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Steve McQueen Collection

Steve McQueen Collection on DVD

Four of Steve McQueen’s classics are on tap in this boxed set from MGM Home Entertainment. And they’re all good movies. What we wonder, however, is why they aren’t all good DVD’s, especially in a supposed collector’s edition.

The movies are The Great Escape, The Magnificent 7, The Thomas Crown Affair, and Junior Bonner. But neither the Great Escape nor Junior Bonner is in true widescreen – they’re letterboxed instead, and this means owners of 16x9 TV’s will have to zoom the picture out to fill their rectangular screens, with a resultant loss of resolution.

Unforgivable. And for that we recommend that Steve McQueen fans who want these titles for posterity don’t buy this set.

The Great Escape is already available in a terrific two disc special edition, but this one isn’t it. Too bad.

A grand and rousing adventure in which a ragtag band of freedom fighters fights overwhelming odds to strike their blow against tyranny is always a hoot to watch. Hence “Star Wars” “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and any number of such flicks.

But when it’s also leavened with a healthy dose of reality, it becomes even more interesting – as is the case with The Great Escape, the retelling of the attempt during World War II of some 250 Allied prisoners to stage a huge exit from their prisoner of war camp.

It wasn’t just any camp, either. The Nazis had just built it and had brought in their elite guards to keep their eyes on this collection of prisoners – the elite of the escapers from other camps.

John Sturges’ movie does a great job of capturing the indomitable human spirit, the “never say die” attitude of these people who don’t care a whit that their new camp is supposed to be “escape proof” but who know it’s their sacred duty not only to escape, but to harass the German military machine in whatever manner they can to ensure that the enemy has to spend valuable resources baby sitting them (or chasing them down) rather than sending more soldiers into action against Allied troops elsewhere.

The all-star international cast is terrific. Richard Attenborough plays the British officer in charge of the plan, Steve McQueen is the motorcycle ridin’ “cooler king” whose repeated escape attempts help keep the Germans off guard as to the true escape plan. James Garner is the scrounger, a man who seemingly can come up with any tool or other item needed including expensive cameras to be used in the forging of documents; Donald Pleasence is the forger, who goes blind during the process and has to be helped in his own escape. Charles Bronson is a claustrophobic “tunnel king”.

The worst aspect of the movie is James Coburn’s Australian accent, which is non existent except for some Aussie-like phrases he utters. He was from down under undoubtedly for historical accuracy, but they should have let him be an American to enhance his believability.

Still, this is a terrific movie, one of the great WWII flicks and its nearly three hour running time whizzes by as if it were a much shorter film.

And Elmer Bernstein’s score is wonderfully rousing.

The picture is featured in letterboxed widescreen, which isn’t 16x9 TV compatible regardless of what it says on the box.

Audio is Dolby Digital mono.

Junior Bonner (1972) is at least labeled correctly on the box (“letterboxed” instead of 16x9 compatible). It’s director Sam Peckinpah's look at the rodeo world and probably one of his least violent movies. McQueen, not surprisingly, plays the title character, an aging rodeo rider trying to win a big bull-riding contest. Even as he faces his ever shortening days on the circuit, he also must deal with feuding parents (Robert Preston and Ida Lupino). Preston is particularly good as the old con artist, a type of role he played before and later,in such films as The Music Man and The Last Starfighter.

The Magnificent 7 is a classic Western, and here it’s released (or, actually, re-boxed) in true anamorphic widescreen.

One of the best Westerns ever made, John Sturges' adaptation of Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" features an all star cast and a wonderful screenplay befitting its place in movie history.

The story surrounds a poor Mexican farming village regularly terrorized by ruthless bandido Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his band of thugs. In desperation, the villagers send a representative to a US border town to buy guns, but instead come back with a group of seven gunfighters they hope will kill - or at least frighten away - Calvera and thereby let them live in peace.

Sounds suspiciously like "A Bug's Life," doesn't it?

Anyway, the leader of the seven is Chris (Yul Brynner), who recruits friends and peers who happen to be in the area, convincing some by appealing to their altruistic streak, others by offering them a place to hide out from their enemies, and another comes along looking for hidden treasure he believes must be there because otherwise no self respecting gunslinger would go there for the paltry sum being offered as reward.

Much to their chagrin, a few of the Seven start getting drawn into the villagers' lives, and even start dreaming that once the brutal affair is over they could settle there and find new, peaceful lives in which they wouldn't have to keep looking over their shoulders.

Alas, ‘twas not to be.

While things generally work out in the end, the hope of a peaceful existence is destroyed for all but one of the group, while the survivors ride off into the distance bemoaning the cruelties of fate.

The cast is absolutely wonderful and one can't imagine a better job of casting. The Seven consist of Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughan, Brad Dexter, and Host Bucholz, and they each have wonderful moments in the film.

If you watch the "making of" documentary on the disc (which, to the credit of the producers, was shot and is also presented in anamorphic, 16x9 widescreen video) you'll discover that some of the moments were created ad lib by the actors themselves - sometimes to ensure their faces didn't get lost among all the star power on screen.

The DVD is in widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. MGM has also included the original mono audio track, but we preferred the 5.1; there wasn't a lot of surround (though there's some), but the dialogue comes from the center channel on the Dolby Digital version, which is where it belongs.

The video quality is very good, though when the shot is about to dissolve into another it gets a mite grainy. Audio quality is good as well, though not great.

Extras include the abovementioned documentary, an audio commentary track by Wallach, Coburn, producer Walter Mirisch, and others. There's also a photo gallery.

The Thomas Crown Affair

The original Thomas Crown Affair features Thomas Crown (McQueen), an ultra rich businessman who pulls off a gutsy robbery for some excitement.

Remade decades later with Pierce Brosnan, in this version McQueen masterminds a multi-million-dollar bank robbery. Enter co-star Faye Dunaway - a "Banacek-like" insurance investigator who wants to recover the ill-gotten booty for her fee (a percentage of the amount she saves the insurance company from having to pay out).

Dunaway correctly fingers Crown right off the bat and spends the rest of the movie trying to get the goods on him so she can then get the goods.

Naturally, they fall in love - or she just playing Crown for a sucker? And, if so, is Crown being sucked in?

The Norman Jewison original keeps the sexual tension most apparent during a game of chess, and actually provides more steaminess than John McTiernan's remake, despite its lack of "full frontal nudity."

The DVD is offered in widescreen and Pan&Scan on opposite sides. The Dolby Digital audio is monaural, not surprisingly, and audio and video quality is very good. Extras include commentary tracks by the director.

This is a reasonable choice of titles for a Collector's Edition of Steve McQueen movies. Too bad MGM didn't see fit to give collectors editions of each film that are actually worth collecting.


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