“I think if I wasn’t acting, I’d be a streethood.”
Everyone has their Steve McQueen. It’s a prevaling theme throughout the world of movie fandom, be you a man or woman, that everyone has their action icon upon which they find comfort in. It’s a common fact that there’s someone for every movie fan, and it gets weird on many occasions (Van Damne, Vin Diesel, Ben Affleck, Casper Van Dien).
My uncle loves Clint Eastwood, my brother love Jet Li, my dad loves Sonny Chiba, and hell I have a buddy who adores Josh Brolin. Seriously. And oddly enough, everyone has their story upon which they remember first being obsessed or intrigued by said action star.
For me, there’s Steve McQueen, and I’m not overstepping my bounds in declaring that there’s never been anyone cooler than Steve McQueen. Hey, Eastwood is great, Bronson is nice, and I’m sure Chiba is incredible, and sure, you can debate that Eastwood and Bronson were better actors, and even more important to the film world, but there’s never been anyone cooler. It’s just fact. Case closed. And you’d better not tell me otherwise.
But what draws movie fans to a particular action star, is that this person possesses this unexplainable mystique, this hidden coolness upon which we can watch and revel anxiously as they kick a*s and beat down some lowlife criminal who deserves to be whacked. And when we’re asked why we love this person, it’s tough for us to explain. We just do, and we’re faithful even through the bad films. McQueen is that cool guy you wanted to be, your brother’s cool best friend who gave you your first beer, he’s the one being hit on by the utterly vivacious Ann Margaret who refuses to stop seducing him.
My obsession with Steve McQueen began with “The Getaway”, my favorite action film of all time. Before that, my favorite was “The Rock”, and then I saw “The Getaway”, and that was it. Before that masterpiece though, I’d seen McQueen in “The Magnificent Seven” one of the best westerns ever made. “The Magnificent Seven” stands as one of the best remakes of all time, and it’s a timeless classic.
But it took me three years later, when I finally sat down to watch “The Getaway” and realized how utterly great McQueen is and that obsession has continued on and on. One of my favorite scenes, which I can’t get as a still, is the climax in which McCoy has to fight off a group of officers with his 12 gauge pump action shotgun, while he and his girlfriend have to escape. But then there’s also many funny moments involving the meeting with Slim Pickens who haggles with them the price of his truck even though he’s being held hostage, and when Doc begins slapping McGraw’s character angrily. Little known fact, McQueen really was slapping McGraw, and her screams were real. What’s funny about that scene is you can see McQueen blocking himself just in case she fights back. I never bothered to watch the remake of either of McQueen’s films, because I don’t eat dirt when I want chocolate.
Currently on my DVD collection is the McQueen box set which contains many of his most famous films. The night I bought it, I sat down to watch “The Getaway”, “Bullitt”, “Cincinnati Kid”, and “Tom Horn”. All were very good movies, but basically on their own terms. McQueen was known to be petty and competed with everyone.
With Paul Newman he matched him for every film, and tried to surpass him in terms of popularity and star power. It’s said that McQueen demanded top billing in “Towering Inferno”, and had the screenwriter rewrite the script so that he and Newman had the exact number of lines. Ironically enough, McQueen was considered in the duel role of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”.
He was a rival of Yul Brenner’s. He was always trying to outdo him on the set, campaigned for a bigger more prominent role, but Brenner countered by relegating McQueen to his supporting role, would always make sure in promotional pictures that McQueen was lower, and even gave McQueen a shotgun to shoot in their famous trek to the cemetery in the film. McQueen, who was a lightning fast draw, wanted to show the director how much faster he was than Brenner, but Brenner wouldn’t have it. McQueen was inevitably given a shotgun which was slow and clumsy.
These days in the age of Adobe, publicists, MTV, and plastic surgery, we have too many actors whose charisma and attitudes are manufactured. People like Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Tyrese all really have that manufactured sense of danger. But McQueen didn’t need it. McQueen had his own presence, a presence upon which led to his self-destruction with his friends and family, but when you watch him on-screen, you can tell he’s not even trying to do what he does, and even though he’s not known for his ability to change on every role, each character has their own entity, their own individuality.
As Papa Thorton he was this grizzled old man trying to keep up with a young world, as Tom Horn he was this relic of a cowboy, as Doc McCoy he was a bitter criminal, as Frank Bullitt he was a determined officer, and the list goes on. While the characters varied, they all had the consistent themes of being individuals whom were closed off to the world, and rather bitter.
For further examples of that, watch “Hell is for Heroes,” and “Papillon”. One rare exception being “The Honeymoon Machine”, McQueen’s attempt at slapstick comedy. McQueen looked down on others, didn’t trust many, fought for bigger roles in “Magnificent Seven”, “The Towering Inferno”, and “Hell is For Heroes”, and even attempted to forget his role in “The Blob” even years after it became a cult classic and moneymaker, but McQueen was always a different kind of actor.
Yet he has remained a consistant foundation for future actors in action films, and there’s yet to be anyone who can live up to his persona and sheer charisma on-screen. Right now I’m in the midst of seeking out as many McQueen films as I can find, and I’m making progress. McQueen’s filmography is a series of ups and downs, even though the actor’s charms never fade. Stuff like “Junior Bonner”, and “The Honeymoon Machine” are not some of his best, but with your McQueen’s you take the good with the bad. Currently, I’m working on “Wanted: Dead or Alive”.
He may not have been the best man to know, or be around, as was explained in his documentary “The King of Cool”, but with films like “The Great Escape”, “Hell is for Heroes”, and “The Cincinnati Kid”, he’s the guy you want to keep watching, because whether he wanted it or not, he became a household name, and the essence of cool. You can have your Russell Crowe’s, George Clooney’s, and Colin Farrell’s, the wannabe tough guys. I’ll stick with Steve. Because if his films are any indicator, me and McQueen have a long way to go together.