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The Towering Inferno (1974) Poster

Goofs

Factual errors 

According to the building codes in effect, even at the time of the movie, there were standards required that were not met; therefore, the building would not have been allowed to be occupied by tenants by the Fire Department: G. Smoke Detection. Title 8 HEALTH AND SAFETY Chapter 8.28 FIRE PREVENTION AND SUPPRESSION Article II. Fire Prevention 1. Every high-rise building shall be protected with an approved, electrically supervised, automatic fire detection system having detectors which will respond to visible or invisible products of combustion in the following locations: a. In every mechanical equipment room; etc. Additionally, 1. Every high-rise building shall be provided with an automatic fire sprinkler system. 2. The fire sprinkler system shall conform to the National Fire Protection Association Pamphlet No. 13 and the following: a. The NFPA Pamphlet No. 13 used shall be the latest edition. b. Shutoff valves and water flow devices shall be provided for each floor. In addition to actuating a local alarm on the floor upon which the water flow is detected, operation of such valves shall transmit an alarm to a U.L.-certified central receiving station and to the fire control center if the fire control center is required by other subsections of this section., etc.
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Jump to: Anachronisms (1)  | Audio/visual unsynchronised (1)  | Character error (7)  | Continuity (14)  | Crew or equipment visible (2)  | Errors in geography (1)  | Factual errors (17)  | Miscellaneous (3)  | Plot holes (4)  | Revealing mistakes (19)  | Spoilers (3)

Anachronisms 

The fire starts on the 81st floor and magically jumps down to 65 with no explanation. Meanwhile 14 floors above, the firefighters set up shop, with flames above and below them. Similar jumps of the blaze above 81 are not really explained.
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Audio/visual unsynchronised 

As the breeches buoy is being set up, the fireman in the Promenade Room of the tower signals to the helicopter with his flashlight. We hear clicks, as if the flashlight is being turned on and off, but it is on the whole time.
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Character error 

When O'Halloran is first setting up the forward command on 79 he asks Jernigan for a list of business tenants on 81 or above. Yet, according to the man showing an apartment to a couple near the beginning of the movie, the commercial tenants only go up as far as 80. From 81 up it's all residential.
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Dan and Lorrie and having an illicit affair. They are both eager to keep this from being discovered as evidenced by some of their dialog during their tryst. When the couple discover the fire and Dan makes his fake phone call, Lorrie has no reason to doubt him. Yet though her clothes are draped on a chair in the same room, she makes no attempt to get dressed. Instead, she remains wearing only Dan's dress shirt and a pair of control top pantyhose. She apparently means to greet the supposed rescuing fireman dressed this way-- and be escorted down to the lobby barefoot in pantyhose with her boss at her side. Given the situation and circumstances, Lorrie's first action after Dan reassured her that "help was on the way" should have been to put her clothes back on.
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Mr. Duncan says of his building that he has the latest and greatest fire prevention devices in effect, which is flat-out lie, because if he were right the sprinklers would have automatically been set off by the fire on the 81st floor and the Fire Department would have been notified automatically according to building and fire codes, even at the time the movie was made (1974).
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Chief Mike O'Hallorhan would have to be the most incompetent fire chief ever he tells Duncan there is a fire in the building and instead of ordering complete evacuation of the building which is right and proper he tells Duncan that he can continue having the party in the building below the fire something a Fire Chief would never do.
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Mike asks Doug if there was anything dangerous on the 81st floor, where the fire started, that would make the fire worse. Doug (the architect) inconceivably forgot about the gallons of paint thinner and dozens of cans of spray paint (unforgivably placed) in that electrical room.
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Doug, a professional architect of renown, asks someone if the power is "OFF" before working inside an electrical. Then, against both the National Electrical Code and common sense, he uses a screwdriver inside that same panel.

A professional architect would never trust someone's word for whether or not the electricity to a circuit was turned as his/her life would depend upon it.
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Doug, a professional architect of renown, asks someone if the power is "OFF" before working inside an electrical panel. Then, against both the National Electrical Code and common sense, he uses a screwdriver inside that same panel.

