This week’s Now It’s Dark Throwback Thursday Phantasmagoria features the “King of Cool” Steve McQueen, starring in his five best films.
Steve McQueen approached acting the same way Ernest Hemingway approached writing: Less was always more. McQueen captivated audiences with his icy blue stare and allowed his face to do his talking for him.
McQueen chose terseness and minimalism over drawn out monologues or cliché one-liners. He was quoted as saying, “I’ll give you a closeup that will say a thousand words,” on the set of The Towering Inferno – he thought the script was shit.
And even though he starred in a plethora of action films, McQueen was nothing like the musclebound hulks or the wisecracking jokesters that have come to define the genre today. He was an accomplished race car driver and motorcyclist which allowed him to do most of his own stunt work. Never before had audiences been so close to their hero when the stakes were at the highest.
This #TBT we present the five films that earned Steve McQueen the title of “King of Cool.”
1. Bullitt – Known best for its iconic car chase through the narrow streets of San Francisco, McQueen’s 1968 mega hit brought a new level of gritty realism to movies by filming on location instead of in a controlled studio environment.
The car chase scene was also a milestone in film editing at the time. It took the cast and crew over 3 weeks to film 10 minutes of footage.
McQueen’s best line: “Look, Chalmers, let’s understand each other: I don’t like you.”
2. The Great Escape – Up against British acting legends in this ensemble cast WWII POW movie, McQueen stole the show as Captain Virgil Hilts, receiving rave reviews from critics for his anti-hero performance.
It was McQueen’s own idea to have his character escape by motorcycle even though this event never took place in the non-fiction book the film was based on.
McQueen’s best line: “Well, like I told Max, I was trying to cut my way through your wire because I want to get out.”
The Magnificent Seven was also the influence for numerous successful movies and TV shows including Star Wars, The A Team, and any film directed by Quentin Tarantino. Only one other movie has been shown more times on American TV than The Magnificent Seven … The Wizard of Oz.
McQueen’s best line: “We deal in lead friend.”
4. Papillon – A sweeping epic that is at times brooding, funny, existential, nihilistic, violent and bro-mantic. McQueen stars opposite Dustin Hoffman; the two men playing convicted criminals who quickly strike up a relationship with the hope of escaping the worst prison in the world together, Devil’s Island.
McQueen’s never-say-die-performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor and the film’s 12 million dollar budget was considered astronomical for 1973.
McQueen’s best line: “Hey you bastards, I’m still here!”
5. The Getaway – McQueen reunited with director Sam Peckinpah after their previous film about a bull rider failed at the box office. With a chip on both men’s shoulders, McQueen and Peckinpah were determined to make the best action film of 1972.
The Getaway is heavy on style, but lacks in the storytelling department (basically every Hollywood tentpole released today). The Getaway ended up being the 8th highest grossing film of 1972. McQueen also started an affair with his co-star Ali MacGraw (super babe of the ’70s) during production. King of Cool indeed.
McQueen’s best line: “Punch it, Baby!”
Stay tuned every week, as I will be bringing you, the Now It’s Dark readers, another Throwback Thursday Phantasmagoria.
About Bryan Kish
Bryan Kish writes reviews and articles for NID Magazine.