Tag Archives: Steve McQueen

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbing his own bank.

Thomas (Steve McQueen) is a bank executive who devises what he feels is the perfect crime. He hires five men who he does not know nor do they know each other to rob his bank in broad daylight and then dump the money in a trash can at a cemetery where he retrieves it. The heist works flawlessly, but then insurance investigator Vicki (Faye Dunaway) comes on the scene and she almost immediately eyes Thomas as the culprit. The two begin a torrid affair with Vicki openly telling him her suspicions and that she’ll do whatever it takes to prove it, but Thomas has other plans.

What makes this film stand out from all the other bank robbing movies is that the heist scene was shot using a concealed camera. Only the bank officials and guards were aware that a movie was being made while the rest of the people were actual customers convinced that what was happening was real making their reactions of fear genuine. The best part of this sequence though is when director Norman Jewison has the camera put onto a dolly and glides it through the tear gas that the thieves set off.

The film is famous for its use of the split screen particularly during the opening credit sequence as well as Michel Legrand’s award winning music. Legrand wrote the score after viewing a five hour rough cut and the movie was then edited to be in tandem with the music instead of being done in reverse, which is how it’s usually done. For me the music comes off as sappy and out-of-place making it seem more like a romance when it’s really a game of cat-and-mouse and the blaring score almost gets in the way of it.

The best thing is Dunaway and I really don’t care how many face lifts she may have had, or how many years it’s been since she’s had a relevant role because she’s still a great actress and her presence here proves it. She filmed this before her breakout movie Bonnie and Clyde was released and she takes complete control of every scene she is in. Her character also works in what was still traditionally perceived as a man’s role and thus making it kind of groundbreaking. I also like that she’s never seen as weak or vulnerable in the traditional feminine sense and instead remains quite determined and focused throughout while never swaying from using her femininity as a weapon and nothing more.

McQueen unfortunately, and I can’t believe I’m saying this as he’s one of my favorite actors,  ends up being the film’s weakest link as the role goes against his rugged persona, which is what he’s good at. He had worked with Jewison before in The Cincinnati Kid and lobbied hard for the part, but Jewison rightly felt that character was not the right fit, but ultimately he relented, which was a mistake. The only time he is effective is when he’s doing his own stunts or driving on the beach in a dune buggy but otherwise he’s transparent and utterly dominated by Dunaway.

The supporting cast is good especially Jack Weston as a mope who gets hired on to partake in the robbery and then works as the clumsy catalyst that helps unravel it, but I was disappointed that his character ultimately disappears too soon and would’ve liked him to have remained for the duration. Otherwise this slick production, which was written by Alan Trustman who worked at a bank and would spend his idle time fantasizing on how to rob it, holds up well and includes the famous chess game sequence that still sizzles.

As for the 1999 remake, which changes many key plot points, I’ve never seen it nor do I have any interest to. Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo certainly make for an interesting pair, but I feel that if the original is a classic then it shouldn’t be touched and a law should be written disbarring remakes when they aren’t needed or asked for.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Podcast: An Enemy of the People (1978)

Listen to me discuss with Todd Liebenow from Forgotten Films the movie ‘An Enemy of the People’ a really obscure 1978 film starring Steve McQueen in an atypical role as a scientist living in 1800’s Norway. Todd fills his podcast with a lot of old commercials and movie clips as well.  My written review of the film will follow later in the week.

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/forgottenfilmcast/episodes/2018-04-10T18_48_20-07_00

Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)

love-with-3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He gets her pregnant.

Rocky (Steve McQueen) is a bachelor enjoying his single lifestyle by having one-night-stands with a wide assortment of women while happily avoiding the responsibilities of marriage. Then he meets up with Angie (Natalie Wood) a woman he had sex with months earlier and who now finds herself pregnant. She comes to Rocky hoping that he can help her find a doctor to perform an abortion. Rocky at first barely even remembers her, but then agrees to help her and even offers to pay for half of the costs. Yet as things progress Rocky finds himself beginning to care for Angie and even considers the one thing he thought he’d never do, which is marriage.

The script, by the prolific Arnold Schulman, is certainly edgy for its time and seemed almost groundbreaking and I was surprised it didn’t elicit more controversy especially since it was released to theaters on Christmas day.  The film works for the most part though I was frustrated that we are never shown Rocky’s and Angie’s first meeting. It gets talked about slightly, but there really needed to be a flashback showing how it all came about especially since Angie didn’t seem like the type of woman who would go to bed with a guy so quickly.

