Essence of Cool
March 24, 2005 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Happy Birthday Steve McQueen! He would have been 75 today. Sadly, his particular brand of cool died in 1980. He created some of the most memorable screen characters of all time. His breakthrough role was in the TV series Wanted: Dead or Alive, which will be released on DVD this summer. Want a poster? He was a man of action, a troublemaker, a race car driver, and, most importantly, a paragon of cool. He's been immortalized in dozens of songs and at least one album. And even though he's dead, he's still driving that Mustang.
posted by goatdog (40 comments total)
I love that guy. He was so fantastic in the Getaway - which according to some professor at UCLA is the most violent movie towards women of all time. Needless to say I love it.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:10 PM on March 24, 2005

McQueen equals cool. Not in how he treated women but in how he carried himself.

Papillon was the first DVD I bought and its the one I've watched more times than any other. And I agree, The Getaway was excellent! I didn't know he made the original Thomas Crown Affair, that just got added to my Netflix queue!

And I love the fact that no one else COULD perform his stunts in The Great Escape on the motorcycle so they had to let him do them!
posted by fenriq at 2:20 PM on March 24, 2005

fenriq, yes, The Great Escape was a phenomenal role for eldest sister worshipped him...I didn't understand...but do now...the Thomas Crown Affair was the subject of a Washington Post essay about gun violence in the movies...and how it was the most (read: horrifying) realistic.
posted by 1016 at 2:26 PM on March 24, 2005

fenriq: You've got the cart before the horse on The Great Escape. As I understand it, all the motorcycle stuff was specifically added at McQueen's request. So it wasn't "no one could do it" but "our American star really wants to do this, and it would look cool, so ok."

Can't believe no one's mentioned Bullitt yet. I finally saw that last year and was impressed.
posted by pmurray63 at 2:32 PM on March 24, 2005

He died? I had no idea. Good thing this was posted.
posted by blacklite at 2:38 PM on March 24, 2005

One of my all-time favorites is The Blob -- that drive-in cult flick with ridiculous special effects and 1950s naivete. To this day, I can still hear McQueen, as Steve Andrews, telling Lieutenant Dave that he had found the jello monster's weakness, "Hey, Dave! CO2, CO2!"
posted by terrier319 at 2:41 PM on March 24, 2005

Bullitt is the only thing of his I've seen and it's awesome. If all his stuff is that good I might mount a mini film festival.
posted by Mitheral at 2:42 PM on March 24, 2005

Much like Humphrey Bogart, there is no contemporary equivalent of Steve McQeen. If they remade the Magnificent Seven today, who could they cast in it?
posted by doctor_negative at 2:44 PM on March 24, 2005

Didn't McQueen have feeding tubes inserted at some point?
posted by xmutex at 2:50 PM on March 24, 2005

pmurray63, you may be right. I just remember a show on the movie talking about them bringing in some stuntmen to do the stunts and they were like "No effing way!" so McQueen had to do them.

And the stunts he did pull on those old bikes were pretty impressive.

Might be time for a McQueen night. I have yet to see Bullitt and I'm ashamed. What's the movie where he's a bounty hunter named Poppa?
posted by fenriq at 2:50 PM on March 24, 2005

> And even though he's dead, he's still driving that Mustang.

Shame on Ford.
posted by NewBornHippy at 2:56 PM on March 24, 2005

Better than Bullitt.
posted by xmutex at 2:57 PM on March 24, 2005

the Getaway - which according to some professor at UCLA is the most violent movie towards women of all time.

Are you sure he wasn't just referring to the director? Peckinpah, god love him, had some violent problems but the Getaway isn't one of them. The film has its moments (just slaps), but Straw Dogs is much more complicated. As is Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia - which, if I'm not wrong, is the only movie to have Kris Kristofferson as a rapist!

