Nevada Smith

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
Western;
$24.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Steve McQueen, Brian Keith, Karl Malden, Suzanne Pleshette, Arthur Kennedy, Martin Landau, Janet Margolin, Pat Hingle, Howard De Silva, Raf Vallone.

The title character is the creation of Harold Robbins for his sleazebag novel The Carpetbaggers. When producer Joseph E. Levine bought the screen rights, he did so looking to squeeze enough pulp out the material to fill two separate features. It was one of the first, perhaps the first, times a novel was “twinned” for the screen. The Carpetbaggers (1964) would be followed in 1966 by a prequel, Nevada Smith, starring Steve McQueen in a role originated by Alan Ladd. When first we met, Nevada was riding out the tail end of a career as a cowboy superstar working for Jonas Cord Jr. (George Peppard), a picture-making aviation pioneer based on Howard Hughes. Not only is Nevada the only man that Cord trusts, he’s the only one allowed to address Jonas II as Junior. Moviegoers were humbled by Nevada’s squeaky clean persona. Junior looks at him as a father figure until Nevada’s sordid past as revenge-killer Max Sand is unearthed by one of paranoiac Cord’s private eyes and detailed in a brief on-screen exchange between Junior and the aging cowpoke.

Legend has it Nevada Smith (nee: Max Sand) was born a “half-breed”: cowboy father, Indian mother. Orphaned at a young age, he hunted and gunned down the trio of desperados — Tom Fitch (Karl Malden), Jesse Coe (Martin Landau) and Bill Bowdre (Arthur Kennedy) — who slaughtered his parents in their quest for gold. Borrowing a page or three from The Searchers (right down to the silhouetted door frame) 16-year-old Max Sand, played unconvincingly by 35-year-old Steve McQueen, spent years hunting the killers and hardening his soul. (A prequel starring Ladd was up for discussion, until the actor’s premature passing at age 50 put an “Amen” on the project.) John Ford had the good sense to keep the carnage out of frame. With exploitation-meister Joe Levine leading the box office charge, subtlety was not a viable option when it came to carving Mother Sand’s back as if she were a Thanksgiving turkey.

The below-the-line talent is a veritable compendium of Western picture-makers. Director Henry Hathway began his career on ‘B’ westerns. By the time of Nevada Smith’s release he had worked in every conceivable outdoor location, from Lone Pine to Monument Valley, and there wasn’t an angle that he hadn’t committed to memory. The exhausting shoot covered 42 locations. It was a task the director wasn’t up to. Fortunately, with another proficient western hand, cinematographer Lucien Ballard, calling the shots, there’s no dearth of scenic splendor. The rousing soundtrack comes courtesy of prolific composer Alfred Newman, an old hand at Western scores (Jesse James, Broken Arrow, Way of a Gaucho). John Michael Hayes cut his teeth writing scripts for Budd Boetticher and Anthony Mann before emerging as the consummate auteur’s scripter du jour, signing four of Hitchcock’s golden period Technicolor jewels for Paramount: Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble With Harry and the Master’s improvement on The Man Who Knew Too Much. In the ’60s, his career took a turn for the worse with a string of sleazy potboilers for Paramount of which The Carpetbaggers is the finest. I cannot urge you enough to watch it before taking a bit out of Nevada Smith.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

What tie binds the two films? If you’re expecting a clear-cut explanation as to how Nevada made the leap from the old west to the new Hollywood you’ll have to wait for the threequel. Brian Keith steals the show as Jonas Cord Sr., the character played by Leif Erickson in The Carpetbaggers. The interplay between wise old Jonas and his young protege form by far the most compelling moments the film has to offer. Jonas sells guns but at first refuses to teach Nevada how to shoot, warning that he could turn out to be as big an animal as the ones he’s hunting. Cord pumps the kid full of reason. Fledgling shooter Nevada argues that he can kill a rabbit at 80 yards, but as Keith points out, rabbits don’t carry guns. The most important bit of advice Keith imparts comes after he shoots a gun from behind his back that makes Nevada flinch. The moral of the story? Never trust anyone, even a friend. And speaking of great anomalies and curiosities of westerns, how is it that a gunslinger can fire a pistol and instantly tuck the red hot firearm in the waist of his pants. Wouldn’t it burn?

Romance is fleeting. Janet Margolin appears as a Native American dancehall girl (read: prostitute) that leaves virginal Nevada positively twitterpated. Suzanne Pleshette is Hooker #2, a prisoner working the rice paddies who meets Nevada as a participant in the Warden’s personal R&R inducing joy division. The film’s biggest drawback is its star. Blond, blue-eyed McQueen playing a Native American was a masterstroke of miscasting. First off, there is nothing in his performance that audiences hadn’t seen already, and for free, on his weekly small screen oater, Wanted: Dead or Alive. Hollywood wizardry can cheat almost anything but the magic stops when it comes to de-aging. Slap a little shinola on McQueen’s temples and we’ll believe the character he’s playing is well beyond his years. Why they didn’t simply hire a younger performer to play the younger Nevada is a testament to the actor’s runaway ego. McQueen is a thinking man’s actor and by that I mean you can always see him thinking while he’s acting. No one short of Milton Berle comes close to McQueen’s distracting habit of upstaging everyone else in the frame.