A professional architect would never trust someone's word for whether or not the electricity to a circuit was turned on as his/her life would depend upon it.
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Continuity 

At the end of the movie the tower seems to be well lit despite the power outage caused by the fire.
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The spread of the fire never matches the exterior shots.
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When Roberts calls Duncan at the party to tell him that Will Giddings has been burned and, eventually, that there's a fire, Duncan tells him to get to the party saying "I'm not going to concern myself with a fire in a storage room on 81..." The dialogue is clearly continuous throughout, but at that point Doug has not mentioned either the floor number nor that the fire was in a storage room.
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The woman that was the first to go across on the breeches buoy is also in the group of women that was sent to the roof for the air lift attempt. Therefore she should have been in the scenic elevator and not in the breeches buoy scenario at all.
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When they were fighting the fire on 81, before the explosion, we see the exterior of the building and parts of it were scorched but no fire was present
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Throughout the movie, it is night time, but many window shots show a dusk sky.
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When O'Halloran removes his fire suit, his tie is loose. Yet when he runs into the promenade room right afterward, his tie is secured by a tie clip.
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When the firefighters initially respond out of the fire station, Engine 4, which is an open-cab American Lafrance had the new style(post-1970) San Francisco Fire Dept. gold leaf logo reading "San Francisco Engine Co." encircling the city seal on both front doors. When they arrive at the fire, the engine has pre-1970 logos consisting of the city seal on both doors by itself and "SFFD Engine Co." on the side of Engine 4 where the back jump seats are at.
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After Dan falls through and breaks the glass in the outer office, we see firemen in the same office, but all of the glass is intact.
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When the first woman is lowered to the Peerless Building using the breeches buoy, the downward shot of her moving away from The Glass Tower does not show the outside elevator, even though at this point of the story the elevator is "hanging by a single cable." When the Fire Chief arrives on top of the Peerless Building, the elevator can be seen on the side of The Glass Tower again.
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When the fire trucks are en route to the Glass Tower, they pass the same AMC dealership three times. Twice they pass it with the dealership on their left, once with it on their right, which couldn't happen unless the trucks were driving in circles.
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When the helicopter is bringing the scenic elevator down, in one shot you can see the top of skyscrapers, then within seconds, it is only 20 or so feet off the ground.
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Steve McQueen's hair appears to change for certain scenes. For the scenes shot on location in San Francisco's Bank of America lobby, which substituted for the Glass Tower lobby, his hair is cut short and tight while the scenes shot in the studio back in Los Angeles, his hair appears a little longer and thicker. There must have been a gap in shooting locations. One example is when McQueen's character arrives at the fire, he walks with Roberts and others to the elevator to set up Forward Command. As he walks in the elevator(in San Francisco), the camera cuts to inside the elevator(LA Studio) a split second later and his hair is obviously longer.
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Doug is told over the phone by the fire chief to tell the firemen to break a window, Doug hangs up and at no time tells the firemen anything yet within a few seconds senator Parker announces to everyone that the firemen are going to break a window, how did he know since the only one there who did know was Doug, even the firemen did not know because Doug hadn't told them.
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Crew or equipment visible 

Near the beginning of the movie, when the helicopter is taking off, the cameraman and other crew walk into left-hand side of shot.
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A crew member shadow is visible in the stairwell as the water cascades down.
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Errors in geography 

The exterior elevator shown is from the San Francisco Hyatt Regency Hotel of the time (1974).
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Factual errors 

