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The Steve McQueen Collection (Gift Set) (4 Discs)
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Genre: Feature Film-Drama
Release Date: 10-APR-2007
Media Type: DVD
A stirring example of courage and the indomitable human spirit, for many John Sturges's The Great Escape (1963) is both the definitive World War II drama and the nonpareil prison escape movie. Featuring an unequalled ensemble cast in a rivetingly authentic true-life scenario set to Elmer Bernstein's admirable music, this picture is both a template for subsequent action-adventure movies and one of the last glories of Golden Age Hollywood. Reunited with the director who made him a star in The Magnificent Seven, Steve McQueen gives a career-defining performance as the laconic Hilts, the baseball-loving, motorbike-riding "Cooler King." The rest of the all-male Anglo-American cast--Dickie Attenborough, Donald Pleasance, James Garner, Charles Bronson, David McCallum, James Coburn, and Gordon Jackson--make the most of their meaty roles (though you have to forgive Coburn his Australian accent). Closely based on Paul Brickhill's book, the various escape attempts, scrounging, forging, and ferreting activities are authentically realized thanks also to technical advisor Wally Flood, one of the original tunnel-digging POWs. Sturges orchestrates the climax with total conviction, giving us both high action and very poignant human drama. Without trivializing the grim reality, The Great Escape thrillingly celebrates the heroism of men who never gave up the fight.
Akira Kurosawa's rousing Seven Samurai was a natural for an American remake--after all, the codes and conventions of ancient Japan and the Wild West (at least the mythical movie West) are not so very far apart. Thus The Magnificent Seven (1960) effortlessly turns samurai into cowboys. The beleaguered denizens of a Mexican village, weary of attacks by banditos, hire seven gunslingers to repel the invaders once and for all. The gunmen are cool and capable, with most of the actors playing them just on the cusp of '60s stardom: Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn. The man who brings these warriors together is Yul Brynner, the baddest bald man in the West. There's nothing especially stylish about the approach of veteran director John Sturges (The Great Escape), but the storytelling is clear and strong, and the charisma of the young guns fairly flies off the screen. If that isn't enough to awaken the 12-year-old kid inside anyone, the unforgettable Elmer Bernstein music will do it: bum-bum-ba-bum, bum-ba-bum-ba-bum....
Millionaire businessman Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) is also a high-stakes thief; his latest caper is an elaborate heist at a Boston bank. Why does he do it? For the same reason he flies gliders, bets on golf strokes, and races dune buggies: he needs the thrill to feel alive. Insurance investigator Vicky Anderson (Faye Dunaway) gets her own thrills by busting crooks, and she's got Crown in her cross hairs. Naturally, these two will get it on, because they have a lot in common: they're not people, they're walking clothes racks. The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) is a catalog of '60s conventions, from its clipped editing style to its photographic trickery (the inventive Haskell Wexler behind the camera) to its mod design. You can almost sense director Norman Jewison deciding to "tell his story visually," like those newfangled European films; this would explain the long passages of Michel Legrand's lounge jazz ladled over endless montages of the pretty Dunaway and McQueen at play. (The opening-credits song, "Windmills of Your Mind," won an Oscar.) It's like a "What Kind of Man Reads Playboy?" ad come to life, and much more interesting as a cultural snapshot than a piece of storytelling.
Junior Bonner (1972) is director Sam Peckinpah's lovely, elegiac look at the world of the rodeo--and his only film with nary a bullet wound. Steve McQueen, engagingly easygoing but determined, is the title character, a rodeo rider out to win a big bull-riding contest in his hometown. Even as he confronts his dwindling days on the circuit, he also must deal with his feuding parents, marvelously played by Robert Preston and Ida Lupino. Preston is particularly good as the randy old con artist; he and Lupino strike real sparks. Peckinpah's slow-motion camera is put to particularly good use filming the balletic violence of the rodeo, at once more terrifying and awe-inspiring than any gun battle. A lovely country-western valentine to a dying breed.
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In JUNIOR BONNER, the action is more subtle, though the rodeo background is colorful and McQueen, a little more weathered, is even better than before. His tangles with Ida Lupino are legendary and she was never better than in this film, a nice valedictory on Sam Peckinpah's part to one of Britain's (and Hollywood's) finest actresses, a woman who could spit out nails when she wanted to and a fitting progenitor for McQueen's icy stare (she plays his mother). It's a softer and more lyrical Peckinpah film, unlike the later THE GETAWAY (also with McQueen, although not in this boxed set).
Finally there's Norman Jewison's remake/remodel of Steve McQueen as a dashing, dapper Cary Grant type in the sophisticated caper thriller THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR. To McQueen's credit, he was able to st-r-e-t-ch his screen image to accommodate the rapier verbal wit of the screenplay as well as do his customary "blue haze" screen stare. Faye Dunaway, as the curious heroine, is also very good and hardly mannered at all. When the film appeared, there was a lot of attention paid to their chess scene, which more or less frankly tried to imitate the baroque erotics of TOM JONES' famous "eating scene" with Albert Finney. Everything in the sequence is a complex double entendre, and often the actors are photographed in intense closeup, letting their eyes do all the talking for them. It works today, even though it has itself been imitated dozens of times since. On the entertaining commentary track Jewison acknowledges the prickly personae of his stars, and hints at how difficult they both could be, and he'll make you smile with some of his insider info.
This MGM set is released at a low (if not quite budget) price and has four great films in it. The competing McQueen set may have more discs, but it has more duds too. You pay your money, and you make your choice!
The four in this collection (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair, Junior Bonner) highlight McQueen as action star.
In the Magnificent Seven, MCQueen is one of seven gunslingers (Others include Yul Brenner, Brad Dexter, Robert Vaughn, Charles Bronson, and James Colburn) who protect a small town from bandits Lead by Eli Wallach
In The Great Escape, McQueen plays the Coller King. He is part of a POW Camp in Germany who work out an escape plan. In the cass are the acting talents of Charles Bronson, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasance, James Colburn and David McCallum. Great Motorcycles stunts are part this film.
In the film Junior Bonner, This film is a tribute to the rodeo and its cowboys. McQueen plays the title character.
There is a cat and mouse game between Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair. This stylist caper mystery plays out in the jet setters playground and trapping of the 1960's.
All these films are well made and still holds up today. If you like these four films, seek out more McQueen stuff like The Essential Steve McQueen Collection (Bullitt Two-Disc Special Edition / The Getaway Deluxe Edition / The Cincinnati Kid / Papillon / Tom Horn / Never So Few) for more action and thrills or Wanted: Dead or Alive - Season One
Bennet Pomerantz AUDIOWORLD
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