Bonus features include a new commentary track with screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner, producer Mark Jordan Legan and historian Henry Parke, as well as trailers and TV spots.

Hell Is for Heroes

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 4/11/23;
Kino Lorber;
Drama;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Steve McQueen, Bobby Darin, Harry Guardino, James Coburn, Fess Parker, Nick Adams, Bob Newhart.

Perched before your eyes dwells an old dove whose feathers ruffle at the mere thought of war films that end happily. Glamorizing war for the sake of entertainment and/or enlistment purposes is almost as heinous as clubbing baby seals or denying election results. By all rights, great war films should end with not one cast member left standing. It’s the ultimate statement an artist can make on the subject. Alas, there is no such thing as a bad genre, but damn if recruitment films aren’t second in line behind slasher films as the worst cinema has to offer. Even then, Allan Dwan’s Sands of Iwo Jima is so effectively persuasive that before the final fade you’re halfway out the door in search of the nearest Military Entrance Processing Station. Hell Is For Heroes spends half of its running time straddling comedy and war’s horrors before director Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick) takes a relentless, much needed tumble over to the dark side.

There’s a difference between characters laughing under pressure and audience-appeasing shtick, a line that’s easily blurred by screenwriters Robert Pirosh and Richard Carr. From Marx Bros. gag writer to “The Waltons” scribe, Pirosh found steady work as producer, studio scenarist and beyond. His service during World War II formed a basis for Battleground (1949), his smash, awards-all-around combat drama. “Combat!,” Pirosh’s small-screen follow-up to 1962’s Hell Is for Heroes, hit the airwaves just as its predecessor’s theatrical run was winding down. Apart from back-to-back big screen glories — John Cassavetes’ Too Late Blues predated Hell Is For Heroes — co-scripter Carr carved his niche on the small screen. The majority of the dialog would have felt at home on “Combat!” It’s only when the characters shut up long enough to allow Siegel to draw us into the action that we begin to feel for them. Bonus points: a stock footage assemblage of cannon fire no doubt inspired by the director’s salad days spent cutting together montages for Warner Bros.

Situated in Montigny, France, a rest area within spitting distance of the Siegfried line, Sgt. Larkin (Harry Guardino) and his men don’t know it, but the army stands poised to set the battalion up for a sanity-rattling letdown. Looking to bolster morale, the combat-fatigued squadron is led to believe a move stateside is imminent, when in fact, the top brass has something in mind other than rest and relaxation. Rather than reassignment, the squad is ordered back to the front line. Bad news: there’s but six men holding the section. Good news: the Germans didn’t know it.

The pacing suffers to no end from the forced, TV-sized comic relief that plagues the film’s first half. Opening scenes alternate uncomfortably between serviceable ’60s service comedy and prelude to a variation on the Bataan Death March. Private Dave Corby (Bobby Darin) is the Ensign Pulver of infantrymen, a walking PX quick with a joke and eager to provide one with anything from libations to ink pens for a price. Of all the characters in the film, Corby is the least developed. Coming close is Homer (Nick Adams), a Polish mascot of sorts, a “displaced person” following the band around like a Grateful Dead groupie looking to hitch a ride back to the States while earning cheap laughs with his fractured English.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

A good portion of the shooting, both in and out of the studio, took place at night, but don’t be quick to label it a war noir. Necessitated by the heatwave that hit Cottonwood and Reading, Calif., in the sweltering summer of 1961, a night shoot was put in place to oblige the actors. Making his big screen debut as PFC James E. Driscoll, Bob Newhart pulls up around the halfway mark in a jeep loaded with typewriters. His picture credit in the trailer was accompanied by a parenthetical (THE BUTTON DOWN MIND), a reference to Newhart’s top-selling comedy album of the same name. According to the comedian’s autobiography, the unexpected success of the LP resulted in sell-out crowds for his nightclub performances. Looking to cash in, Newhart pleaded with Siegel to kill Driscoll off so as to accommodate more time for standup gigs. The director assured him that his character would live to see the end.

