We’re always looking for movies to watch with our kids, which got us thinking: Would we still be scared of the movies that freaked us out way back then? In 1974, I was a toothless, eight-year-old third grader in Baltimore, Maryland. At the time, I was obsessed with Randolph Mantooth’s eyebrows on “Emergency!” That’s probably why my parents decided to take me to see ‘70s disaster flick “Towering Inferno.” In Greenville, South Carolina, my husband’s parents took him to see it, too. Fast-forward a few decades and here we are, comparing notes on how terrified we still are at “Towering Inferno.”
Convinced our home would erupt into flames at any moment, I begged my parents to put a fire ladder under my bed. My husband got one, too. I’ve got to wonder if sales for fire emergency equipment spiked after “Towering Inferno” premiered. Heading up an elevator in any high-rise building taller than ten floors still makes me nervous. Him too. After experiencing a serious crush on Steve McQueen as the passionate fire fighter chief, I’ve experienced a life-long fascination with firemen. Uh, not my husband. He liked Steve McQueen better in “Bullitt.”
So we decided the only way to overcome the fear is to watch it again. Surely with HD TV, the effects in “Towering Inferno” would look choppy, dated and campy. Surely, watching the film now would be hilarious. Surely, seeing Paul Newman in a fight-for-your-life role would lose its power after looking at him on countless spaghetti sauce jars. To our renewed horror, “Towering Inferno” was still not just good, excellent. Watching it was like restoring power – you kind of enjoyed not having it. Now all the lights are on, and we are even more terrified.
The cast is jam packed with A-list stars of that time, including Fred Astaire, Faye Dunaway, Richard Chamberlain and heavies Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. Then, there’s the hilarious appearance of O.J. Simpson as an over-zealous security guard. There are no computer-generated effects. Real live fire was involved, and even the actors were shaken shooting some of those scenes. It’s a thrill to watch, although you can’t help but feel so sad thinking of the film’s unintentional premonitions of 9/11.
We’re not including “Towering Inferno” in the “watch with the kids” category. “JAWS” or “The Shining,” either. Instead, we’ll stick to vintage Bond and back episodes of “Emergency!” Then, I’ll teach the kids how to make their eyebrows dance into dramatic arcs like Randolph Mantooth’s.