Wednesday, May 20, 2009

King of Cool

The Film Society of Lincoln Center, which claims it was misquoted over the whole Film Festival member tickets flap I wrote about a few weeks ago, is making up for the annoyance with a good week-long series, "Yesterday's Loner: Steve McQueen". It's advertised as screening "the 12 unforgettable films that made Steve McQueen a legend"--but omits The Blob, surely a more legendary credit than the plodding adaptation of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People (1978), memorable more for his uncharacteristically bloated and bearded appearance than anything else. (Why not the spare and elegiac Tom Horn, released in the year of his passing, 1980? Just because a movie has been out of circulation for 30 years doesn't mean it's any good.) That all said, it's a well-chosen selection of pictures worth seeing on the big screen, from the underrated Love with a Proper Stranger (1963) with he and Natalie Wood in top form (pictured) to The Towering Inferno (1974), the only film of his I saw first-run, though I vaguely recall a drive-in screening of Bullitt (1968) with mom and dad when I was a tot. "Can't I just look it?" asked McQueen of screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser when Fraser presented him with pages of dialogue for The Sand Pebbles (1966). McQueen "looked it," and received his only Oscar nomination for his creative gazing.

I'll never forget being at a trade show some years ago and reeling off the members of The Magnificent Seven (1960) to chit-chatting guys who were stumped on the seventh (Brad Dexter is the closer) and wanted me to fill in the blank, then asked me to list the escapees of 1963's The Great Escape--James Donald escaped their mind. It all came up because they were talking about McQueen, and I knew the answers because I had seen both those John Sturges classics numerous times. (Who can forget the ending of Escape? That ball reverberating in the "cooler"...) McQueen, a star cut short at age 50; he'd probably still have the chops to play one of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds this summer, or at least advise star Brad Pitt how to play it, or look it, properly.

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