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Friday October 19th 2018

The Towering Inferno | 1974

The Towering Inferno location: Hyatt Regency Hotel, Embarcadero Center, San Francisco
The Towering Inferno location: the entrance lobby: Hyatt Regency Hotel, Embarcadero Center, San Francisco

How to list the leads in this disaster epic? Steve McQueen and Paul Newman vied for top billing (supposedly even insisting on the same number of lines of dialogue each) and the film’s credits solve the problem with ‘diagonal’ billing: one name comes first if you read top-to-bottom, the other if you read left-to-right.

20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers had both planned high-rise conflagration movies, based on two separate books, The Tower and The Glass Inferno. Avoiding a head-to-head, they decided to pool their resources and the result was The Towering Inferno.

Set in San Francisco, the opening matte shot places the tower just about on the site where the Transamerica Pyramid now stands (five storeys of the doomed building were built on the lost at Fox’s Malibu Ranch).

The Towering Inferno location: Bank of America World Headquarters, California Street, San Francisco
The Towering Inferno location: the entrance to the doomed tower: Bank of America World Headquarters, California Street, San Francisco

The grand San Francisco entrance to the tower was actually the plaza entrance to the old Bank of America World Headquarters, now mundanely known by its address as 555 California Street at Kearny Street in the city’s Financial District. It was from the rooftop of the same building that psycho-killer Scorpio took potshots at SF citizens in Dirty Harry.

The Towering Inferno location: Hyatt Regency Hotel, Embarcadero Center, San Francisco
The Towering Inferno location: the entrance lobby: Hyatt Regency Hotel, Embarcadero Center, San Francisco

The lobby, though, with its glass elevators, is the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, 5 Embarcadero Center, a dizzying location seen also in Mel BrooksHigh Anxiety and sci-fi adventure Time After Time.

This being, at least in part, a Twentieth Century Fox movie, the computer controlled building surveillance centre was filmed in the basement of a Century City office building in Los Angeles.

The Towering Inferno location: Vallejo Street, Pacific Heights, San Francisco
The Towering Inferno location: the mansion of cheapskate electrician Simmons: Vallejo Street, Pacific Heights, San Francisco

The mansion of snivelly cheapskate electrician Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) is 2898 Vallejo Street at Baker Street, in the classy Pacific Heights district. This wealthy neighbourhood always seems to be a bit dubious on screen – 2930 was home to writer Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) in Basic Instinct, while oily ambitious politician Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) lived at 2700 in Bullitt.