Reader Mail

McQueen for a Day

He was some Proper Stranger. Plus: Many thank you notes to Ben Stein ... and Howie Dean. And much more.

6.13.05

Send to Kindle

DON'T BE A STRANGER
Re: Wlady Pleszczynski's It Ain't Cool:

Love With the Proper Stranger is indeed a wonderful movie. As soon as you said it, I remembered the poignant story and how beautifully it was told. I missed the whole retrospective on Steve McQueen last week. If Mark Felt was the reason, all I can say is that I wish that duplicitous old man would take his dirty secrets and go back in his garage where he belongs.
-- Judy Beumler
Louisville, Kentucky

How can you leave this out? When bandying about the films of McQueen, a largely nostalgia-driven exercise, how can you possibly ignore Le Mans? In addition to McQueen, it features the Porsche 917-series race cars, perhaps the greatest endurance racers of all time, with gorgeous, flowing lines, enormous brute power and an evil reputation (a later version would develop 1,500 peak and 1,100 continuous HP; the Le Mans variants were 600-700 or so if memory serves). Granted, it's not so much a movie as it is a bunch of classic race-cars driving around the Sarthe -- but it's the real deal; not mock-ups or fakes (mostly), and the drivers are real, too. And of course McQueen is there, detached and cool as always, perhaps even more so than usual.
-- CDG

Bravo and dittos. Love With a Proper Stranger: an amazing B&W film (can you imagine "colorizing" this?) Deeply moving and winning performances. It's been a favorite of mine for years and I am sorry to see it has been ignored. Thank you for giving it the attention it so richly deserves.
-- Pamela Hall

About 15-20 years ago I came across the box for LWPS in a video store. I was immediately perplexed. Why had I never heard of this movie before when Wood and McQueen were both BIG in 1964? It must have been a dud I concluded, and I started to move on, but my favorite casual female style is the black sleeveless turtleneck, and Natalie's wearing one in the still on the cover (but does not in the film!). So I took it back to apartment and was floored. It was excellent. So perplexed was I that this movie was not well known that I went and looked up the NY Times review from 1964 on microfilm (positive) and looked at the ads to determine how widely it was distributed. As the message about abortion is ultimately ambiguous, it didn't dawn on me that that might be why contemporary cognoscenti have squelched it, but your assessment makes sense. Remaining confused about the film's obscurity, I rented it again two-three years ago, thinking that perhaps I had just overrated it in my youth on the first viewing. No, it was top notch. It was also notable for another reason. The films of 1961-67 depicted New York as glamorous (Breakfast at Tiffany's, Barefoot in the Park etc.); the films of 1969-75 depicted it as nasty and gritty (Midnight Cowboy, French Connection, Taxi Driver). Released in early 1964, LWPS was unusual for its emphasis on gritty and nasty New York and was about five years ahead of time in that.
-- J. Mack

"...The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven don't stand up to adult viewing"? Since when!
-- Rufus Thompson

I've been a Spectator reader since the late '70s. Everything has been perfect until I read this:The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven don't stand up to adult viewing. El wrongo! The Magnificent Seven, besides being a great action flick, is also an exceptionally well-written and well-made film. The scene that introduces the main characters, Chris (Yul Brynner) and Vin (McQueen), accomplishes everything a good scene should have-it advances the plot, has a few funny lines, and develops character. Boy, does it develop character.

Let's take a look: As the campesinos arrive in town, they notice an argument. It turns out a local who dropped dead on the street can't be buried in the town cemetery, Boot Hill, a sort of Potter's field. "Old Sam" is an Indian, and racism has reared its ugly head. Anyone who tries to bury the Indian will be killed, so no one will drive the hearse (Points to Whit Bissell here, who does a great turn as the frustrated undertaker).

A bunch of saddle tramps are watching. From among them Brynner volunteers. Testosterone oozes off the screen as he steps forward, joined by McQueen, whom he does not know. Atop the hearse, the two men regard each other. We know nothing about them; they know nothing about each other. Except both have demonstrated that they understand that harmful retribution should never deter one from doing the right thing. A stage coach guard, Epictetus, hands down McQueen a coach gun.

Okay, I made up the name of that guy -- he doesn't get a credit. But you see my point. The movie's themes are laid out in clear terms: It is in the nature of good (if flawed) men to right wrongs, but sometimes the price is difficult to pay. That should not deter one. And sometimes it is those flaws which give them the ability to fight when others cannot. As I write this, Iraq comes to mind.

