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Archive for the ‘Steve McQueen’ Category

Nevada Smith

26 Apr

Nevada Smith – directed by Henry Hathaway. Western. 128 minutes Color 1966.
★★★
The Story: A young man lives his life to revenge the murder of his parents.
~
Steve McQueen aged 31 is asked to play a boy of 16. He is too beat up to do it, and it was not within his range as an actor anyhow. Otherwise the hole in his dirty shirt is the only actually authentic object in the picture and, you might say, his authenticity is a function of that. Indeed, McQueen plays here what he always played, a man without a code.

Does authenticity hold true for anyone else? The Indians are pristine in their feathers. So are the sluts. So is the excellent Brian Keith who plays McQueen’s mentor after two rough weeks on the trail with a shirt straight from the dry cleaners. Keith, Arthur Kennedy and Pat Hingle, Martin Landau, fine actors all, are Jim-dandy as McQueen’s challenges. But the costuming demotes everyone who appears, and the believability of the film suffers from it.

Of course, this is the way things were done in Westerns of this era. Perhaps McQueen started to question the sort of material he was appearing in. His interests were car collecting, motor cycles, and gang-bangs, McQueen always the first off with his britches. The film as a whole doesn’t ring true. Partly because McQueen is asked to play a man with a code, and his code does not extend beyond what promotes his already seductive masculinity.

This is too bad, because the material has merit. McQueen’s search takes him to various parts of the country, among which is a state prison in a swamp, a setting striking in its perils. Also too bad because Karl Malden plays the main object of his revenge, and Malden is wonderful, all the way through to the insane, surprising finale.

Henry Hathaway, a hardline, highly experienced director of male-oriented pictures, directed. Hathaway directed so many Westerns he may have become petrified in the production values that prevailed then. He was associated with huge male stars –Tyrone Power, John Wayne, Gary Cooper – and his stories display a high degree of testosterone, culminating in Richard Widmark’s Johnny Udo in Kiss Of Death shoving Mildred Dunnock in her wheelchair down a flight of stairs, and in the various rotters, here played by Hingle, Landau, Malden, and Kennedy. It’s a world blinded by its formulas to even the possibility of other stories, other resolutions, other energies.

One of the difficulties of Westerns in the 50s being filmed in color is in real life, they were lived out in sepia. Color in Westerns is good for the outdoors, not for close-ups, not interiors, to which it adds distracting interest, and certainly not to costumes which, particularly in females, delivers a gaudiness that adds nothing verifiable to their characters use in stories.

McQueen has an eventful face. With its folds, creases, muscles. Gable did too; so did James Dean. A lot could happen in such a face, and Gable had the ability to play comedy with it, which is to say, he was willing to look like a sap. McQueen is never willing to do that, is never funny, but, while serious to the point of solemnity, instead always seethes with sex. One always wants to take him under one’s wing and reform him, forgetting that his allure lies in his impenitent self-absorption.

The picture takes McQueen to various ages and various locales over 15 years – all the while holding revenge in mind. Malden would play the same target for it in One Eyed Jacks. But the most unusual locale involves Cajun girls who harvest the rice crop while the prisoners break rocks, and then come to the prisoners at night and everyone gets laid. Suzanne Pleshette plays the principal slut well, leading McQueen out of the swamp in a dugout, until she cops that he’s more interested in the dugout than in her.

McQueen was a crafty actor who stole scenes by underselling them. Watch him closely as he does this. He is able to draw all the energy in the room to himself, as James Dean did, by exuding and at the same time withholding a sensuality all the more tantalizing because it promised something that he would snicker you away from if you got serious. A number of actors of that era – Brad Davis, Alain Delon, Christopher Jones, Dean Stockwell – had this. It was very sellable.

Who has it now? Brad Pitt, who is a better actor than McQueen, with a wider range, and Pitt can be very very funny, a thing which McQueen was too full of himself to attempt.

Steven McQueen was a poor man’s poor man. He may get into a vest, tie, and Rolls for The Thomas Crown Affair, but he’s trailer-trash – which is his value to the silver screen – the underlying drama always being can his beauty surmount his origins?

