A Steve McQueen Double Feature

Steve McQueen was born to a stunt pilot and an alcoholic prostitute. He briefly worked as a pimp but quit after being threatened by another pimp. He once saved a teenager from being raped in an alleyway. Steve McQueen was a wheelman for a gang of bankrobbers; one member bled to death in the passenger seat after a botched job. When he was 13 he paid for a 15 year old prostitute with cake. He made ridiculous demands for free stuff while filming movies; it was later discovered he was donating all of these things to a school for displaced youth. Because McQueen’s girlfriend wanted a quiet night in instead of hanging out with friend Sharon Tate, he wasn’t killed by Charles Manson and his followers. Steven Spielberg personally offered McQueen the lead in Close Encounters of a Third Kind, which McQueen turned down because he couldn’t cry on cue; Spielberg then offered to take the crying out of the script. Steve McQueen predicted he’d be dead by 50; he died from cancer at 50.

These are all true. And, unsurprisingly, I could keep going.

What can I even say about Steve McQueen. Authentic Hollywood badasses are hard to find. When Googling Hollywood bad boys, you’re more likely to find a list of actors who throw tantrums on set, have drug problems or hit their girlfriend. Though modern day tough guys are out there: Harrison Ford rescues children with his helicopter and gets really high before going on Conan–badass. None of them, however, quite live up to Steve McQueen.

For those of you who don’t know, Steve McQueen is a Hollywood icon. And for good reason. Elvis was the King of Rock and Roll, Steve was the King of Cool. Even today, over 30 years after his death, he is frequently celebrated. M83 released the single “Steve McQueen” just last year. Absolut paid tribute more accurately in about 5 seconds than Sheryl Crow did in her three-and-a-half-minute music video.

While this wasn’t really supposed to be an article about Steve McQueen, it’s pretty important to understand the man, before I get into the movies. Playing a badass seems a hell of a lot cooler if you know it’s authentic. So, to start off, a movie that isn’t very badass…

The Blob (1958)

As one could probably surmise, this movie is about a monstrous blob. Originating from outer space, a mysterious goo is found inside a meteorite. After being discovered by an old man (literally just called “Old Man” in the film) the goo attacks by attaching itself to the Old Man’s hand, then, in a panic, he runs in front of Steve McQueen (character name: Steve Andrews) and his lady friend driving home. Eventually absorbing the Old Man and anyone else it comes into contact with, the Blob slowly increases in size. Steven and his girlfriend must convince the town that they are in big trouble. I won’t spoil the ending for you.

This film is very interesting to watch after having seen some of McQueen’s later roles; it was a definite transition point in his career. This was his first time as a lead, and the last time he was billed as “Steven”. I think sometimes people look back on movies like this and kind of assume this was typical of all genre movies from decades ago–over acting, cheesy dialogue and bad special effects. The truth is that The Blob was even seen as campy back then. A movie whose special effects pale in comparison to other, higher-quality, 50s sci-fi movies at the time. Though I’m sure many today would laugh at the special effects of War of the Worlds, The Forbidden Planet, or Godzilla. Suspension of disbelief is hard, but you can at least appreciate the effort.

As campy as the film is, it still feels a little long, mainly due to sluggish conversations and scenes. Though it’s almost entirely worth it for the opening credits. Or:

There, I just saved you 82 minutes.

In keeping with my Troll 2 movie rating system:
C- for the movie itself, C+ for watch-ability

Bullitt (1968)

If you only see one Steve McQueen movie, this is it. One could argue The Great Escape or The Magnificent Seven are better movies, but Bullitt is the Steve McQueen movie. Bullitt doesn’t feel as stuck in its era as The Blob. Where The Blob feels dorky, Bullitt feels cool. Though there are only 10 years between the two films, they feel worlds apart in style.

McQueen is a San Francisco cop assigned to protect a key witness needed to bring down a Chicago mobster. As you can probably imagine, things go to hell pretty quickly. Robert Vaughn (who, if you’re like me, is best known as the bad guy in BASEketball) plays the politician going after the mob, Jacqueline Bisset is the beautiful girlfriend, and Robert Duvall even shows up for a brief few minutes.

Based on the novel Mute Witness, this story is much smarter than you’d expect. And a remake today would almost certainly involve more audience-handholding. Sometimes I go back and watch movies and am amazed as how little they sometimes directly tell the audience. Bullitt takes its time and expects the audience to follow along. The reward being an elaborate crime story with a satisfying payoff.

While often talked about as the movie that defined the modern car chase, this movie doesn’t really belong in the action genre. Partly because there actually isn’t that much “action” in it, but also because the action scenes feel more realistic that your average action film. Because McQueen did most of his own stunt driving, you are very aware that he is in the car when it goes around that tight turn. The camera is even frequently placed in the car with him. There isn’t much of a disconnect between what you see on screen and what you know the actors and crew went through when filming. It keeps you feeling close to the action. Something that the modern day CGI-fests sometimes forget to do.

A for the movie, A- for watch-ability

So there you have it, a brief reflection on Steve McQueen as well as two of his most important roles. To sum things up, I’m going to steal a line from an old Cracked article: “Steve McQueen was cooler than you”.

I’ll just leave it at that.

Post By: tylerphillippi

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