As for The Great Escape, based on a true story, as I'm sure you know, it memorializes the finest of human instincts; man's will to freedom, and prevail under any circumstances. Sometimes the most profound ideas are contained in the most unassuming packages.
-- Cris

P.S. Bring back the "Nuke the Whales" T-shirts.

I watched a lot of the TCM tribute, no mention at all of the movie below. It's scary to think the number of people, editors, and producers that had to be involved to be sure that this movie received absolutely no mention from so many sources. This kind of removal is scary, it's as though a group is trying to erase ideas. I don't doubt that if roles were reversed that the RIGHT might try to pull off the same thing, but I hope not. Surely someone would see how wrong this is. It seems that it's a "by-any-means-necessary" attitude that prevails in today's arena of ideas. Very scary.
-- Bryan C. Burge

Thank you for the article on Steve McQueen and the unjustly neglected Love with the Proper Stranger, long one of my very favorites. It is difficult to find and seldom seen, but it is a tremendous film.

I would just like to add that I would also include in this category the follow-up film that McQueen did with Robert Mulligan two years later in 1965 -- this time cast opposite Lee Remick -- in Baby the Rain Must Fall (an adaptation of a stage play).

Once again McQueen's great talents as an actor are embellished and revealed by appearing alongside a strong actress. It is indeed sad that McQueen died too soon, but also unfortunate that while alive he did not make more of these quiet introspective films portraying morally complex characters rather than the large-scale heroic action pictures.

In a similar way, Clint Eastwood's The Beguiled (directed by Don Siegel), is largely forgotten, a film in which Eastwood plays, perhaps for the only time, an anti-hero who exploits and victimizes others. Probably the Vietnam War served as the underlying symbolic context, as it did in Eastwood's later film The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Another actor of the same period -- and sometimes co-star of McQueen's -- whose work is often neglected is James Garner. Similar rugged, handsome looks as McQueen, though always more sarcastic in demeanor. An excellent "forgotten" film of Garner's is The Americanization of Emily, in which he co-stars with Julie Andrews. A very well-made and extremely funny film. It is also notable that Garner was a tremendous physical actor who performed virtually all of his own stunts, including remarkable driving feats. Everyone remembers his wild Firebird reverse spins on his Rockford TV show, but he also starred in films such as Grand Prix where his car driving abilities are best showcased. It is my opinion that he puts Paul Newman to shame in this regard, though Newman is better known as the "racing actor."
-- James Carpenter

You're on target about Steve McQueen. In junior high, Paul Newman would have been the smart mouthed kid that everybody wants to beat up behind the gym. McQueen was the cool loner.
-- David Shoup
Athens, Tennessee

I have been an avid Steve McQueen fan since six years old (I am now 47). The first time I saw The Great Escape, I fell in love with Steve and remember asking my two older brothers, "Why were the Germans always picking on him?" Still love The Blob and it was actually the first movie I ever bought. One day I was walking downtown Broadway in NYC when the NY Post paper boy gave me the late edition. Headlines: "MCQUEEN DIES"! Well I cried like he was family.

I saw LWPS a couple of years ago, and you are so right on as to the meaning of the message of the movie. In fact, I am printing your article and passing it along to friends, family and students to remind them of the subtle yet evil way Hollywood has permeated into our lifestyle its "Culture of Death Message," and damn anyone who opposes or suggests an "alternative solution."

I watched that Steve McQueen special this past week and I truly miss him. Other than Mel Gibson and Jim Caviezel, there is no one in Hollywood who could get me to a movie (even if it were free).

Thank you for giving him a truly great testimonial.
-- Joellen M. Arrabito
Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey

While I'm in agreement with your take on Love With the Proper Stranger, I very much think The Magnificent Seven holds up to repeated viewings. It's much better than its hokey and sloooowwww original Japanese source material. And the only reason I can't say the same about The Great Escape is because I finally saw it for the first time just a few days ago.

I'd also respectfully differ about Hell Is For Heroes, which TCM also ran and you didn't deign to actually name. This one, and McQueen's performance in The War Lover, are McQueen at his stoniest and most impenetrable. His most screwed up, too. He is worth watching because we know how crazy he is in both movies, and how we'll thus never be able to figure him out.