Still I seek out McQueen’s movies. I have to admit it’s fun to see that rare someone for whom animal magnetism is so easy. A cute guy who could write his own ticket to Timbuktu and back. I watch out of envy and delight – and interest in his exercise of his small, fascinating, and undeniable talent.

 

Papillon

24 Apr

Papillon — directed by Franklin J. Shaffner. Drama. Prisoners in a French Jungle Prison plan an escape. 155 minutes Color 1973.

★★★

Papillon does not hold up as well when it came out. The interiors are sound stage stuff, and they are overlit. And, if we are to take the native Indians on Honduras seriously, what on earth is Victor Jory doing there in all that makeup? Strong as such, the script is by Dalton Trumbo and reflects his stand for independent action by individuals, which is heartening and impractical at the same time. The picture has the virtue of being shot in sequence, first in Spain, then in Jamaica, but the direction is ragged and the execution of the principal escape is noticeably improbable. Dustin Hoffman resuscitates his stage performance of 1966 in The Journey of the Fifth Horse, a fuddy duddy fussbudget he was to put in play again in Rainman. Hoffman is the least affectionate actor in the world. He is not interested in acting a character; what he is interested in is playing an actor playing a character. This means he is interested in being noticed for his “acting,” which is why he does not really qualify for character parts and why he is not to be taken seriously in Tootsie and Rainman. So once more we get Hoffman’s automaton, a fancy characterization that never leaves the studio easel. The result is that he does not really relate to his co-star, which leaves Steve McQueen to carry the picture. McQueen is a limited but interesting actor of great technical cleverness and masculine sex appeal for both genders. He has beautiful wary blue eyes in a small eventful face in a well-shaped head. Here he and Hoffman wear rot-tooth dentures and a ruination of clothes, which help, but one never puts money down on their partnership in escape. For all his carryings on, Hoffman is just no fun. His plaintive whine is designed to elicit pity, but it inspires exasperation instead. On the other hand, McQueen’s other-side-of-the-tracks tuning aid him forcefully in being this pertinacious underdog who refuses to stop escaping. The film is his and it remains one of the proudest efforts of his craft.

 

 

The Thomas Crown Affair

31 Jan

The Thomas Crown Affair — directed by Norman Jewison. Caper Romance. A brilliant wealthy executive thrill seeker commits the perfect heist and then is tracked by a wily huntress. 102 minutes Color 1968.

* * * * *

Perfect in every way, including the little detail that it has not dated in 45 years. This is largely due to everyone and everything in it, but particularly to Haskell Wexler who filmed it and Hal Ashby who edited it. Because what you see is rich and suave at all times, witty and cruel at all times, and engages two of the coldest actors ever to appear before the eye of the general world, Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen, as cold and as hot as dry ice. The casting of them opposite one another is the smartest thing here, because you cannot know which if either will melt and at what specific centigrade it might happen. It also sets a thrill seeker millionaire in a relationship with the hunter paid to track him down as the mastermind behind a brilliant bank robbery. McQueen had a hard time getting the part, that of a Harvard educated millionaire, because, of course, he is Mr. Other-Side-Of –The Tracks – but he does just fine in a suit, unless you think everyone from Harvard must talk like George Plimpton and could never wear the most sumptuous orange bathrobe seen since the fall of the Emperor Hadrian, who died for one. The climax of the film, and it is almost a climax in another regard as well, is a chess game  – chess, a game for the cold – in which the lady wears such a dress and puts her fingers to her lips in such a way, and caresses the glans of a bishop in such a unmistakable flirt, that the gentleman becomes disconcerted and must change the game and kiss her. From this point on, he courts her with thrills, particularly in a beach buggy, to see if she will drop being a hunter and become a thrill seeker with him. The entire film teeters on this Taming Of The Shrew fulcrum. They love one another; you know they do. But they never say so, for to do that would be to open up an entire field of understanding at variance with the criminal codes on which their excitement is founded. Dunaway has said it was her favorite film. She brings a rare glee to her role, and Mc.Queen blue eyes of glacial reserve.

 

 
 
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