To keep this on McQueen - I totally love the Blob as well. And the Thomas Crown Affair is ridiculously cool fun. A great heist scene with optical camera work in the beginning too. And the chess scene, of course.
posted by Peter H at 2:58 PM on March 24, 2005

oh, and fenriq, his last film.
posted by xmutex at 2:58 PM on March 24, 2005


That would be The Hunter, the last movie he ever made. I loved the fact that, in the movie, he had a jukebox in his house that only played classical music.
posted by eggonstilts at 2:59 PM on March 24, 2005

McQueen was a bad-ass -- i shall tip a beer in his honor this eve.

Re: who is the contemporary of McQueen? Impossible. We were less cynical then. Today, even McQueen would be a shabby McQueen.
posted by undule at 2:59 PM on March 24, 2005

Shame on Ford.

Actually, the commercial is extremely cool. You can view the 2005 Mustang Ad here [Windows Media 9 Player required].
posted by lola at 3:15 PM on March 24, 2005

Can't believe no one's mentioned Bullitt yet.

I saw it again for the first time in years a little while ago and was just blown away by how cool it is, the movie (and Steve McQueen, of course) just ooze cool. I really wish he wasn't gone.
posted by biscotti at 3:22 PM on March 24, 2005

McQueen is by definition the coolest white persone ever. check out his buddy William Claxton's great book of McQueen photos. off-the-charts cool.

" the most violent movie towards women of all time."

wtf? Peter H. is right, the professor meant Straw Dogs (read Pauline Kael's review for more)
posted by matteo at 3:22 PM on March 24, 2005

The Hunter
Recall McQueen being chased by a trans-am though a cornfield with sticks of dynamite being thrown at him.
Cooler if they had incorporated the scene into the Mustang commercial. Ending with the trans-am being blown up at the end too.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:45 PM on March 24, 2005

As definitive proof that McQueen was one of the coolest dudes evah: the Bruce Brown documentary On Any Sunday.
posted by RockyChrysler at 4:16 PM on March 24, 2005

He also played one of the German motorcyclists chasing his character in The Great Escape. This site has lots of info about the historical escape, including photos of the camp and the people involved.

The San Francisco Chronicle did a detailed recap of the Bullitt car chase when the movie was released on DVD; this site has then-and-now pictures (from 2002) of a lot of the movie's locations.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:20 PM on March 24, 2005

Steve was cool. Had he lived, he'd be standing right alongside his majesty Clint Eastwood. I watched the magnificent Seven on cable a couple weeks ago. McQueen with the bonus of Coburn, Bronson, and Brynner. Badassery cubed and then some.
posted by jonmc at 5:34 PM on March 24, 2005

'The Magnificent Seven' looked like a joke after watching 'Seven Samurai'.

Sorta like watching Psycho of Gus Van Sant vs. Psycho of Hitchcock.
posted by xmutex at 5:46 PM on March 24, 2005

He was so fantastic in the Getaway

A side note, The Getaway was based on a Jim Thompson novel. The movie ends right where the novel gets interesting, when they escape into Mexico. In the novel the protaginists end up in a top secret retreat for escaped outlaws, where every luxury is available. The catch being that the guests can only stay until their loot is gone, then they're fattened up and fed to the other guests.

Nobody else has ever written books like Thompson's. Talk about cool.
posted by berek at 6:08 PM on March 24, 2005

I love Steve McQueen - but I always wanted to grow up to be Paul Newman...
posted by jalexei at 6:17 PM on March 24, 2005

My personal favorite. Heck yes, Steve McQueen rules. I shall light a candle for him in my shrine to movie gods tonight...
posted by shoppingforsanity at 6:19 PM on March 24, 2005

I'll give you that it is not "The Hustler", but I've always had a special place in my heart for "The Cincinnati Kid".
posted by gonadostat at 6:31 PM on March 24, 2005

Before The Magnificent Seven I had no idea that actors were able to do that with horses. Let's see any of the pretty-boys today try his kind of horsemanship! He rocked.
posted by Anonymous at 6:31 PM on March 24, 2005

The chase in Bullitt is well made and exciting but the script leading up to that point is weak. Two bad guys are on the lookout for Bullitt. They spot each other and Bullitt manages to get behind the bad guys. Somehow, by Bullitt getting behind them, the bad guys are rendered helpless and flee in spectacular fashion.

