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Thu, Aug 20, 2015
The LACar Editorial Staff
LA CAR QUICK TAKE
STEVE McQUEEN Full Throttle COOL
Written by Dwight Jon Zimmerman Art by Greg Scott
Motorbooks Publishing, an imprint of Quarto
87 pages B/W $19.99 US / £12.99 UK / $21.99 CAN
Reviewed by Doug StokesHe’s an icon, a sex symbol, an idol, a movie producer, a rags-to-riches personal success story, a great racing talent on motorcycles and in cars, and one of Hollywood’s most-revered stars of all time. And now a his life has been neatly condensed into an 87-page “graphic novel” that’s the printed and paginated monochrome version of what I think one must see when their life flashes before their eyes just before the final checkered flag (or however you want to euphemize death) is waved.
Steve McQueen, who, in his glory years, could single-handedly sell a movie with one cock-headed smirk, who was (maybe) a better racer than he was an actor, and who has that sort of immortality that only leaving the scene way too early can bestow, is the subject (and the object) of this short, but action-packed, multi-paneled, deluxe (20 bucks US) comic book.
Starting out of sequence, the book’s prologue deals with the making of and impact of “Bullitt”—the 1967 film that gave us the cool, hip, slow-talking, fast driving Lt. Frank Bullitt SFPD and that announced the full-on presence of Steve McQueen as a bona fide movie star.
The second chapter deals with his troubled childhood and his subsequent heroism as young Marine rescuing five other Marines when their boat capsizes in Arctic waters (of course there’s an illustration of that, but oddly enough, nothing “graphic” about the book’s revelation that McQueen, among other menial occupations, for a time labored as a “towel boy in a Dominican bordello”).
Many of the drawings in this book are direct depictions lifted from still frames and the poster art of the man’s movies, others, illustrating parts of his life that were not on film, are a bit less “sharp” and instantly recognizable. I suppose that’s because the film stills were all so burned into our collective memories.
As Full Throttle goes on, McQueen’s personal life and his movie personas begin to flow together in rapid order. His first wife, an actress and dancer, Nellie Adams, was his door to the acting business. His career arc takes off after he stars in “The Blob” (a 1958 semi-knock-off of the monster movie “The Thing” from 1951). He gets his own gritty western series, “Wanted, Dead or Alive” as an old west bounty hunter with a sawed off lever-action rifle. And about that same time, much like another young actor who preceded him by a few years, he takes up sports car racing and is pretty damn good at it.
Unlike James Dean, McQueen pretty much gives up participation in professional sports car racing because of the Hollywood “suits” that were very selfish about their investment in the young dude at the time. Of course by now, everyone in the business knows that those producers and their restraints on the man eventually led to his making of one of most authentic racing films of all time, McQueen’s brilliantly-nuanced “Le Mans”.
Moving on… Hey, we’ve got 50 years (because that’s all he got) to cover in 87 pages of cool black and white drawings and speech balloons. Ok, his laconic part in the boots and bullets ensemble “The Magnificent Seven” puts him solidly into the movies. And “The War Lover” takes him over to England where none other than Stirling Moss befriends him and further sets the car racing hook in McQueen’s expressively photogenic jaw.
And then “The Great Escape” happens and McQueen’s stock as bankable movie star, endlessly slapping that damn baseball into that damn baseball glove and then jumping that motorcycle over that barbed wire, goes full tilt boogie.
I remind you here that all that I describe here is drawn out in what we’ll call a “lurid-polite” style powering the story along through a remarkable run to a first in class, second overall at the 12-Hour race at Sebring, co-driving a thought-to-be-outclassed Porsche 908 with Peter Revson.
McQueen’s prowess as a motorcycle rider is also put on display by the fact that he was chosen to ride on the American team in the 1964 International Six Day Trial a 1,200-mile test of men and machines held over some of the roughest forest terrain in Europe.
After a series of lukewarm offerings, including “Baby The Rain Must Fall”, The Cincinnati Kid”, and “Nevada Smith”, McQueen’s next two films, box-office smash “The Sand Pebbles”, and the beautifully-famed and lyric “The Reivers” vault him squarely into the pantheon of Hollywood royalty (where he never really seems to be awfully comfortable) and his Sebring success fires up his desire to produce and star in his own racing feature film. But first, he shows his suave side as that buttoned-up bank-robbing grillionaire thrill-seeker protagonist Thomas Crown (who just happens to have a very quick Porsche-powered dune buggy and knows how to use it—specifically, to scare the crap out of Faye Dunaway).
From Steve McQueen Full-Throttle Cool
“Le Mans” … brooding, brilliant, and as true to life as any theatrical film about racers and racing yet made, was not very well-received when it was released in 1971. Movie goers of the day just didn’t understand the paucity of dialogue and the plot twists that were considered gotchas by most and tellingly authentic by a few knowledgeable insiders.
In one example of the above, just before the race, McQueen’s German rival (perfectly played by Siegfried Rauch) of tells his wife that he will retire after this one last race. Most movie goers thought, “okay, this guy gets IT”, and they were right. Only NOT in the way they thought. No, in a far worse way for a racing driver. Just starting to climb into the remaining team car for the last hours of the twice-around-the-clock-race, the team manager calls him aside and replaces him with McQueen. In a racer’s world, something (almost) worse than death. Real and heartbreakingly authentic. It was an arrow in the heart of an aficionado and completely missed by most casual film fans.
After “Le Mans” McQueen also appears in another all time classic, but this time, not as an actor, but as a financial backer and down and dirty rider in Bruce Brown’s celebrated “On Any Sunday” documentary that, like “Le Mans” is still revered to this very day.
His movies “Junior Bonner” (about an aging bull rider) and “The Getaway” (about husband and wife bank robbers on the lam and trying desperately to get to Mexico), were both directed by Sam Peckinpah, the then king of shoot-em-up/gratuitous violence films. “Bonner” doing poorly at the box office and “Getaway” netting McQueen a new wife (co-star Ali McGraw).
There are more movies and more cool scenes with some of the biggest names in the biz, like Dustin Hoffman (in “Papillion”), Paul Newman, and William Holden (both in the over the top mega-star disaster film: “Towering Inferno”).
There’s also some good times at the Santa Paula airport, beer, weed, and anonymity. It was a place to relax and NOT be Steve McQueen.
No epilogue here. He made a few more films, almost unrecognizable in the strange, brooding, “Enemy of the State”; “Tom Horn”, that one about another old, weary, gristled, and largely unappreciated gunfighter (the movie’s not-so-very catchy catchphrase was: “See him before he sees you”) (what?); and “The Hunter” playing a private investigator in a stunt-heavy film that was overworked trying to be funny-serious and that too was virtually unseen.
And so we see a man’s life in pictographs (some traced from life, others dreamed up and included) sort of like walls of the tombs of the king and queens of the ancient world. In the last panels, we find our hero at 50 years old near death in a Mexican clinic seeking a promised miracle cure for inoperable lung cancer.
The cure was bogus. But the man surely was not. - DSMore pages from Steve McQueen Full-Throttle Cool
…And that quick, two-fingered salute that Michael Delaney puts up at the end of “Le Mans”? No that’s not “Peace” nor “Victory”, it’s: “Ahoy! You old S.O.B., even after all this I still have my two bow fingers…” A gesture that goes back to medieval times when captured enemy bowmen had their first two fingers chopped off to render them permanently neutralized.
To purchase the book on Amazon, click here.
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See also Doug Stokes' review of Steve McQueen: A Passion for Speed
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