1960s, 1970s, actors, crime drama, culture, directors, Film Spotlight, movies, Winter Project: Classic Male Actors

Winter Project: The Final Five of Steve McQueen

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Thanks to everyone for joining me while I explored the filmography of actor Steve McQueen. The 60s and 70s movie icon had a slew of great films to his credit. Since both parents had died at age fifty, with a sardonic sense of humor, he was sure he wouldn’t pass the half-century mark. His prediction came true. He died at 50 from Mesothelioma on November 7, 1980. Breathing the asbestos filaments located in several workplaces and in his racing helmets and suits, the industrial disease raced throughout his body in the final months of his life. He never thought he’d live long. That helped explain his drive and insatiable hunger for life. He negotiated and made millions per film including a percentage of the gross proceeds. He had full control of the directors, actors, and say of his films. Most know he was stubborn and egotistical, but his generosity and kindness extended in equal measure to his two children who loved him unconditionally and to friends with whom he had established long relationships.

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The Cincinnati Kid (1965) After Papillon, this would be runner up as my favorite Steve McQueen film.  Edward G. Robinson is Laney “The Man” who teaches “The Kid”(McQueen) a few lessons about life. In the game of 5 Card Stud, what are the odds two men are dealt a Straight Flush vs. a Full House? Read about THE LAST HAND here. Add Ann Margaret as the sexy temptress and Tuesday Weld as the good girl and stir in Karl Malden as Shooter, the puppet and chump into the mix. The music, the tension, and Steve convincing as “The Kid”, made it a thoroughly enjoyable film.  4.5/5

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The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen are sizzling hot (It’s rated PG) in this billionaire bank caper. The split screen 60s technique, the dune buggy ride on the beach, the fashions, and that famous chess game scene full of sexual innuendos–it’s the stuff that made an Austin Powers parody possible.  It was the first time McQueen broke away from his poor anti-hero to represent the high-class anti-hero. Alone on his own plateau, this film helped cement McQueen as an icon of alpha male coolness. 4/5

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The Getaway (1972). This Sam Peckinpah film flows with interesting cinematography like close-ups, the loud machines grinding in the prison interior, the chase scenes, and the interior shot of a car with BBQ ribs, food fight. While Ali McGraw‘s performance left me cold, Sally Struthers and Slim Pickens were the best characters of the movie. 4/5

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The Towering Inferno (1974). It was the highest-grossing disaster movies of the seventies. They came to see the cast: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Vaughn, O.J. Simpson, Rober Wagner, Jennifer Jones, and Susan Blakely. The star power, the escape plans, the collapse of the skyscraper was engaging enough, but it can’t compete with The Poseidon Adventure (1972), the winner of the best disaster film of the decade. It took Steve fourteen years to beat out his blonde eyed rival, Paul Newman, for top-bill, but McQueen solved the problem of leading man by having his name listed first while Paul’s would be set slightly higher.  3/5

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Papillon (1973). Franklin J. Schaffner was known as an innovative television director/producer in the early years of T.V. by employing film techniques within the new medium of television. He was known in the film industry for popular films like Planet of the Apes (1968), and for Patton (1970). Schaffner’s best contribution and my top prison film is the one and only classic, Papillon (1973). Listen to the Oscar-nominated score by Jerry Goldsmith. Lovely.  

Almost all great films begin with great novels. Papillon (1969) was written as an autobiographical account by Henri Charrière. In 1931, he was sentenced in Paris for a crime he did not commit and exiled to a penal colony in French Guiana. Over the course of many years, Papillon, named for the butterfly tattooed on his chest, attempted to escape. Eventually, he was sent to the inescapable Devil’s Island surrounded by hungry piranhas, sharks, and crocodiles.  Henri Charrière’s story is an audacious human account demonstrating what conviction and willpower can do. His book became an instant success.

Steve McQueen gives his best performance of his career as Henri. His relationship with the inmate, Dega, played by Dustin Hoffman, is dynamic and heartfelt. It’s the cinematography that wows me. The use of black and white or the lack of sound show the solitary confinement of Papillon’s situation perfectly. When Papillon hallucinates, his dreams are horrific and the camera angles portray a true nightmare.

I find it amazing this film was not nominated for anything at the Oscars in 1974 except for Best Score which did not win. What were the contenders that year? The StingSerpico, and The Exorcist.  Yes, all great films, but, I still think Papillon is just as good. Certainly, Hoffman and McQueen deserved recognition for their roles. What an underrated film.5.5

“Blame is for God and small children.” – Dega

actors, Film Spotlight, movies

The Wild Bunch vs. The Man from Colorado

Every winter, I devote some time exploring a film star I know little about. This year, I’ve decided upon William Holden and began with two westerns, separated by twenty years of his career.

The Man from Colorado is a 1948 western-psychological drama film directed by Henry Levin and stars Glenn Ford and Ellen Drew.

I was surprised how much I liked the film. Two Civil War officers and friends return after the war to their hometown. The friendship sours as it becomes clear Colonel Devereaux (Ford) is mentally unstable and Capt. Stewart is tasked as watchdog with disastrous results. Glenn Ford’s hair is a symbol of the rage which threatens to overtake him. His nervous journal entries to himself about the beast within is right out of an Edgar Allan Poe story. Ford’s bulging eyes can’t keep up with the wild hair.

Del Stewart (Holden) has a crush on Carolyn (Drew) but loses her when she decides to marry Col. Owen Devereaux after he is appointed judge. Her role is one-dimensional and that’s unfortunate. Depicted as cooing and unaware her husband is a maniac, when she cries “Help, help!” there’s Stewart, and he steps in to save the day. The film needed a script that showed a better, complex love triangle. As it is, she’s a mere prop instead of a dynamic character. Despite the criticism, the climax is exciting and Holden and Ford are interesting to watch. PTSD affected every veteran in every war. This psychological dimension was unique for the genre. This is a film I would love to see as a remake; I think in the right hands, it could be as successful as 3:10 to Yuma (2007) starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.

The Wild Bunch is a 1969 western drama directed by Sam Peckinpah. It has a cult following, admired for its quick-cut editing and varied use of slow and normal motion. I would not be surprised to learn Quentin Tarantino was influenced by the renegade director, Peckinpah, and “borrowed” Sam’s style for graphic violence and morally bankrupt, larger-than-life characters.

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The film opens prophetically and could be added to the discussion as one of the Best Opening Scenes . Ants take down and rip apart a scorpion. With morbid fascination, the children watch the scene like Roman citizens watching a gladiator dying in the Colosseum. And that pretty much describes the film. There’s no plot. Just aging outlaws who try for the last time to steal enough money to retire from their professions as robbers and outlaws. William Holden was the leader of the nine man band with Ernest Borgnine as his right-hand man.

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I was surprised how little I liked the film. Other than the editing and the opening scene, and the show down, I couldn’t get into it. Nihilistic stories show nothing redeemable about human nature. If life is meaningless and society useless, if there’s no point to anything, if resistance is futile, it’s hard to “like” a story when all characters are devoid of any likable trait like friendship, loyalty, or integrity. Nihilism is a drag. I saw no tenderheartedness under the gruff exterior. Losers condemned to death, anti-heroes banding together and going out with a bang–I’d rather watch The Dirty Dozen. 

What do you think about Holden’s performances here? Help me understand why I should like The Wild Bunch.