Wood gives an outstanding performance and manages to dominate the film even when she’s with McQueen, which was no easy feat. I did find it hard to believe that such a beautiful woman would be stuck having to accept a pudgy, klutzy loser like Anthony (played by Tom Bosley in his film debut) as her only possible suitor. She had told no one else about her pregnancy, so I would think many eligible bachelors would be beating down her door to get at her. The fact that Rocky doesn’t immediately remember her is also absurd. Sure, he may have slept with a lot of women, but nobody no matter how many other sex partners they’ve had would ever forget a gorgeous face like Wood’s.

McQueen’s role almost seems comical especially with his character’s hot-and-cold dealings with Angie and his inability to ever communicate with her effectively. My one caveat was his constant wheezing after climbing several flights of stairs. I realize this was to represent his need to give up cigarettes and in turn the other ‘bad habits’ of his lifestyle, but it got annoying and even distracting to hear.

As a drama/romance it’s okay, but would’ve been better had it been filmed in color. The segments are too drawn out and quite talky, which made me believe that this was originally a stage play, but to my shock it wasn’t even though it probably would’ve fared better there. I was also disappointed at the lack of a suitable wrap-up for Bosley’s character who came off like a major schmuck at first, but then he grows on you as the film progresses.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 0), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Le Mans (1971)

le mans 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Car race of endurance.

Le Mans is a car race held annually in France in which the test is to show not only how fast the vehicle is, but also its reliability as cars are forced to drive for 24 straight hours with a minimum of pit stops. Michael Delaney (Steve McQueen) is the driver who represents the American team and who is under a great deal of duress because of the fact that he caused an accident that killed another driver just a year before.

The film’s first thirty minutes may be its most captivating and has been described by many fans as being their favorite part of the movie. I loved seeing the empty stands fill up with people as it gives the viewer an authentic race day feeling. Every little facet of the race gets captured almost like it is a documentary with the emphasis more on ambience and the adrenaline it creates instead of a story and in fact no one utters a single line of dialogue until almost 40 minutes in. Watching the cars whizz by with the camera set directly on the pavement just inches away was enough to make me flinch and the wipeouts are particularly graphic and up close.

The film has very little of a backstory to the characters and one gets propelled into the race without much distinction between the various drivers, or even any emotional stake for who wins. Normally I’d say this is a good thing because the dramatic elements in these types of films can get overly drawn out and soap opera-like, but it also makes it a rather detached experience like watching a football game with no concern for either team, or the outcome. The drama that does get played out is boring with dialogue that is only on a conversational level. It also gets confusing as to which driver is in the lead and the constant shots of loud cars speeding by eventually becomes tedious.

Things manage to recover by the end with an exciting finish between three of the race’s drivers that even features a very dramatic tire blow-out. Unfortunately the middle half bogs it down so much that by the time it gets there you feel pretty worn out already. It also wastes the acting talents of McQueen. Granted I was impressed that he did his own driving, but the script doesn’t give him enough to do outside of that.

The film was known for its troubled production in which John Sturges the film’s original director left after being unable to deal with McQueen’s constant meddling and replaced with Lee H. Katzin. Katzin was mainly known for doing TV-Movies and I honestly don’t think had the skill to create the movie’s impressive visual style. I believe it was McQueen’s presence that forged that and I almost feel he should’ve been credited ultimately as the being the director, or at least co-director. The irony is that McQueen ended up not receiving any salary for his work here, or even a percentage of the profits and in fact refused to even attend the film’s premiere.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 23, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated G

Director: Lee H. Katzin

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Getaway (1972)

getaway 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bank robbery goes bad.

Based on pulp writer Jim Thompson’s novel the story centers on Doc McCoy (Steve McQueen) who is stuck in the Texas State Prison and itching to get out. He gets his wife Carol (Ali MacGraw) who is on the outside to strike a deal with Sheriff Jack Benyon (Ben Johnson) where he will get a release as long as he agrees to rob a bank using Benyon’s men. Doc is somewhat reluctant, but agrees to go along with it only to find that after the robbery he has been double-crossed and now along with his wife must make a dash for Mexico while being chased by the cops and going through a wide assortment of unexpected obstacles.

Action director guru Sam Peckinpah has done many classic films most notably The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, but this one has always been my favorite as it’s a nice mix of action, character study and comedy. In fact it’s the subtle humor that I like best. I get a kick out of the shot showing Benyon’s brother’s henchman riding in a convertible down a highway while having their hands on their cowboy hats in order to keep them from blowing off. I also chuckled at the book actor Dub Taylor has in his back pocket while cowering under a table during a shootout or what actor Al Lettieri immediately does after finding a dead man hanging in a bathroom.

Peckinpah also makes great use of sound particularly at the beginning where during the opening credits we hear no music, but instead the monotonous sounds of the machines inside the prison workshop, which helps convey Doc’s increasing frustration and this sound doesn’t stop until the exact second that the prison doors open up and allows him out. When there is music it’s effective and distinct particularly the harmonica solos by Toots Thielemans.

