holden as Duncan the developer of the toseer-block and a characteristically snotley collection of near-VIPs are assembled flq the launching of the world's higliesi skyscraper. But Duncan's architect, Doug Roberts (Paul Newman), checking the complex electaical installations, is worried that some of the precautiops have been skimped. Last-minute backstage efforts are made to remedy the defects, due apparently to penny-pinching by the developer's venal son-inlaw (Richard Chamberlain). As refreshments are about to devoured a sinister tongue of smoke licks under one of the doors we've been seeing inspected.
The fire is on. The fire brigade is called in with Steve. McQueen at their head, and I am happy to admit that I can't remember a dull moment. Naturally the technical thrills are the greatest, what the synopsis calls the "action sequences", crediting their direction to Irwin Allen while John Cluillerniin was the overall director.
Despite the heroic efforts of Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, and belated but frantic' attempts of Duncan and a wellmeaning senator (Robert Vaughn) the blaze which breaks out on the 81st floor spreads .quickly enough to threaten the guests gathered 50 storeys above on the Lop floor.
What I admired most was not just the electrifying thrills and suspense which clever_ direction makes the danger easy to follow if not to understand. I admire the authentic view of miscellaneous crowd behaviour under danger.
Individual characters are stereotypes, of course. But Fred Astaire as an elderly conman and Jennifer Jones as a doting but heroic widow arc too endearing not to forgive their sentirriental cliché as a couple. Richard Chamberlain's villain is the cad of any boys' school story, hut he is not impossible. McQueen arid Newman kirC towers. of etrength for the firefighters. ilolden, Faye Dun
away and the, rest are thoroughly competent so that the high-rise fire comes to its two-and-a-half-hour finish long before I expected it — which is a very great compliment from a critic to a disaster-movie.
Even the best-loved starscannot be guaranteed to rescue an inauspicious . project. Perhaps it was never a wellfounded inspiration that Spike roost brilliant of the Goons should make a movie about the man whose only claim to fame is that he was an outstandingly bad poet.
'As The Great McGonagall ("AA", ABC Bloomsbury) Milligan does not mock the poor and deluded pseudo-poet. which would be distasteful; on the contrary, he essays a compassionate impression. But it doesn't come off.
The result is neither really funny nor really pathetic, but merely an unintegrated sketch from which the only person la emerge with triumph is Peter Sellers as Queen Victoria. whom McGonagall visits at Balmoral. Julia Foster's incloieinlhte charm also survives
ti.. -,;;,liag eccentric gloom.
-Peter smith is a promising young British director whose liVely children's film "What next?" I recommended at the London Film Festival. A Private Enterprise ("AA", The Gate Cinema, Notting Hill Gate) is an equally refreshing and modest movie for grown ups.
It takes a straight. sane look at a young Indian immigrant in the Midlands and explores the problems of adaptation set him by the English foreigners and by his own compatriots.
He wants much the same as any normal young man: that is to say independence and freedom. He eludes the rich bride and her dowry pressed on him by his uncle almost as determinedly as he evades an over-attentive English girl or becoming involved with the strikers and their union who virtually destroy his friend. As a graduate engineer, he is more interested in settling in to the right job than in sex. The point of the film is
nothing to do with race relations. It is a simple gentle film, sometimes quietly humorous, about a stranger in our midst. It seems to me jest the kind or subject about whleti film should be, and might has s been made long ago about Lee, of the other foreigners, say Poles Or Italians, trying to live
among the English. Mr. Smith has treated it a ith restraint, economy and human symPathy.
We should all be grateful to him, too, for proving entertainingly that an hour and half of time and an astonishingly low budget (reputedly £15,000) in film terms arc quite enough to deal compellingly witn a real and topically agent or universally humene Lierne.
In the same programme Henry Malec, Awake and Asleep, ("AA"), makes the notorious A merivea writer's bedroom and .adjoie.ee bathroom an
everywhere. He takes us on a tour of the pictures on his bathroom walls. And what a well-stocked scrap-gallery it is, providing scope for comments on Gurtljev, Jung or Miller's own "obsession with sex."
Presumably Jung — of whom the octogenarian Miller is even slightly reminiscent -must be an exception to Miller's dislike of psycho-analysts who, he says "may adapt you to life in this corrupt world but never do what they claim and make a new man of you."