THE ESSENTIAL STEVE McQUEEN COLLECTION - includes: NEVER SO FEW, THE CINCINNATI KID, THE GETAWAY, BULLITT, PAPILLON, and TOM HORN (WARNER HOME ENTERTAINMENT) 

WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE - SEASON ONE; includes all 36 original episodes (NEW LINE HOME ENTERTAINMENT) 


"Whatever Steve McQueen did, it was always fear -- the fear somebody was going to take something from him, somebody was going to get the upper hand, something was going to happen, and I think that was his quality and that was what made him a big star."

 --KARL MALDEN to DICK DINMAN, 5/22/05

Some cinema acting styles hold up well over the ages, while others seem to gradually wither and die over passing decades that seem to chip away at their credibility until they become antiquated and at times self-consciously humorous examples of what not to do in front of a camera. After viewing all six McQueen features in Warner's exemplary THE ESSENTIAL STEVE McQUEEN COLLECTION there's no doubt in my mind that McQueen's technique and approach to film acting will never ever age in any shape, manner or form. Down to the smallest and most seemingly insignificant moment in every scene in every film in this collection it is obvious that McQueen possesses the extraordinary talent and ability to get right to the core of his character without the slightest embroidery or concession to indication. He never spells anything out and seems to instinctively know how to reveal important character information through the smallest and most economical of gestures. He trusts himself entirely, but more importantly he trusts the audience's ability to evaluate his every thought to the extent that he feels completely comfortable holding back certain emotional information that other less proficient actors would feel the need to spell out; and thus we can't take our eyes off him. Why on earth would we ever want to? 

NEVER SO FEW (1959) stars Frank Sinatra, Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lawford, Paul Henreid, Charles Bronson and Brian Donlevy in a proficiently entertaining if overly slick and studio-bound World War II concoction that's directed with reasonable dispatch by John Sturges. Oh, and Steve McQueen (in his first big-budget film) has a supporting role in it and, even in such prestigious company, owns every scene he's in.

THE CINCINNATI KID (1965) was unjustly dismissed by some less than perceptive critics as merely a glossy rip-off of THE HUSTLER with aces and deuces standing in for pool cues. How wrong they were! While THE CINCINNATI KID is far less grittier and downbeat than THE HUSTLER it is substantially more entertaining. And magnetic as McQueen is in this film it may be the only instance where the rug is pulled out from under him by co-stars Karl Malden and especially Edward G. Robinson who somehow manage to accomplish the impossible: they divert our attention away from McQueen with effortlessly cheeky performances! 

BULLITT (1968) is the very first film to show those that have yet to be exposed to McQueen's magic. Its seemingly conventional tale about a no-nonsense detective who has to protect a star witness for an important trial proves to be the ultimate showcase for the unique qualities that transformed McQueen into an icon for the ages. Peter Yates' direction is of such an inventive and riveting nature that it should be mandatory viewing for every film director class. 

THE GETAWAY (1972) is not the most complex action film ever made but it has to be one of the fastest moving. Sam Peckinpah directs this tale of a master thief (McQueen) executing one last ultimate robbery with the breathless speed of a man trying to catch a speeding train, with one violent and brilliantly-staged action sequence crashing into the next. The mortality rate is fantastic. Virtually everyone loses their cool. Except our boy. 

The question on everybody's lips when Dustin Hoffman was signed to appear opposite McQueen in PAPILLON (1973), a torturous true story about a prisoner's successful escape from Devil's Island, was whether it's remotely possible that McQueen's extremely spare and outwardly simple acting style wouldn't be dominated by Hoffman's comparatively detailed, fussy and complex approach. Ha! No chance. 

TOM HORN (1980) is a true-life Western saga infused with melancholy. Its sad story about a good man who ultimately must hang for a crime he didn't commit provides McQueen with his most measured and reflective work. A sense of foreboding hangs over McQueen's every nuance and gesture like a dark cloud. And ours. This would be his next-to-last film. 

WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE (Season One) was the weekly Western television series that, prior to any of the films above, provided McQueen with his first national exposure. How many times have you looked at some fine actor's earliest work and realized with amazement that originally there didn't seem to be a lot of promise or even charisma visible at that time? Not here. McQueen's got "it" in every frame of every episode in this flawless 4-disc set that includes all of the first season's 36 episodes. 

Every single one of the films included in THE ESSENTIAL STEVE McQUEEN COLLECTION is in color and anamorphically-encoded wide-screen. BULLITT's original dvd incarnation was excellent but, though the differences are subtle, the new edition seems even more radiant though the stereo sound is essentially the same and the new GETAWAY dvd is superior by leaps and bounds to the original. The big surprise is the transfer of NEVER SO FEW, which positively glows with that special luster that most MGM films had at the time and has an added bonus of an excellently remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. THE CINCINNATI KID looks sumptuous and inviting, and both TOM HORN and PAPILLON look reasonably good. The full-screen black and white WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE episodes, while slightly on the light side, look very good and the monaural sound is perfectly acceptable. Three of the episodes are colorized. No comment.

--DICK DINMAN 

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