A helicopter lowers O'Hallorhan onto the damaged scenic elevator. In order to set him directly and vertically onto the elevator car (he did not swing to it), the helicopter blades would have to be no more than a foot wide to get that close to the building - or the cable would have to reach to the top of the building to accommodate the width of the helicopter blades, which would be impossible.
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The one basic tenet of extinguishing a fire is inexcusably ignored by the fire department, and that is to aim the water or suppressant at the BASE of the fire, not above it.
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"Breeches Buoy" is the incorrect name of the actual chair. It is really called a "Boatswains Chair". An actual Breeches Buoy is a leather sack that you put your legs through, hanging suspended from the waist down.
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A gallon of water weighs approximately 8 pounds. A tank holding a million gallons of water would've collapsed all or part of the building under its weight.
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Even at the time this movie was made, according to fire regulations, "F. Alarm and Communications. 1. Every high-rise building shall have manual fire alarm boxes, which shall be located adjacent to exists into corridors, stairway shafts, and in every elevator lobby, and shall: a. Operate the voice alarm system, and place into operation all equipment necessary to prevent the re-circulation of smoke; b. Transmit an alarm directly to a U.L.-certified central receiving station and to the fire control center if the fire control center is required by other sections of this chapter. Such signal shall be zoned with a minimum of one zone per floor and a maximum of 10,000 square feet per zone.", yet not one of the security personal or anyone sounded an audible fire alarm that alerted every floor, especially the promenade where the party was being held.
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The fire department allows far too many people to remain inside of or near the building. Harry Jerningan and his security personnel are not trained firefighters and would be escorted from the building to prevent their injury/death or interference with their personnel. Additionally, the police department plays a rather minor (almost non-existent) role in the affair. The streets below the building would need to be clear, not only to allow the entrance/exit of emergency vehicles, but to prevent bystanders from being injured by falling debris. The press is shown in areas which are directly outside the building and where they could be injured or killed.
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After the fire explosion on the 81st floor, the fire chief says that the fire on the 81st floor has blown its core and the fire is racing out of control. Throughout the whole fire, several floors have been totally blown out or collapsed but yet the whole structure still stands. If that many floors have been blown out in real life, the whole structure would have collapsed.
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Even in the worst design scenario, it is inconceivable that anyone would have put gallons of paint thinner and dozens of cans of spray paint so close to an electrical panel, as shown at the beginning when the fire started.
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When the electrical junction box explodes open in the storage closet on the 81st floor, a fairly thick wire flops down and sparks. The thick wires in such a box are made out of bundles of copper wire, too stiff to flop down as shown in the movie.
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When guests are evacuated with the Breeches Buoy, the line to the Peerless Building is relatively straight. Since the Glass Tower is the tallest building in the world and the Peerless Building is a number of stories shorter, the line from the Promenade Room to the roof of the Peerless Building should go at noticeably downward angle.
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The "main generator" is said to be "blown" Besides it being nearly impossible to "blow" a generator simply by running it (it would more likely seize up due to inadequate lubrication or bearing failure) the system shown is clearly NOT a generator as it has a belt shroud and belt drive that a generator wouldn't need.
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When Wess opens the electrical box that shorts out in the Utility Room, only the edge of the inside of the panel shows scorch marks (from the pyrotechnics that sparked). A real electrical short/explosion would have blackened the entire inside of the panel.
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Regarding the total amount of water in the tanks blown up, it is a mistake to think that EACH tank holds a million gallons of water. That is the TOTAL amount for the six tanks, averaging approximately 167,000 per tank. The engineer in the lobby who says the tanks hold a million gallons is giving an approximate number to Chief O'Hallorhan.
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Lifting the brakes on the scenic elevator would not involve cutting wires and shimming relays (unless there was still power, in which case the brakes wouldn't need to be lifted.). Manually lifting the brakes would require large wrenches on the elevator machine itself, and could not be done in 30 seconds...
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Near the beginning of the movie before the fire, the deaf mother comes to pick up her two children. The little girl 'translates' for her mother by using sign language. The little girl isn't using real sign language, she's just fluttering her hands around and pointing upwards a few times, apparently to indicate 'the party upstairs'.
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The building maintenance open electrical panels and do not test for the presence/absence of voltage. Considering that a short/over-current event occurs that causes the wiring to catch fire, this is, at best, foolhardy. AT worst, it would be fatal as they could contact live wiring.
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When William Holden and Robert Vaughan are at the party, the barman produces a case of wine on which is stamped 'Romanee Contie'. This wine is actually 'Romanee-Conti'. There is no 'e' on the end.
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Miscellaneous 

In a building the size of The Glass Tower, it seems inconceivable that it would only contain two regular elevators and one scenic, considering the number of people and businesses expected to exist in it. Then again, this could also be another design flaw where someone again cut corners to stay under budget.
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Newman's character ties himself properly with a square knot. McQueen's character ties a granny knot. As a trained fireman, he should have known better.
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At the end of the film at least half the floors have lights on, yet all the power went out thirty minutes earlier.
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Plot holes 

The film claims a rescue by helicopter was impossible. But later they show a helicopter easily dropping chief O'Halloran on the roof. If the weather conditions were bad enough to land, but good enough to drop a man, then a helicopter would have been able to drop ladders, nets or cradles to lift people up; making the ludicrous blowing of the water tanks completely unnecessary.
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A express elevator would only have access from the Promenade Room and the lobby and would not have stopped at any intermediate floors from the Promenade Room to the lobby.
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The water tanks are blown at the end to try and put out the fire. All of the water is shown going down the side of the building from the Promenade room, going down elevator shafts, or down staircases. Yet, it somehow magically gets everywhere else the fire is raging on multiple floors throughout the burning tower and puts it out.
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Lifting the brakes on the scenic elevator would not involve cutting wires and shimming relays (unless there was still power, in which case the brakes wouldn't need to be lifted. Manually lifting the brakes would require large wrenches on the elevator machine itself, and could not be done in 30 seconds.
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Revealing mistakes 

