Johnny Ross (Felice Orlandi) is due to be the surprise witness at a mob trial in San Francisco, and needs protective custody to keep him safe over the weekend leading up to the trial. Politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) is behind Ross’ appearance, and enlists the high profile Police Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) to run the operation, but as can be expected, not everything goes to plan.
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The Towering Inferno

On it’s opening night, a 138-storey skyscraper is having a celebratory party on the 135th floor. However, due to corners being cut during production a fire breaks out on floor 81. It is up to the building’s architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) and Fire Chief O’Hallorhan (Steve McQueen) to try to save as many people as possible as the blaze intensifies.
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The Blob (1958)

Whilst out on a date, two kids (Steve McQueen and Aneta Corsaut) see something fall from the sky. Upon investigating they find an old man with a strange amorphous substance covering his right hand. They rush him to the local doctor, but things get worse when the substance appears to grow and digest the arm’s owner, and no-one in a position of authority with believe the kids’ story.
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The Sand Pebbles

The year is 1926, just before one of the many Chinese revolutions. Jake Holman (Steve McQueen) is a ship’s engineer who has been transferred to a small run-down gunship named the San Pablo, or the Sand Pebble to her crew. Aboard the Pebble, Holman causes tension amongst the already tight-knit yet divided crew, which doesn’t help when the Chinese public attempt to instigate a war with the US. Continue reading

Nevada Smith

When three men, claiming to be friends of his father, ask young half Native American Max Sand (Steve McQueen) the way to his parents’ depleted gold mine, Max doesn’t hesitate in giving them directions. Something seems up, so he heads after them, but upon arriving discovers the three men have tortured and killed his folks, even skinning his squaw mother, once they had found out the mine had only produced one nugget in the past two years. Max burns down the house, not wanting anyone to see his family in that condition, and heads out into the world with just his horse, a rifle, $8.00 to his name and a vivid memory of the three men who killed his parents, and who he will not rest until they have been killed by his hand.
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The War Lover

England, 1943. Two US Air Force bomber pilots, Buzz Rickson (Steve McQueen) and Ed ‘Bo’ Bolland (Robert Wagner), are best friends, room-mates and regularly go on missions together during World War Two. When a bombing run is called off mid-flight due to heavy cloud cover, Buzz completes it anyway, and causes the death of several airmen in the process. His insubordination becomes a problem, but because he’s the best pilot they’ve got, the army is forced to keep him on. Meanwhile, Bo hooks up with Daphne (Shirley Anne Field), a girl dating one of the men in the downed plane. Buzz’s irresponsibility and Bo’s relationship pulls the two friends apart, especially when Buzz looks set to make a move on Daphne.
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Hell Is For Heroes

1944, Montigny, France. At a rest area near the Siegfreid Line, Sergeant Larkin (Harry Guardino) is desperately trying to find a pen amongst his small band of men. Everyone is either using theirs, sees no need for one, sells dodgy ones or are in a similar state of searching for a writing implement. This scene, which does a good job of introducing the main characters and their various skills, roles and personalities, is one of very few scenes that sets it apart from essentially every other war film ever made.
There’s Private Corby (Bobby Darin), the guy who knows how to get things, but they won’t necessarily work and will cost you a price, and Corporal Henshaw (James Coburn), the bespectacled guy who can’t help tinkering with anything that moves, even fixing a car that was just sat nearby. Private Cumberly (Bill Mullikin) is an amiable chap, but seeing as he’s devoid of too much of a personality, you can go ahead and consider him German cannon fodder, and the young Homer (Nick Adams), a Polish kid looking to get a ride to America when the troops are shipped home. Add to this bunch Steve McQueen as Private Reese, transferred to the company the day before they’re shipped not home, as they’d been led to believe, but back to the front.

The main story – the small band of American WW2 soldiers are tasked with an almost impossible mission – has since been far-bettered in Saving Private Ryan. In fact, the main story here is the defending of a post against a German pillbox, which here lasts 90 minutes, but was deftly handled by Spielberg in just one, very memorable, scene that isn’t even the best in that film. However, even without Ryan this wouldn’t be a very memorable film anyway, as for the most part it’s fairly dull, and none of the roles are given much characterisation other than being good, or bad, at a specific thing. It’s such that when any of the men are slain, the impact is only really felt because there are so few of them in the first place, rather than because we’ve grown to love them.

