Steve McQueen died at a relatively young age – he was 50 when he succumbed to cancer in 1980 – but strangely, especially considering his enormous popularity and “youthful rebel” persona, McQueen hasn’t become the icon one would have expected of him.
Anyhow, those unfamiliar with McQueen’s work will be able to catch the actor at both his best and not-so-best in eleven movies to be shown on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, August 3: TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” day dedicated to Steve McQueen.
Among McQueen’s best is the San Francisco cop in Peter Yates’ Bullitt (1968, photo), which features a thrilling car chase in the hilly streets of the Bay Area metropolis.
Also, McQueen’s poker player in Norman Jewison’s The Cincinnati Kid (1965) remains one of his best-known performances. The film itself boasts a first-rate cast that includes Ann-Margret, Tuesday Weld, and veterans Edward G. Robinson and Joan Blondell.
Inexplicably, I still haven’t watched the Henry Hathaway-directed Nevada Smith or Sam Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner or John Sturges’ The Great Escape. All three have their many fans. Junior Bonner also has veterans Ida Lupino and Robert Preston.
Among McQueen’s not-so-best are the campy horror flick The Blob (1958), featuring a big blob about to conquer the world (I was rooting for it); Never So Few (1959), in which McQueen supports Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigida in this World War II melodrama that must be John Sturges’ very worst movie (where was The Blob when you needed it?); and Richard Thorpe’s highly disappointing The Honeymoon Machine (1961).
McQueen could be quite humorous – as in Love with the Proper Stranger (1963), a comedy-drama revolving around Natalie Wood’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy. In The Honeymoon Machine, however, he is painfully unfunny. Compounding matters, this highly theatrical comedy (from a play by Lorenzo Semple Jr) also wastes Jim Hutton and Paula Prentiss. Richard Thorpe (Ivanhoe, Night Must Fall), 65 years old at the time, seems to have run out of gas by then.
Also of interest: The Magnificent Seven (1960), John Sturges’ Western remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and Mark Rydell’s The Reivers (1969), a beautifully shot (cinematography by Richard Moore) coming-of-age comedy-drama that earned Rupert Crosse a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.