Of course Peckinpah’s trademark action sequences are excellent and maybe even superior to his other films because the situations are more unique including an exciting segment showing the couple trapped inside a garbage truck as well as an impromptu shootout along the main street of Fabens, Texas. The only complaint is the scene where Doc’s car goes crashing through someone’s front porch and yet the car shows no visible damage; one shot does show a crack in the corner of the windshield, but then in the next shot it has magically disappeared.

McQueen’s ability to show effortless cool and make an edgy character likable proves what a legendary actor he is and it’s a shame that he doesn’t get placed with the best of them amongst casual movie fans because he really should. MacGraw is at the peak of her beauty here and her moments of vulnerability are great. Struthers gives the best performance of her career as an unfaithful wife of a kindly veterinarian (Jack Dodson) and Lettieri, who unfortunately died at the young age of 47 just 3 years after this film’s release by a heart attack brought on by severe alcoholism, which was already painfully apparent to the cast and crew during the filming of this adds great tension as Doc’s double-crossing partner.

The film also makes great use of its Texas locations bringing out the ruggedness of the region without overdoing it. I particularly liked the scenes in the junkyard as well as footage shot on-location inside the Huntsville prison using actual prisoners and the longshot showing the flat, barren landscape that Doc first sees when he gets out.

I’ve watched this movie many times and never cease to grow tired of it. In fact it seems even more original after multiple viewings. It was unwisely remade in 1994 that starred Alec Baldwin, who doesn’t come close to McQueen’s stature. This version is by far the better one and the other should be avoided.

getaway 2

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 13, 1972

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Great Escape (1963)

the great escape 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tom, Dick and Harry

Based on a true story involving POW’s in an ‘escape proof’ German Prison camp who devise a way to get out by digging three tunnels, which will go under the barbed wire fence and allow them to get out under the cover of a nearby forest. They decide to build three tunnels and call them Tom, Dick and Harry, so if the German guards discover one of the tunnels they can simply continue to work on the other two.

The producers built a complete replica of Stalag Luft III were the actual events took place and used Wally Floody who was a prisoner of the camp and took part in the escape as an advisor. The movie moves at a polished pace grabbing in you immediately and keeping you involved all the way through. The characters share a great camaraderie and it’s a terrific testament to teamwork and how by everybody playing a little role can help make great things happen. Their resolve and ‘can-do’ spirit is infectious and one of the major reasons the film is so compelling. The bouncy, upbeat patriotic music is good although it gets played a lot and most viewers will most likely hear it playing in their head long after it is over.

I did feel that the depiction of the camp seemed a bit too cozy. The men are allowed to freely walk around and congregate in large meetings where they make their plans and it seemed to me that a heavily fortified prison camp wouldn’t allow for that, or at least be more on top of things. I wouldn’t say the German’s are portrayed on a ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ dumb level, but at times it gets close. For instance when the James Garner character lifts the wallet out of the pocket of one of the guards he does not become aware that it is missing for what seems like several days and then when he does he doesn’t suspect the Garner character and instead goes back to him and naively asks for his help in finding it. When the Germans find one of the tunnels there are no reprisals even though I and some of the others in my movie group who watched it with me felt that there should have been. Also, when the Steve McQueen character attacks one of the German guards when they shoot his friend who is trying to escape he is not sent to the cooler even though he had previously been sent there for far less infractions.

On the acting side it is all top-notch. McQueen is as cool as ever. I love his detached manner and rugged willing to take risks personality. His escape by motorcycle, which was added into the story by his request, is exciting and one of the most memorable moments in the film. Charles Bronson is good as one of the characters who are most instrumental at digging the tunnels however I felt that it seemed a bit far-fetched and like tacky Hollywood melodrama that he had spent so much time working inside the tunnels only to suddenly get claustrophobic about them just as they are trying to escape. David McCallum has very few words, but gets gunned down in exciting style at a train station. I normally love James Coburn and his character is appealing, but his attempt at an Australian accent is atrocious.

Spoiler Alert!

Despite its title the film really doesn’t seem like all that great of an escape. For one thing out of the predicted 250 that were supposed to escape through the tunnel only 76 made it out before the Germans caught onto it and closed it off. Of those 76 there are 50 who get caught, rounded up and shot at point blank range. 12 get returned to the camp and only 3 actually make it to safety. When the Steve McQueen character gets sent back to the cooler in the film’s final scene I felt a bit frustrated and depressed and that the big ballyhooed escape had really lead nowhere.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 4, 1963

Runtime: 2Hours 52Minutes

Not Rated

Director: John Sturges

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video