The action is widely spaced out, and when the big climactic advance takes places, it’s mostly in almost total darkness, until Coburn picks up a flamethrower and sets about with it, but even that’s not for long enough. The mine-sweeping scene is admittedly very tense, but alas the outcome is fairly predictable, and its just a matter of waiting for the inevitable to occur. There’s also a nice early scene in a bar between McQueen and a woman in a bar, but once over it’s forgotten, which is a shame as it’s probably the best scene in the film. The camera following a dying man on a stretcher as it’s bearers strive to reach safety for him was a nice touch too, but sadly was lost amidst a sea of unoriginality.

The main focus of the film was on a relatively interesting subject – a small group of men trying to convince a large unseen foe that there were far more of them than in actuality, and they used some ingenious methods to do it, but other than the actual ideas on display I was far from entertained or engrossed. There are far more, and far greater, war films in existence, and I’m hoping the remaining three on McQueen’s resume are superior (I know The Great Escape is).

Choose life 5/10

The Magnificent Seven

A small farming community is being terrorised by a band of thieves and murderers, led by the charismatic but ruthless Calvera (Eli Wallach, previously only known to my girlfriend as the elderly neighbour in The Holiday). He and his gang steal almost everything worth taking from the villagers, leaving them just enough to carry on farming for another year, at which point Calvera will return and repeat the process over again. Sick of this injustice, three villagers head to the nearest saloon and recruit someone to either train or protect them, finding Yul Brynner’s Chris as the perfect fit for the role after he volunteers for something that could get him killed, and offers no reward – a situation very similar to that of defending the village. Chris then goes about assembling a team – you can probably guess how many – of similarly minded men based on Chris’ previous dealings with them or their reputations. 

The line-up has since become a member of the great pantheon of Pub Quiz Questions – I can never remember Brad Dexter or Horst Buchholz, but I’ve won a DVD by naming James Coburn before. The remaining members are Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and, of course, Steve McQueen, who all have various reasons for signing up, be it running from the law, spotting a money-making opportunity or just plain boredom.

This is one of those films that I remembered through a rose-tinted haze as being a far greater film than it turned out to be. It’s not a bad film, not at all, it’s just not the stone-cold classic I had remembered. My main problem was in the amount of time it took for the Seven to assemble, and the attempts to shed doubt on whether certain members will join or not. It’s clear from the very title of the film that there will be a group of seven defending the village, but the group isn’t together until about halfway through the film! Also, I felt that for the most part enough screentime was given to each of the seven, except for Buchholz’s Chico being given far too much time as the young rookie looking to prove himself, and Coburn’s stoic knife-throwing Britt barely getting a look in after receiving the best introduction of the guys. I’m especially sore about Coburn because he’s my favourite character (and accent) in The Great Escape (coming soon), and he voiced Waternoose in Monsters, Inc. Most of the seven are given some kind of arc of character trait, but Britt’s appears to be just falling asleep under any available tree, and being completely unable to hide behind cover whilst shooting.

Based on The Seven Samurai, I had hoped to watch Akira Kurosawa’s classic epic before seeing The Magnificent Seven again, but alas my Steve McQueen adventures and requests from my weekly movie night made this impossible, but hopefully I’ll get to it soon. What I hadn’t realised is that this film was also remade (not as Battle Beyond The Stars, I haven’t seen that yet), but as A Bug’s Life. Granted, the plots aren’t identical, but there are some startling similarities. I’m not entirely sure how happy Charles Bronson would be to know he’d been recast as a ladybird.

There are some gloriously over the top death sequences, and the finale is a great shoot out, though it doesn’t compare to some other classic ones. It’s a very enjoyable film, but alas it’s not the one I remembered. Still the best Steve McQueen film I’ve seen so far on this journey.