But give him credit, he could also summon dopey charm when necessary, as in Soldier In The Rain (which had a great Jackie Gleason and an achingly lovely Tuesday Weld), in Never So Few (which showed he could play supporting roles) and The Reivers, a movie which in my opinion is too often overlooked in discussions of either McQueen or Faulkner on screen. He's even likable in The Honeymoon Machine, and at least quite bearable as the DA hunting his boyhood best friend in Never Love A Stranger, speaking of movie obscurities.
-- Richard Szathmary

Thanks for the article about Steve McQueen and your commentary on TMC having left Love With the Proper Stranger out of the McQueen special. In LWPS, McQueen reached the right answer for the moral question (at least as far as the baby was concerned -- it got life), and Wood, by requiring McQueen to prove his love was real, provided the right answer of the moral issue of family. It was a moving story.

But I disagree with you about the "overhyped" car chase in Bullitt. What is cool about that scene is that the audience sees the action from four perspectives -- from others on the street -- the driver of the Cadillac (Buick?) stopping short and blowing the car horn as McQueen and the bad guys race down the hilly street; the view from the VW, being passed by first the bad guys, then McQueen; then from the bad guys' view from inside the car, seeing McQueen in the rear view mirror; and from McQueen's view -- concern both with catching the guys and public safety. I probably don't have these scenes in order, but it's a great film technique that puts a viewer right into the action. For example, as the Dodge Charger speeds down the street, onto the flat surface of the cross-street, proceeding onto the slope of the hill, I can feel the car bouncing from one attitude to another to another (direction, pitch, yaw, and roll).
-- Mark Davis
Houston, Texas

You forgot Le Mans (1971) -- one of the two best films about auto racing. I read somewhere that John Frankenheimer had wanted McQueen for Grand Prix but had to settle for James Garner.

Of the three Hollywood leading men who owned and liked to drive fast cars, Newman did not make a major racing film -- though he did race on the circuit. And he has been an investor in Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. Whether he funded Lime Rock out of his "Newman's Own" company, I don't know.

I've not seen Le Mans in years, but recall that it was not great on much but the racing (Frankenheimer probably did a better job with Grand Prix as he was a racing aficionado himself). If they don't include Le Mans in the McQueen retrospective (or the DVDs), then they are really low. I first saw McQueen on CBS in Wanted Dead or Alive back in the 1950s.
-- John Williamson

Kudos for your observation of Steve McQueen's coolness. I believe his image will be around long after Paul Newman is forgotten.

I must add my own favorite McQueen movie, (primarily because I was a car-crazy teenage kid at the time), was LeMans. It will never be remembered as an epic, but those racing scenes made me into the racing fan I am today.
-- Joe O'Brien
New Orleans

It seems that I remember a movie called the The Carey Treatment that set up a situation where a young girl was the victim of a botched abortion (both the baby and the mother die). It was very easy to get the message that the reason the girl died was the unavailability of legal abortion. The pro-abortion message under the rest of the story was pretty loud for 1972. James Coburn was in it but, you will look very hard before you will see it as a credit on any movie list or on his website.
-- Danny L. Newton

Yeah, I agree. Love With The Proper Stranger is a McQueen classic. And the Hollywood pro-abortion bunch just can't have that kind of message goin' 'round the room.

And speaking of McQueen classics, every Halloween I always play my old VCR copy of The Blob from the late '50s. Gone With The Wind it ain't!

FYI: McQueen's Blob female co-star went on to play the TV role of Barney's girlfriend, Thelma-Lou, on the old Andy Griffith Show.
-- Dave
Elk Grove, California

Thank you to the person who wrote this! A long time McQueen fan myself, I have always felt -- and still do -- that Love With the Proper Stranger is one of his best. To me there was a tender magic between Steve and Natalie Wood, the result of these two great actors and the time the film was made. Never again will that combination be possible. I re-watch it a few times a year. (I am 66.)
-- Mary Louise Kleman
Grasonville, Maryland

I enjoyed your article about this movie, a movie that I'd love to see. Odd that it's about the only Steve McQueen movie that isn't on DVD yet. Very odd.
-- Christopher Burnett
Austin, Texas

REPORTING AND ABETTING
Re: Ben Stein's A New Yorker Kind of Guy:

Excellent commentary by Ben Stein on The New Yorker article. In the late sixties and seventies, it was clear the younger generation was breaking up the established standards. Sadly, they destroyed their compasses too. We are apt to become what we spend our time doing, and I think that generation became addicted to destruction. When you have no compass, you can only travel in a direction based on emotions instead of reason. How twisted they've become!
-- Louis Flanagan
Berwyn, Pennsylvania

Thanks to him for writing this, and to you for publishing it.

