An Office and a Spy: The Tower (1993)

Dave fires up a much-maligned Fox Original and discovers that it’s a stylish slice of dystopia.

It was 1980 when Gregory Harrison, best known as Gonzo in the TV series Trapper John M.D, partnered with agent-cum-impresario Franklin R. Levy to form the Catalina Production Group. Straddling both stage and screen production, they became an important force in the Los Angeles theatre scene, winning somewhere in the region of one-hundred and fifty awards for plays they presented during their decade-long existence. In regards to television, a handful of Catalina productions like The Hasty Heart (1983) and Picnic (1986) were adapted from the well-trodden boards of the L.A. footlights, and several more of their boob tube endeavours were prime time originals.

THE TOWER is one such beast – albeit a beast that marks the end of an era for Catalina. On 17th March 1992, Levy passed away from a pulmonary embolism at the tragically young age of forty-three. The Tower aired as a Fox Original fifteen months later, in August ’93. And what a picture to bow out on.

Widely chastised for its dated accoutrements, mediocre ‘90s green screen effects, and, indeed, for casting Paul Reiser in the lead, The Tower has spent much of the last three decades fading from the minds of those who caught its original airing. However, as derivative as Richard Kletter’s picture is, taking in everything from Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) and Chopping Mall (1986) to Die Hard (1988), Gremlins 2 (1990) and After Hours (1985), it’s also a fine dystopian nightmare that is, at times, a sheer joy to behold.

Tony Minot (Reiser) fancies himself as a ‘90s Jan Hammer – but as ivory tickling doesn’t pay the rent, he’s taken a job in a state of the art office block downtown. Inadvertently damaging his key card upon entry, Minot quickly becomes the target for an all-seeing surveillance system hellbent on totting up his repeated security violations to such a degree that his safety is in peril.

Lensed by Bing Sokolsky (who went on to photograph D.J. Caruso’s brilliant actioner Black Cat Run (1998)), The Tower is laced with an ice blue filter that brings about a real sense of sterility. With the bulk of the movie unfolding inside a looming pillar of architecture, Sokolsky crafts a stylised and imposing world with aplomb. As I alluded to earlier, some of the visuals are a little clunky. However, under the guidance of VFX legend William Mesa – a brief foray into television work between Army of Darkness (1992) and Monolith (1993) – manages to do a lot with what’s clearly very little.

As for Reiser, he’s excellent here. Harnessing a little Griffin Dunne from Scorsese’s aforementioned mid-‘80s banger, he’s the perfect blend of sardonic wit and absolute panic – which makes the appearance of his calm-natured co-worker Linda (Susan Norman) a welcome contrast.

By the time the final third rolls around, and the robotically-voiced Big Brother (or, in this case, Big Sister) starts spouting Creedence Clearwater Revival lyrics like a demented version of HAL 9000 as a flailing Minot clings helplessly to a lift shaft, I think most of you would be reluctant to forget about The Tower in a rush.

USA ● 1993 ● Sci-Fi, Thriller, TVM ● 83mins

Paul Reiser, Susan Norman, Richard Gant, Roger Rees ● Dir. Richard Kletter ● Wri. Richard Kletter, John Riley, from a story by John Riley

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