Best Movies by Farr: Have You Seen McQueen?

January 27, 2012 | John Farr

Steve McQueen, star of this week’s Reel 13 Classic “The Thomas Crown Affair” endures as an antihero thirty years after his premature death. John Farr will show you why.

The Great Escape (1963)

During World War 2, a team of Allied prisoners in a high security German POW camp work together in a tireless attempt to facilitate a mass escape. Their daring plan is to dig a long underground tunnel which will take them all to the other side of the barbed wire and freedom. This painstaking job will take not only a highly coordinated effort, but a fair amount of time, with a constant risk of failure or exposure. Will these intrepid soldiers make it out of there?

This breathless war entry, based on a true story, may just be the finest escape movie ever filmed. Beautifully shot on locations in Europe, director John Sturges reunites several of the cast from his prior triumph, the testosterone-heavy “Magnificent Seven”- notably McQueen (now a much bigger star), James Coburn, and Charles Bronson (as the expert on tunnel digging), and adds in James Garner and Richard Attenborough for good measure. Though the film is long, trust me-you won’t be looking at your watch. If you love war movies, this is top-notch, star-studded entertainment. And check out Steve on that motorcycle!

Bullitt (1968)

When hard-nosed Bay Area police detective Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) launches an inquiry into the murder of a Mob informant under his protection, he is stymied by aspiring politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn), head of the Senate subcommittee investigating Mafia corruption. Undaunted, Bullitt pursues the underworld killers with dogged determination.

A cop film which boasts one of the best car chases ever – an exhilarating, ten-minute romp through the streets of San Francisco that’s rarely been equalled – “Bullitt” is the ultimate McQueen movie (along with “The Great Escape”). The action sequences are taut and nerve-jangling, and the distinctive McQueen persona – reticent, self-reliant, cool under pressure – is fully formed and evoked. Of course, he had one undeniable advantage: he was the coolest movie star of his time, and so both he and “Bullitt” endure. (Note: a young Jacqueline Bisset also makes for a stunning diversion as Bullitt’s love interest.)

Junior Bonner (1972)

Junior Bonner (Steve McQueen) is a fading rodeo star who re-visits his home turf to participate in the area’s annual event. There, he re-unites with his family: beloved dad Ace (Preston), a charming but irresponsible dreamer; mother Elvira (Lupino), his more grounded, long-suffering mother who (for the most part) is now estranged from Ace; and brother Curly (Baker), a born hustler who’s becoming rich. Junior must see if he still has the stuff to compete, while coming to terms with his tricky family situation.

Sam Peckinpah’s most subtle, gentle movie is a perfect showcase for the mellowing McQueen, who comfortably wears the part of Junior like a pair of old jeans. “Junior” also boasts fabulous late-career turns from Preston, who nearly steals the picture, and Lupino in a bittersweet turn as the resigned Elvira. Flavorful entry features great rodeo atmosphere and some exciting bucking bronco sequences. Given a mixed reception on release, this underrated gem holds up extremely well, and constitutes must-viewing , particularly for McQueen fans.

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