It's sort of like Shimon Peres saying how much Arafat yearned for peaceful coexistence with "Al Yahood."

I can't help think that if so few show outrage at praise of evil, we probably don't recognize it well enough to fight it properly.

It's like I told a friend the other day, Bush isn't doing well in our war on terrorists (still mistakenly called "war on terror," whatever that is) but I voted for him instead of Kerry because if I thought if we ended up taking the local, instead of the express to our demise as a nation, we might have one last chance to time to come up with a plan. Hey, it could happen.
--Bob Hyland
P.S., My dad was with the First Marines at Guadalcanal. He told me they used to try to be nice to the captured enemy and to bury their dead, till the prisoners started throwing grenades and stabbing their captors, and their booby trapped dead blew up the burial details. But today, we have to be so sensitive that it's better for an American to die, than an Islomofascist to be insulted. The lunacy is so widespread that I'm actually beginning to worry about winning this one, and unlike Vietnam, walking away is not an option.

Thank you, Ben Stein. I hope your article will be published in every newspaper and magazine. Unfortunately, in today's MSM, it will not. Thank you for lighting a candle, trying to shed light on the moral and ethical abyss of the MSM today. One can only hope that such a candle will tip over and start a fire to burn away the darkness. Thank you from a relative of a Special Forces Green Beret (Vietnam).
-- Dorenna Hart
Vermont

Please extend my thanks and respect to Ben Stein for his accurate and well-written article about the lack of morality and anti-Americanism in the mainstream media.
-- Karen Monro
Plymouth, Michigan

Nothing surprising about it. Offenses on the left hardly ever merit any rebuke. On the right, it's altogether a different ball game. Just think of Linda Tripp, one quick example that comes to mind, and the vitriol heaped upon her when she exposed the lies of the Clinton White House.

One can easily extend this to -- another example quick -- the different treatments in the worldwide press of, let's say, Fidel Castro and Augusto Pinochet. I don't recall any Spanish judge issuing an arrest warrant directed at Castro. And the list could go on.
-- Thomas Edelman
Santa Monica, California

God bless you, Ben Stein!
-- unsigned

CHAIRMAN LOOSE CANNON
Re: George Neumayr's In Dean's Den:

I just PRAY that Dean and the rest of the nutty left keep up their hate for the majority of Americans, as that will just keep bringing more votes to the "right" side.
-- Elaine Kyle
Cut & Shoot, Texas

This Vermonter says, "Thanks, George." Good article. It's a pleasure to share Dean with the rest of the nation. After all, he's got enough hate for everyone. Been waiting 20 years for that little psycho case to finally melt down.
-- Pete Chagnon

It's simultaneously farcical and tragic to see Howard Dean continue his William Tecumseh Sherman-like, scorched-earth march across America's social-political-religious landscape.

But let him continue unchecked in his folly, his war against Christianity. As a Christian, I hope he does. His criticisms only galvanize us and further cement the indisputable fact that the Democrat Party is wildly secular and getting more so. And that ongoing revelation will only drive more God-fearing folks from its ranks. But, still, you wonder: Why does Dean hate Christianity -- therefore, Jesus the Christ, its founder and head -- so passionately?

Just after last fall's drubbing John-John Kedwards took in the Mountain State, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said: "I have always known where the values of West Virginia lie -- patriotism, faith, family, opportunity, a clear sense of right and wrong, and justice. The Democratic Party needs to get back to reflecting those core principles."

Fortunately for the country, Dean or others like Nancy Pelosi don't belong to that party.
-- C. Kenna Amos Jr.
Princeton, West Virginia

He's the best thing to come along for Republicans in decades! In summary, a nasty, mean spirited individual with a perchance to stereo type and look down on everyone not of his belief. Let's hope he stays head of the DNC and continues to spew hate speech. Every time this small minded bigot opens his mouth, a Democrat decides to switch parties!
-- Bob Montrose
Fort Lee, New Jersey

