Friday, February 11, 2011

Top Ten Movie Theater Experience #5: “The Towering Inferno” (1974)

I’m thankful to some guest speaker or other who came to Wikiup Evangelical Free Church for going to see this movie with my dad. Someone said from a pulpit, “Dads, you need to spend time with your sons. Spend time doing things they’re interesting in… fishing, building model planes…Whatever they want to do.”
But, of course, there was something I’d rather do than throw a baseball around or panning for gold. When Dad asked what I wanted to do, I said go to the movies. And what was better during my late elementary school and Jr. High years than disaster movies? My brother Dale and I got to see “The Poseidon Adventure” together, the first PG film we saw without our parents. And PG movies in the ‘70’s got away with a lot more in those prePG-13 days.
So in a disaster movie those days, you knew you’d get cool special effects, some gore, some rough language, and best of all, women who would be forced by natural catastrophe to run around for much of the film in skimpy clothing (often just a man’s shirt.)
So, anyway, Dad and I went together, leaving the rest of the family behind, to see this Irwin Allen classic. Irwin Allen was a genius. Not only was he the King of the Disaster Film with “Inferno” and “Poseidon” and later the worst and therefore best disaster film of all time, “The Swarm” (a Bee film with an A cast) but also he produced some of my favorite TV shows of my childhood (“The Time Tunnel”, “Land of the Giants”, “Voyage of the Bottom of the Sea” and especially, “Lost in Space”.)
We went to see this at the Park Cinema. In the film, the world’s tallest building is having its debut, but Paul Newman, the architect, worries that bad guys William Holden and Robert Wagner cut corners during construction. Paul’s right, of course. The fire starts small, but soon threatens the party goers in the top floor.
The awkward thing was when the requisite woman in skimpy clothing appeared (Susan Blakely attired only in Robert Wagner’s shirt). You always hear people complain about the ratings board for American films dealing much more harshly with sex than with violence. There is a good reason for this. I can speak to this as a parent. If I’m watching a movie with one of my kids and someone is shot in the head and said head explodes, I can watch the screen or turn my head away, and my kid can do the same. We can even look and each other and say, “How Gross!” or “How Cool!”, whatever the case may be. On the other hand, if a naked woman appears on the screen… I don’t want my kid watching me watch the screen. I don’t want to look at my kid because we’re both embarrassed. Even if I cover my eyes, I wonder if my kid is covering as well and if I look, will my kid think I’m looking to see if I can look at the screen….
But fortunately, for my Dad and me and Susan Blakely, the power went out in the theater. So Susan was not consumed by flames. We sat in the theater, waiting to see if the film would start. It was not dark in the theater, because the emergency lights went on. We waited and waited, until an usher came in and told us that we would be given rain checks.
As we left, my Dad asked me whether I would like to see the rest of the film or see something else. The next week we returned to see all 165 minutes of disaster. Because I wanted to see those great movie stars, Newman, Steve McQueen and the master thespian O. J. Simpson. And went Susan Blakely scurried down the hallway (and I believe out a window), my dad and I watched. Our eyes fixed on the screen, not daring to look at each other.

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