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.
McQueen not an icon? GQ cites him frequently in their top 50 style icons list, contemporary bands and singers name songs after him. One has lyrics that cleverly enumerate the names of all his best movies while wooing the girl in the song. Ford uses him in their campaigns 25 years after his death. Tag Heuer has a particularly horrendous TV commercial using him and current Formula 1 hotshot Lewis Hamilton, using footage from McQueen’s “Le Mans”. The list goes on. And everything I’ve described here is part of mainstream culture not some niche, cult following. Eric Bana, Clive Owen, Colin Farrell, Brad Pitt, are among some of the current top names who admire and emulate McQueen, leave alone the Costners and the Willises from the earlier generation.
You didn’t even mention The Getaway. If you’re going by what today’s generation knows about anything, the late Paul Newman himself said that it was easier for him to get about in the last few years because people didn’t know him that much anymore. Ask an April Lavigne fan about Newman or Dean and she won’t know squat. Sorry my friend, but you seem to have made this assessment about McQueen purely from your personal point of view, not from the larger picture.
The list would not be complete without “Papillon” and “The Sand Pebbles,” perhaps his greatest ever performance. Oh, and “The Getaway,” of course. I had a poster of McQueen on a motorcycle from “The Great Escape” when I was growing up. Wish I still had it. The man was cool.
are you serious? Steve mcqueen is very much an icon. there’ve been songs written about him, even a movie espousing his ‘coolness’. what more do you want?
You haven’t seen the Great Escape and you’re reviewing Steve McQueen and trying to tell us he’s not an icon? He IS an icon, just not like Clint Eastwood or Paul Newman. He was a much better actor than most icons including these two, and has a special magic and credibility as a character that no one can touch in my opinion. Nobody is as believable and, as Ali McGraw, his former wife, said, he exudes danger. Who else did or does that? That’s an icon beyond icons.