Our summer TV fare this summer has featured a lot of trips to the Turner Classic Movies On Demand channel, and lately we’ve been checking out a number of films featuring one of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the ’60s and ’70s — Steve McQueen. We’ve watched some of his most memorable movies, including The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Cincinnati Kid, The Sand Pebbles, Bullitt, The Thomas Crown Affair, and Papillon.
Steve McQueen was an iconic figure, and I’m not sure that any actor since has created the kind of distinctive persona that McQueen so firmly established. He was the ultra-cool, imperturbable character who didn’t say much, comfortably moved on the fringes of society, and wasn’t beholden to conventional behavior or lifestyles. And his most popular roles contributed to that particular persona — like The Great Escape, where McQueen played “The Cooler King,” an unflappable prisoner of war who constantly tried to escape and was routinely sent to the “cooler” for solitary confinement, where he entertained himself by bouncing a baseball off the wall of his cell and catching it, and Bullitt, where he played a tough-as-nails police detective who didn’t show a drop of sweat during the film’s classic car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco.
My favorite McQueen film is The Magnificent Seven — it’s one of those movies that I will always stop to watch if I see that it is on — but the films we found to be a bit of a revelation were The Sand Pebbles, where McQueen played a disaffected sailor serving on a U.S. gunboat during troubled times in China in the 1920s, and Papillon, where McQueen played a French prisoner serving time in a notorious prison camp in French Guiana who never loses his iron determination to live and reach freedom. McQueen wasn’t just the walking embodiment of cool — the guy really could act, and he was nominated for a best actor award for his work in The Sand Pebbles.
Kudos to Turner Classic Movies for screening multiple films for certain actors that allow us to take a deep dive into the career of one of Hollywood’s most memorable stars.