Choose film 7/10

Never So Few

A Steve McQueen film set during World War 2 where at one point he talks about brewing his own alcohol? No, sadly I’ve not yet reached The Great Escape (one of my consistently top 5 films of all time), I’m onto Never So Few, the Frank Sinatra-starring final obstacle before I get to watch The Magnificent Seven again, when I’ll actually start to enjoy going through all of Steve McQueen’s films.

Never So Few sees Sinatra as Captain Tom Reynolds in North Burma during the Second World War. He and his band of highly trained men, including Peter Lawford’s be-monocled Captain Grey Travis and Charles Bronson’s Seargeant Danforth, are training the native Kachins to defend their land against their attackers, but the hardships of jungle warfare and the difficulties posed by his commanding officers – particularly the lack of an assigned doctor in his troop – begin to weigh on Reynolds.

Whilst on a short trip back to headquarters, followed by a two week adjourn for the two captains, Reynolds falls in love with Carla (Gina Lollobrigida), a voluptuously alluring partner to a foreign dignitary, and he also uncovers the beginnings of a plot that may or may not involve his superiors being in cahoots with their Chinese enemies. They also meet Bill Ringa (Steve McQueen), the resourceful driver for their Colonel, and soon recruit him to join their squad.

This film has some serious tone issues. Director John Sturges, yes of The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven, cannot seem to decide whether he is making a war film – as I initially expected – a romance or a political thriller, as all three elements share roughly equal screen time, and the transition from one to another is often jarring. Styles change when Reynolds walks into a room, leaving the government corruption plot as the music swells to a bad daytime soap opera sweeping score as Carla rushes into his arms for a longing embrace. The three different elements seem only loosely tied together too – it could be justified as to having the war and conspiracy themes, as the subjects are at least related, but the romance could quite easily be lifted without affecting the other two, so tacked on is the feel. This was clearly added just to try and entice female viewers – or possibly more men with Lollobrigida’s Jessica Rabbit-like curves – but it always feels awkward and out of place with the rest of the film, just like Carla’s Spock-like eyebrows.

Speaking of tagged on, McQueen’s character is fairly superfluous too, other than adding someone engaging to watch and a mildly interesting character – plus a somewhat inventive fighting technique early on. I got the feeling that Sturges wanted to include McQueen in the film somewhere, and who can blame him? By this point McQueen had perfected the art of ‘doing something in the background’ when he wasn’t overly important in a scene, hence why he always managed to retain your focus by swatting a mosquito on his neck or playing with his gun, regardless of whether you should be looking at him or not. Sinatra’s Reynolds also has an amusing if distracting penchant for pithy one-liners that don’t necessarily make much sense (“He speaks English like he hates it.” “Inside my mouth tastes like the outside of a crocodile.”) or bizarrely successful seduction techniques in which he discusses the correct use of the word ‘hanker’. Some of the lines are great (“I’ll miss you; where I’m going nobody smells of soap”) whereas others raised a chuckle but would be worthy of a slap in real life (“I’ll be back; learn to cook.”). He also wears a cowboy hat whilst parachuting, which is only something Slim Pickens is allowed to do.

I loved Charles Bronson in the film, though his role is far too short. When his gun runs out of bullets during a Chinese attack on the camp, without hesitating he picks up a table and takes out three men with that instead. Genius. Look out for a young George Takei as a head-bandaged hospital patient complaining about the food and James Hong as a diplomat fairly late on. You may be as astounded as me to learn that Hong currently has 371 acting credits to his name, as diverse as Blade Runner to Kung Fu Panda, Airplane! to Chinatown. The guy’s been in everything.

The plot involves far too many talky scenes for a war film, with not enough actual fighting, despite a not-bad mid-film set piece involving the attack of a Chinese air base using hundreds on cans of gasoline, and a third act counterattack over the Chinese border. In spite of these, the film comes off as boring and overlong – 125 minutes – and the actual backbone of the conspiracy plot is almost impossible to fully comprehend. I’m still not entirely sure what was going on for most of it.

Choose life 5/10

The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery

The second film in my travels through Steve McQueen’s career is actually his fifth movie, as I’ve yet to come in contact with a copy of Girl on the Run, Never Love a Stranger or The Blob, and is the second film in which he plays the lead (after The Blob, which I really want to see am annoyed I can’t find).