When Will Giddings is on fire you can see gloves and obvious mask his body double is wearing.
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When Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) climbs down the damaged escape stairs carrying Angela on his back, the flames below them can be seen through their bodies. The optical effects shot requires a traveling matte to mask the foreground details (the actors) from the background shot (the flames beneath them). The first overhead shot of Doug and Angela has an error that makes parts of their bodies transparent.
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After the helicopter has crashed on the top of the tower during an aborted rescue, the second of the two ladies who caused the crash by running into the path of the helicopter gets up from the ground, revealing a knee pad she was wearing to protect her knees under her dress.
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In all of the outside shots of the burning tower the flames are moving too fast (as they would if the building were a miniature). In larger fires the flames move much slower due to their size.
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When the passenger elevator stops and opens on the fire floor, a glass panel can clearly be seen separating the passengers from the flames.
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When Doug goes to his office at the beginning, the elevator door opens and he exits, but the light on the button does not go off.
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There is an obvious stunt double for Paul Newman's character when he is falling down the blown-up staircase after the gas line explosion. At the same time, the stunt double keeps dropping himself from one part of the staircase to another until he reaches the bottom, instead of falling down in a more seamless manner.
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When Lorrie throws the chair out of the window, in a vain attempt to clear the smoke filled floor, it falls to the lower right corner of the screen and then lands on a foam safety mat that is out of camera view and bounces instead of falling "straight down."
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When James Duncan walks to the bar in the promenade room and speaks to the Senator Parker, a rear shot of the band is shown. The drummer is seen not hitting the drums when the band is playing.
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At approximately 2:31:42 into the movie where they are blowing the water tanks, the sides of the one tank are blown outward from the center. This would not be the case from using an external explosive that was attached at the base of the tank.
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As Harry Jernigan kicks open the apartment door, a fraction of a second beforehand you can see him turn the knob and open it slightly.
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When the fire crew slide down the fireman's pole to answer the alarm call the pole can clearly be seen moving from side to side. A real fireman's pole is fixed solidly to both ceiling and floor.
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In the very first shot of the water tanks and floors being blown up, the concrete floor is shown already blown apart a split second before the explosions begin.
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When the Scenic Elevator is being airlifted away from the side of the building, the high angle shots of O'Halloran holding on to the firefighter who is hanging over the edge suffer from some very "dirty" chroma keying, causing various parts of the elevator car (mainly the "fins" on top) to become partially transparent as the elevator car moves around.
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Despite being feet away from several explosions created by the use of plastique, no one ever tells anyone to cover their ears. Explosions can be as loud as 180dB (louder than gunshots) and failing to protect your hearing could lead to instantaneous hearing loss.
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When Fireman Scott played by Felton Perry steps on the ledge to set up,the breaches buoy, on the background matte painting of the horizon you can see a seam in the painting.
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At the beginning of the movie when we first see the tower, it's easy to tell that it's a fake/added building because it's slightly moving.
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In the opening credits scene when Roberts is flying to the Tower in the helicopter, the camera is aimed at part of the skyline near the San Francisco Maritime National Park before the helicopter heads inland. The Tower should have been plainly visible in that shot considering the first shot of the Tower shows it's relative location to be in the Financial District. The helicopter also flies north to south past the City Hall, which would put it southwest of the Tower's location. However when the Tower is first seen the helicopter is plainly northwest of it's location.
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When the breeches buoy falls, the explosion is far above it, yet the ropes are anchored well inside the Promedade Room.
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Spoilers

The goof items below may give away important plot points.

Continuity 

Tanks #5 and 6 blow up on the face, not underneath where the C4 was placed.
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Revealing mistakes 

When Lorrie is propelled/jumps through the window you see her stunt double holding a mask over her face to protect herself from injury. You can also see she is wearing long gloves and fireproof leggings.
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Concrete debris can be seen floating in the water after the flooding sequence.
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See also

Trivia | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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