This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

19Apr/17

STEVE McQUEEN & ROBERT VAUGHN: THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN / BULLITT

(photo by Jack Harris)

Steve McQueen and Robert Vaughn take a break during filming of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (photo by Jack Harris)

BORDER CROSSINGS: THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (John Sturges, 1960)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
April 21-23, 11:00 am
212-924-7771
www.ifccenter.com

“He was a very special friend, and I’ll always miss his unique way of looking at life,” Robert Vaughn wrote of Steve McQueen in his 2008 memoir, A Fortunate Life. The longtime pals made three films together, the first being John Sturges’s classic Western, The Magnificent Seven. (They also each got their start in low-budget sci-fi cheese, McQueen in The Blob and Vaughn in Teenage Cave Man.) The film, a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 epic Seven Samurai, features Vaughn, fresh off an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Young Philadelphians, and McQueen, who was in the middle of his run as Josh Randall in the television series Wanted: Dead of Alive, playing two of seven sharpshooters hired by the men in a poor Mexican farming village where a group of bandits led by the evil Calvera (Eli Wallach) have been running roughshod. McQueen is Vin Tanner, a cool drifter, while Vaughn is traumatized Civil War sharpshooter Lee; the other five are Yul Brynner as leader Chris Adams, Brad Dexter as fortune hunter Harry Luck, James Coburn as knife slinger Britt, Charles Bronson as pro Bernardo O’Reilly, and Horst Buccholz as the fiery young Chico. Brynner and McQueen famously went after each other in a hotly contested battle of acting one-upmanship even as their characters work together to save the town. The magnificent film, which was shot on location in Mexico and established McQueen as a star, also boasts an unforgettably American score by Elmer Bernstein.

As part of their bonding process, the seven performers also played cards during breaks; one series of publicity photos shows Vaughn sitting next to McQueen as each wins a hand. In addition, in a 2015 interview with the Mirror, Vaughn detailed a visit he and McQueen made to a brothel that didn’t go quite as planned. (“They said, ‘How many girls would you like?’ And Steve said, ‘Seven. We are the Magnificent Seven and we want seven girls.’ Even though not all seven of us were there.”) A 35mm print of The Magnificent Seven is screening April 21-23 at eleven o’clock in the morning in the IFC Center series “Weekend Classics: Border Crossings,” which continues Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings through July 2 with such other cool flicks as Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel, and Tony Richardson’s The Border.

BULLITT

Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) has some sharp words for Bullitt (Steve McQueen) in BULLITT

WAVERLY MIDNIGHTS — ROAD RAGE: BULLITT (Peter Yates, 1968)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
April 21-22, 12:15 am
212-924-7771
www.ifccenter.com

New York City native Robert Vaughn, who passed away in November at the age of eighty-three, and good friend Steve McQueen, who was only fifty when he died in 1980, reunited onscreen in 1968 for the police-political thriller Bullitt. By then, each had starred in a television series — McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive, Vaughn as Napoleon Solo in the wildly successful, Emmy-nominated spy fave The Man from U.N.C.L.E. In Bullitt, McQueen virtually created the Hollywood antihero, playing a cool, calm cop who does things his way, often leaving a mess behind him; meanwhile, Vaughn began establishing himself as the manipulative high-class villain. In Bullitt, which was based on Robert L. Fish’s 1963 novel, Mute Witness, McQueen stars as San Francisco detective Lt. Frank Bullitt, a character inspired by real-life SF inspector Dave Toschi. Bullitt is personally selected by local politician Walter Chalmers (Vaughn) to protect an important witness, who is scheduled to testify against the Organization in forty hours. But things go awry, leading to murder and mayhem — and one of the all-time-great movie car chases — as Bullitt, distrustful of Chalmers, refuses to follow protocol. Shot on location by cinematographer William A. Fraker on the winding streets of San Francisco, the film, directed by Peter Yates and featuring a jazzy score by Lalo Schifrin, has quite a supporting cast, with Don Gordon and Carl Reindel as two members of Bullitt’s team, Simon Oakland as their boss, Norman Fell as a suspicious captain, Jacqueline Bisset as Bullitt’s designer girlfriend, Georg Stanford Brown as a doctor, Paul Genge and Bill Hickman as the hit men, Vic Tayback as the brother of the informant, and Robert Duvall as taxi driver.

Oh, and as far as the plot goes, just forget about it; it doesn’t make any sense. In his memoir, Vaughn noted that he only began to understand it as McQueen kept offering more money for him to be in the film. The two friends would go on to make one more movie together, the 1974 disaster epic The Towering Inferno, with McQueen as a fire chief and Vaughn as, well, a sleazy politician. A 35mm print of Bullitt is screening April 21 & 22 at 12:15 am in the IFC Center “Waverly Midnights” series “Road Rage,” which continues through June 24 with such other high-octane thrillers as William Friedkin’s The French Connection, George Miller’s Mad Max, and Peter Collinson’s The Italian Job.

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