Newhart was a prop comic who became famous for working a phone on stage, earning laughs by allowing audiences to eavesdrop on his side of the conversation. The producers reserved a minute or so of the running time for Newhart to ply his act. Knowing full well that the Krauts bugged the makeshift headquarters, Driscoll pretends to be the group entertainment officer calling his C.O. to complain about inflicting repeat viewings of Road to Morocco on the men. (Newhart wrote his own dialogue.) Siegel’s objections to the scene were shot down by studio heads eager to cross-promote. Newhart remained M.I.A. for the majority of the climactic combat but, true to Siegel’s word, he popped up for one last shot before the soldiers commenced to blow up the pillbox.

Steve McQueen’s Reese is a consummate Siegel loner, a man of few words who goes out of his way not to make friends. His life is one series of broken promises after another. What’s the best way to keep Reese from going into town for a few snorts? Tell him the tavern is strictly off limits. He ignores the shot glass provided by the barkeep, opting to drink straight from the bottle. Soldiers are trained to take orders. Reese is a Dirty Harry-style vigilante, a professional living for combat and refusing to crack up until the pressure is off.

No sooner does the final bomb gut the pillbox than the film grinds to a grainy halt. Some have interpreted the abrupt ending as a nihilistic middle finger to the militaristic control of a malevolent government. When asked, Newhart told an interviewer the film had gone so wildly over budget that Paramount refused to provide any more film stock.

Follow us on Instagram!

Toward the end of his life, my father and I began bonding over war movies. He would bring me up to speed on military jargon while I pointed out the fluid long takes and mise-en-scene in Otto Preminger’s In Harm’s Way. My father would have loved the audio commentary shared by filmmakers and historians Steve Mitchell and Steven Jay Rubin.

Steve McQueen Actioner ‘Hell Is for Heroes’ Arrives on Blu-ray Disc on April 11

Kino Lorber on April 11 will release the 1962 Steve McQueen actioner Hell Is for Heroes on Blu-ray Disc at a suggested retail price of $29.95.

Directed by Don Siegel, the film co-stars James Coburn, Bobby Darin, Fess Parker and Bob Newhart.

McQueen plays a defiant loner whose skills as a soldier make him invaluable to his struggling platoon. In the heat of battle during World War II, McQueen and his fellow soldiers find themselves severely outnumbered as they hold off a Nazi advance along the Siegfried Line in France. Using only their ingenuity and bravery, they must bluff the Germans in order to buy some time — and save their lives.

Hell Is for Heroes arrives on Blu-ray Disc from a brand-new HD master made from a 4K scan of the original the 35mm camera negative. The release includes a new audio commentary by filmmaker/historian Steve Mitchell and Jay Rubin, author of the book Combat Films: American Realism. The package also includes the original theatrical trailer, newly mastered in 4K.

Kino Lorber to Give ‘The Great Escape’ the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Treatment

Kino Lorber Jan. 11 will release the action classic The Great Escape on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, under the indie’s Kino Lorber Studio Classics line.

The 1963 film, with Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and Richard Attenborough, follows a group of Allied POWs who attempt one of the largest and most daring breakouts in history. The acclaimed collaboration between director John Sturges, screenwriters James Clavell and W.R. Burnett, and composer Elmer Bernstein, The Great Escape received a 1964 Academy Award nomination for Best Film Editing and a Best Motion Picture — Drama Golden Globe nomination.

The film is set during World War II in Germany’s Stalag Luft III, a maximum-security prisoner-of-war camp designed to hold even the craftiest escape artists. The Nazis unwittingly assemble the finest escape team in military history. Together, under the guidance of the brilliant Bartlett (Attenborough), the resourceful Hendley (Garner) and the steely, determined Hilts (McQueen), the men plot, scheme and dig their way to freedom.

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc comes with hours of bonus content, including a new audio commentary by filmmaker and historian Steve Mitchell and Combat Films: American Realism author Steven Jay Rubin.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Also included is an audio commentary with director Sturges and actors Garner, Coburn, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum and Jud Taylor, along with various crew members; a making-of documentary; three other documentaries narrated by Burt Reynolds; a look at the real Virgil Hilts; a documentary by Steven Clarke; additional interviews; and the original theatrical trailer.  

Pluto TV Adds Julia Child, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’ Channels

AVOD service Pluto TV has added a Julia Child channel and a channel of the classic Western “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”

Pluto TV is owned by ViacomCBS.

The Julia Child channel, located on channel 519, features more than 165 hours of 24/7 content from the legendary chef’s cooking shows. The channel includes episodes of “The French Chef,” “Baking With Julia” and “Julia Child: Cooking With Master Chefs.”

The 24/7 “Wanted: Dead or Alive” channel features the full run of the groundbreaking Western starring Steve McQueen as bounty hunter Josh Randall.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Baby the Rain Must Fall

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via ScreenArchives.com;
Twilight Time;
Drama; $29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Lee Remick, Steve McQueen, Don Murray.