Here, McQueen plays George Fowler, a man in need of some funds to pay his way through college after being kicked out years ago. He accepts the job of driver for a bank robbery being conducted by his friend Gino (David Clarke) and two others, John and Willie (Crahan Denton and James Dukas), neither of whom trust George, as he’s lived a clean life and hasn’t even been to prison. Meanwhile, George meets up with Gino’s sister Ann (Molly McCarthy), an old flame of his, and complications arise when she works out the real reason George is in town.

Or rather, they don’t. I fully intend to spoil certain aspects of this film that I don’t recommend watching, so I’d advise the spoiler-wary to either skip to the end of the review or stop reading, but regardless you shouldn’t watch the film. You see, my first issue with the film was that halfway through the film there is a pivotal moment in the plot where, having discovered George and Gino are planning to rob a bank, Ann writes on the side of said bank that they are going to be robbed. Understandably, John and Willie are none too pleased about this and, upon discovering Ann is the culprit, kill her. Yet, after this happens, there are no further ramifications on the actual heist of the bank receiving a warning. So in effect Ann is killed for really no reason, as her actions had zero impact on anything that happened.

Secondly, in the film’s opening there is a brief intro stating that the parts of police officers have been performed by the real officers during the real life robbery upon which this story is based, however the police have yet to show up anywhere in the film even before the heist has begun, so it is obvious that something is going to go wrong, the alarm will go off and the police will arrive, else there’d have been no point to the intro. Also, it’s quite clear why the policemen have opted for careers in law enforcement rather than a more thespian path, as though only a couple get actual lines, they are all delivered rather forcefully.

Not that the rest of the cast fares much better, as even McQueen has his wooden moments, and the various conversations within the film, especially those between George and Ann, all feel stilted and awkward, even when they aren’t supposed to be. It’s no great surprise to find that McCarthy hasn’t really done much since. 

My main problem though? The story is dull. Now normally I love a good heist flick. There’s something about the meticulous planning of a con, the recruiting of the team, pulling it off, working around unforeseen obstacles and either seeing the criminals being brought to justice or fleeing with the loot that I find fascinating and immensely watchable, be it the star-studded, glossy likes of the Ocean’s trilogy or Inside Man, or something a bit more noir-y and stripped back like Rififi. Dog Day Afternoon, The Taking of Pelham 123, Out of Sight – these are all amazing films that I don’t hear talked about nearly as often as I feel that I should. And The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery is deservedly not amongst this hallowed list, because it’s just dull.

The robbery itself is completely straightforward, with no clever tricks or any kind of skill involved. The plan is simply to go in, rob the bank and leave before the cops arrive. There’s about as much of a plan as Gale and Evelle had in Raising Arizona, yet this is after a solid 75 minutes of planning shown on screen, that actually took place over at least five days during the film. And the great thing is that nothing goes wrong – the alarm is triggered, as the thieves had expected, but the cops arrived sooner than anticipated, descending into a hail of gunfire. Other than the last minute shoot-out and McQueen going insane, there’s little of any worth that I think I’ll remember. McQueen’s final scenes are worth mentioning in that they are the only time I’ve seen so far where he has played anything other than a by-the-numbers hero character. When he finds himself alone in the bank with the hostages and a gun, he breaks down and goes a bit loopy, which was interesting to watch, but was unconvincing because it’s Steve McQueen, and he just doesn’t do that.

One interesting part of the film was that it showed how a good, clean man – in this case George – can become embroiled in the seedier underbelly of a nation, and how if he’s not careful he could quite easily become stuck within it forever.

Also, when the film opens they wisely removed the ‘Great’ from the title, as neither the film nor the factual account are anything even close to resembling great. And is it too much to ask for a little note at the end saying what happened to those that survived?

So, this isn’t a great film, mainly because the story is boring – the heist doesn’t even begin until 15 minutes before the end – the acting is poor, the soundtrack has been taken from a fairground ghost train and pretty much the whole thing is in shadow and impossible to make out.

Choose life 2/10