I betcha one of 'em getting out of his car at a stoplight and strolling back with the sawed off shotgun would have made short work of a guy stuck in traffic.

But I must remember, it's only a movie, and the screenwriter was probably friendly with McQueen.
posted by wrapper at 6:36 PM on March 24, 2005

I remember a Usenet thread where someone said "Bullitt wasn't all that great ... the big car chase was like a checklist of every car-chase cliché in the book." I told him Bullitt pretty much singlehandedly invented those clichés.

wrapper: Really -- wasn't Lt. Bullitt armed too?

The Getaway is one of my favorite movies for sound editing creating a mood and a character. The pounding prison machinery practically makes you a hardened criminal by the time he gets out.

I also believe it is possible to have separate, not necessarily equal, places in your heart for The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven.

<drift>The latter -- perhaps with the exception of the hapless and outmatched Horst Buchholz -- is a certain kind of Hollywood cool. I find it culturally revealing how they divided up the characters a little differently in the remake -- Horst essentially gets both the callow fighter role and Toshiro Mifune's mad farmhand. I also wish that M7 had been confident enough to have an older townswoman kill one of the attackers, as in the original, which is too cool for school -- and even today, doing such a scene would require placing the moral onus on a flawed-hero character.</drift>
posted by dhartung at 10:17 PM on March 24, 2005

The Drive-By Truckers sure liked Steve too:


Steve McQueen Steve McQueen
When I was a little boy I wanted to grow up to be
Steve McQueen Steve McQueen
The coolest doggone motherscratcher on the silver screen

I’d drive real fast everywhere no one would ever catch me
and I’d kick your ass if you pissed me off so be careful what you ask me
and I’d never have an empty bottle or an empty bed
and as cool as Paul Newman is I bet Steve could whup his head

posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:07 PM on March 24, 2005

They pass the same green VW Beetle several times during the car chase in Bullitt.

Horst Buchholz was pretty good in Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three, which was made the year after The Magnificent Seven.

The Drive-By Truckers sure liked Steve too

So did Prefab Sprout
posted by kirkaracha at 12:33 AM on March 25, 2005

Three words: The Sand Pebbles.
posted by alumshubby at 2:29 AM on March 25, 2005

Papillon was the first DVD I bought and its the one I've watched more times than any other.:

I was amazed at how many copies I saw of Papillon in the VCD stores in an unnamed south-eastern Asian country two weeks ago. Very pleasantly amazed. They weren't the bargain-bin dwellers, either. hou hou..
posted by kcm at 7:19 AM on March 25, 2005

Three words: The Sand Pebbles.

I second that.

I'd also recommend Junior Bonner, a personal favorite.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 7:30 AM on March 25, 2005

Why hasn't anybody mentioned 'Love With the Proper Stranger' yet? It's grittier and more offbeat than its sappy title implies.
posted by of strange foe at 8:45 AM on March 25, 2005

I know it's a bit late in the thread, but xmutex, comment on Papillon vs. Bullitt.
I have to agree, the car chase scene in Papillon was much better than in Bullitt. The part where they take the raft, carve wheels for it, stick'em on and roll down the hill pursued by the Legionnare prison guards before rolling off at the last minute before they reach the cliff and the guards go barreling over. . . Man, that's some wild stuff.
Good call, xmutex (^_^)
posted by mk1gti at 5:39 PM on March 25, 2005

Has anyone ever noticed that the music over the end credits in "Papillon" is very much like the music over the final scene in "On the Waterfront" where Malloy is staggering to work after a beating?
posted by wrapper at 7:58 PM on March 25, 2005

Tipping a pint of guiness in the general direction of the Cincinatti Kid.

His girlfriend in the "Getaway" Ali Mcgraw was hot in the 70's
posted by fujikyoko at 11:19 AM on March 29, 2005

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