Before today's steroidal action matinee idols, there
was the everyman leading man, Steve McQueen. He's crowned as the king of cool in
American Movie Classics' next original documentary, Steve McQueen: King of Cool,
due March 31.
Unlike most biographies, this one has no childhood movies
or holiday snapshots. The producers leave it to the actor's friends and family to
relate the miserable childhood that formed the prickly personality behind the No. 1
box-office hero of the 1960s. A barnstorming pilot father left the family when McQueen was
only six months old. His mother was not the nurturing type, and she dumped him with
relatives. Without the love and guidance of parents, he got in trouble and was sent to
reform school. And the latter was the high point of his formative years.
The documentarians have corralled a stellar group of
witnesses to relay McQueen's life -- directors Norman Jewison and Mark Rydell,
cinematographer Haskell Wexler and McQueen's first wife, Neile. Noticeably absent is
his second wife, Ali McGraw. Drawing top marks for entertainment is Suzanne Pleshette; you
can tell from this outing that this veteran of the "sassy gal" roles has some
tall tales to tell.
Edited into the hour are some of the greatest clips from
action moviedom: his fence-jump escape by motorcycle (actually, a stuntman's) from The
Great Escape; the madman Mustang chase through San Francisco from Bullitt; and
the sexiest chess game on celluloid from The Thomas Crown Affair. Of greatest
interest to cinefiles, however, are snippets from a film that Warner Bros. never saw fit
to release -- Steve McQueen does Henrik Ibsen in An Enemy of the People. Hey, AMC,
now there would be an oddity I'd watch.
In all, the hour will rewet your appetite for some of the
highest-caliber action and, yes, coolest westerns of the 1960s and 1970s. McQueen
assembled quite a filmography before a cancer-induced heart attack claimed him in 1980 at
Steve McQueen: King of Cool debuts March 31 at 10 p.m.
Once the network has intrigued viewers with the bio, it will show the 1972 version of The
Getaway with Ali McGraw.
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