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Mr. Cool - Steve McQueen
When you think of cool, who else is there but Steve McQueen? Really, there have been some very fine actors with a lot of charisma; for example, one of my all time favorites, Paul Newman. However, cool is not what you think of with Newman. You think of good looks, blue eyes, great laugh, intriguing smile and super talent. You do not really think of cool. That department belongs to McQueen.
There is Cary Grant with those panther like moves and magical manipulation of cinema's most beautiful women, but with Cary you think suave. Cool belongs to McQueen.
I will never forget Steve's first film of importance; no, not The Blob. It was one year later in 1959 in a film titled, Never So Few starring Frank Sinatra and Gina Lolobridgida. Sinatra was a company commander of a group of special raiders specializing in gorilla warfare in Burma during WWII. He needed a driver for his personal jeep and in comes Steve McQueen.
He had that dead-pan look shown in the third photo with those deep blue calculating eyes that just stared right through you as he maliciously planned his next move. Sometimes, he did not even plan; his actions just happened out of instinct. He made every move seem like a ballet just as he manhandled a couple of army police, or the way he took out a nest of enemy jungle fighters without ever blinking. So cool! I have never been so impressed with the first scene of a new star. His every move was impressive and need I say...cool.
The next year found Steve in a western with Yul Brenner and former number one in the world, Charles Bronson. Who stole every scene he was in? Steve McQueen did. McQueen was so subtle and so unpredictable as he moved through each scene with ease and great certainty stealing scene after scene from Yul and Bronson and others in this classic, The Magnificent Seven in 1960.
Meanwhile, McQueen was starring in a huge hit on television that he started in 1958 and continued through 1961. Remember, Wanted: Dead or Alive? He was just the coolest bounty hunter ever with his sawed off shotgun that he carried like a pistol in his holster and flipped it out and fired just as he would a pistol. This is where he made his impression on Hollywood and even though he would finish his obligation to the series, he continued to take the time to make a film or two.
In 1963, Steve made The Great Escape. Again, just classic in his rendition of a super cool loner sitting in a cell throwing a baseball against the wall and riding a motorcycle across Germany and jumping over fences after tunneling to escape only to be brought back to the German camp. This film made him a star.
So, here is this soldier, cowboy, hero, but Hollywood had to take advantage of those rugged good looks. Enter Natalie Wood to join McQueen in 1963's Love With the Proper Stranger. He is still cool, but this time we saw the romantic side of Steve. He could be tender and still be a man's man. He had that certain something that made all of us want to be him. I loved his independence he expressed in most of his films and the way he handled himself when threatened by man or woman. He was sexy, fearless, a super star, yet the common man. That is a tough combination to beat. Gary Cooper had it and a few others.
His next film continued with his leading man image; this time with beautiful Lee Remick in 1965's Baby the Rain Must Fall. McQueen shows another side of his many talents as he plays a guitar in a band. He is an ex-con with a temper and needs proper guidance from his young wife to keep him restrained.
Again in 1965, he found himself tangled between two women, Tuesday Weld and Ann-Margaret in The Cincinnati Kid while dealing with a legendary poker player brilliantly portrayed as always by Edward G. Robinson. This time, Cool met Mr. Cool in Robinson. The two would hold their own until the end. Meanwhile, there were plenty of hot scenes with McQueen and the ladies in waiting.
In 1966, McQueen made a film that would earn him his only Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. This is one of my all time favorite films, The Sand Pebbles. Steve is the cool, independent sailor aboard a U.S. Naval gunboat patrolling interior waters of China during unrest between the national armies of China and the Communists and the war lords.
McQueen plays Jake Holman who is new aboard the ship and finds policies of the ship unfavorable to his ways of doing things in previous assignments in the navy. Everything is relaxed for the sailors with Chinese peasants doing all the work aboard ship. Jake takes an interest in one particular Chinese coolie, as they are called, named Po-han played wonderfully by Mako who left an everlasting impression with me as the coolie who wanted to learn all about the engine room and help Jake as much as Jake would allow. Mako earned an Academy Award nomination for his heartbreaking rendition of the Chinese impoverished coolie.
In one scene, a naval bully challenges Po-han to a fight and McQueen works in the coolie's corner when a boxing match is organized. It is one of the great fight scenes in the annals of film making.
McQueen remains true to his past roles being the cool, nonchalant individual, but he also was tough minded and ready to take on the world for his principals as he did in one scene that has remained with me all these years. His coolie, Po-han is captured by the soldiers and tied to a stake while a soldier begins to slowly cut the coolie's bear chest with a knife leaving scars across his body. The soldiers are trying to provoke the navy gunboat into firing to give them the reason to attack the U.S. intruders. The captain of the ship will not allow his men to fire and provoke such an outbreak of war as his orders maintain. Jake can no longer watch his new friend suffer as the coolie yells over and over again, "Shoot me! Shoot me!" Jake shoots him to end his misery and there is a silence that reins over the ship and the nationalists that would allow you to hear a pin drop. This was one of the great single moments in film history and a defining moment for Steve McQueen. You can read the guilt combined with loss all across his face during this intense aftermath.
In 1968, Steve took on a totally new type of role in The Thomas Crown Affair. This called for a shrewd business tycoon with bank robbery as a sideline. It was hard at first to watch McQueen in $500 suits and sitting behind a desk, but he pulled it off and did so very well. He also handled an intoxicating kissing scene well with co-star, Faye Dunaway.
His next few movies were tied to hot cars which were a major influence in his life as with Paul Newman. In Bullitt, Steve played a cop who drove a souped up car through the streets of San Francisco featuring one of the best car chase scenes in movie history right up there with the French Connection. Then came Le Mans with Steve driving in the European road races and The Getaway with Ali MacGraw, McQueen's soon to be wife, with Steve driving a getaway car after pulling a heist.
In 1973, Steve would unite with Oscar winner, Dustin Hoffman to form a friendship on a prison island high up on a cliff surrounded by treacherous waves and boulders making it impossible for escape. However, do not tell Papillon (McQueen) that. He is the constant loner with no respect for authority and spends endless days in solitaire for his refusal to join the establishment. After years on the rock, Papillon decides to take the plunge and makes it back to his home in France.
Steve made five more films, his last being true life bounty hunter, Papa Thorson in The Hunter in 1980. McQueen had been battling cancer ever since his Papillon days and often sought miracle cures as he did in his final days in Mexico. After an absence of several years following the Towering Inferno with Paul Newman, he appeared with a long beard and long hair in a film, An Enemy of the People. He did not look like the Steve McQueen we all knew.
His fight came to an end in Mexico following an operation when he died of heart failure at just 50 years of age. McQueen was born on March 24, 1930 in Beech Grove, Indiana and died on November 7, 1980 in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. He was married three times and had two children.
Steve McQueen, the cooliest of the cool!