Mr. Neumayr is on to something here as to the mental state of Dr. Dean and his fellow travelers in the Democrat Party. Yes, only the denizen of Park Ave., pampered by servants, cocooned and nurtured in the best old monied private schools privilege can buy, can possibly tell the rest of us how pathetic our meaningless bourgeois lives really are and just how hopeless things are in America. After all, the good doctor has come to this knowledge after toiling within the crucible of the '60s, no doubt after deep meditation upon sunsets in the mountains of Aspen, after the physical demands of a full day on the slopes. Yes indeed, the oracle from the lily white state of Vermont, inhabited by the many cast offs from those glorious hippie days, knows of what he speaks. Those more trained in the science of mental health than I might just call this state of reality "acute narcissistic prolonged adolescent psychosis." A fitting malady for the head of the Democratic Party.
-- A. DiPentima

As a white, conservative, Republican, retired Army officer, Endowment NRA member, now honestly working for a defense contractor, I personally apologize for not inviting Howie to my nephew's recent Bar Mitzvah.
-- Mike Horn
Tracy, California

RICHER OR POORER UNDER THE GIPPER?
Re: Ralph R. Reiland's Grumpy About Class:

"...and the poverty population, after growing by 7 million during the late 1970s, dropped by 4 million in the 1980s. With each of those things, it's the poor who won." -- Ralph Reiland

In 1979, before Reagan entered office, there were 27,392,580 officially poor people in the U.S., representing 12.4 percent of the population. By 1989, near the end of Reagan's policies, the official poverty figure was 31,742,864, or 13.1% of the population. American poverty increased under his economic policies, both in raw numbers and in the percentage poor overall.

The proper conclusion should have been the opposite of Reiland's conclusion: it's the poor who lost under Reagan's policies. Please correct or explain your statements because it gives the impression that conservative advocates are either ignorant or deceitful.
-- Phil Rutledge

DON'T SWEAT IT
Re: Lawrence Henry's Thinking About Schools:

I used to feel the same way when our kids (three boys and three girls) were in school. We did the same things: study with them, go to the parent and teacher conferences, etc. For most of that time, if not all of it, I thought it might be all for naught, but after they left high school they have done well for themselves. They are all married, happy and a lot smarter than me, their old man and they think that I'm brilliant. So it just goes to show you: don't sweat the small stuff if you're trying.
-- Gene Hauber

COMMON SENSE ON CREDIT
Re: David Hogberg's Accounting for San Diego:

Before you make the jump from San Diego's fiscal suicide to Social Security, there is a stepping stone: the State of California.

Like San Diego, the state has promised everything to everybody, particularly the public employee unions, without the least idea how to pay for any of it.

Governor Schwarzenegger has challenged the Democratic powers that be -- and had to back down every time. Now there is talk of raising taxes (on the "rich" only of course... for now). But since the invariable pattern of our legislators is to spend two dollars for every dollar they get and scream for more, the budget will not be balanced. Ever.

Only when total bankruptcy zeroes out everything will the cycle cease. No doubt it will provide an object lesson on the wages of socialism. I only wonder if there will be time to do anything about it.
-- Martin Owens
Sacramento, California

Milwaukee Country (Wisc.) had a similar scandal a few years ago. Thanks to the Democrats in power they enriched themselves with high pensions and benefits. Now the county taxpayers are paying 70 cents on every dollar for those benefits and many county workers have lost their jobs because there are no tax dollars to support them. There is now a Republican county executive who refuses to raise taxes.
-- Luonne Dumak

RED-SHIRTED SACRIFICE
Re: Ben Stein's The Cost of the War on Terrorism:

I am Lt. Col. in the Marine Corps and have been in Iraq now for over three months (on the way to just over 12). I am married and have three beautiful children. I can't tell you how much I appreciate what you wrote in your June 6 article entitled, "The Cost of the War on Terrorism." We are doing a great deal of good out here and even if the worst happens to me, it will all have been worth it - my wife and kids know that also. You are a great American Ben and knowing that people like you exist and can write so eloquently about this war makes it easier to deal with.

Take care and thanks again,
-- Lt. Col. Bill Mullen, RCT-8 Ops O

"The best of the human spirit is alive and well inside those red T-shirts."

Mr. Stein graced us with his presence at the TAPS gathering over Memorial Day weekend. The ending line of his article states so eloquently that there is a heavy price we pay for freedom, however there is still light, there is still hope and there is still promise for the future.

Mr. Stein, thank you for being a part of our weekend. Thank you for your patriotism and for honoring the sacrifice of our men and women in the armed forces and their families.

God bless you and God Bless America!
-- Ellen Andrews

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article