Despite a screen career that was then very much on the move, Steve McQueen didn’t have a film in current release throughout all of 1964 thanks to the sometimes oddball exigencies of theatrical distribution (or, hell, maybe the timing was just a fluke). That’s a long layoff in terms of career momentum, but there’d been three McQueen features in 1963, including two that stoked his rapid-fire ascendency in audience popularity.

Soldier in the Rain is the one that didn’t — though Jackie Gleason and Tuesday Weld, in particular, have always given me a soft spot for it. But compensating mightily was motorcyclist McQueen’s iconographic fence-jumping in The Great Escape (or, rather, his stunt double’s) and the actor’s potent year-end chemistry with Natalie Wood in Love With the Proper Stranger. The last is my favorite Robert Mulligan movie, which means I’ve always liked it a lot more than that filmmaker’s immediately preceding career-maker: To Kill a Mockingbird. As it turned out, Mulligan was also the director of the next screen feature McQueen made: Baby the Rain Must Fall, which Columbia plopped into the mid-January 1965 ghetto after apparently speculating that a Christmas ’64 release would be box office suicide.

At this point, co-star Lee Remick rated top billing, and it’s her picture all the way — this more of a comment on how great she is here than any McQueen shortcomings, though truth to tell, nearly every McQueen performance of the middle 1960s is more interesting. Remick is the reason to see the movie, along with Ernest Lazslo’s cinematography (this was in the waning years of black-and white, a loss from which the movies have never recovered), though music enthusiasts will be attracted to Elmer Bernstein’s era-evocative scoring. Otherwise, this tweaking of playwright Horton Foote’s The Traveling Lady commenced a period in which that he must have felt a bit snakebitten at Columbia Pictures. Just a year later, the studio released Arthur Penn’s The Chase — a Foote book/play that Lillian Hellman and about a million other screenwriters almost exactly a year later to megaflop reaction. Though in this case, the result eventually gained some qualified chops as a major cult movie a few years down the Texas road.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Ahhhhhh, but Remick, who’s cast in Baby as a young mother with daughter in tow (the production’s “find” of a satisfyingly natural one-shot child actress, Kimberley Block). We begin with their bus trip to Southeastern Texas in search of a wayward husband/father (McQueen), who’s part of a weird-to-me parole agreement that’ll spring him from prison on the mandate that he attend night school to learn a trade. Nonetheless, Remick loves him for reasons that aren’t as explicable as the camera’s love for its lead actress, and Laszlo is smart enough to allow his camera to take its time lingering over Remick’s subtly expressed emotions. Elia Kazan did something similar with her in Wild River, the best movie Remick ever made, possibly excluding Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (talk about a challenging academic argument, given the contrast in those directors’ individual styles).

McQueen plays a hothead when he’s not being contrite or even affable, with a tinderbox personality that contributed to his imprisonment in the first place. The seeds for this were planted by the now bedridden harridan who ended up raising and taking a belt to him, and this prune’s still palpable presence hangs over the picture to such a degree that Baby all but veers into enters Southern-Gothic-land, Texas setting or not. The timing wasn’t the best on this count because Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte had just come out and rendered that form of stylization borderline risible. Even so, this plot detail dovetails not uninterestingly with the actor’s real-life history in a correctional institute after scrapes with the law and his endurance (barely) of a physically abusive stepfather.

Currently the recipient of a single-room live-in residence as a friendly couple’s handyman, McQueen’s character isn’t really the night-school type — choosing instead to pursue the Elvis dream in roadside joints singing compositions he’s penned and dealing more with hecklers a lot more than screaming women. One gets the sense that even if a little career lightning strikes, he won’t advance much above this station, though Glenn Yarbrough’s recording of the title tune whose lyrics McQueen mouths became one of the catchiest MOR hits during the British Invasion, when even Freddie & the Dreamers could manage to rate groupies.

The trouble is that — and this was mentioned a lot at the time — the vocal matchup between actor McQueen and his voice double is among the most jarring in movie history. A simpatico match on this kind if thing is not easy to achieve, though I noticed that the voice doubling for Veronica Lake on the recent This Gun for Hire Blu-ray was exceptional. Here, the differential is so pronounced that it takes you out of the picture.

Baby begins promisingly enough to sustain good will throughout a lot of its running time, and the opening bus sequence is one of the best in the film (given The Trip to Bountiful, Foote must have ridden a lot of rural Texas buses in his formative years). As a widowed local deputy and childhood friend of McQueen’s (which seems a stretch), Don Murray is about what he always was on screen: easygoing, likable and rather colorless. The movie seems to be setting him up to be a fallback romantic option in case McQueen self-immolates, but either because a) it doesn’t want to seem clichéd; or b) can’t make up its mind (either in conception or the editing room), this possibility is never realized.

Despite its shortcomings, Baby is still a rewarding view for pure historical perspective if you love, as I do, to follow career trajectories (though Remick doesn’t even need that qualification). The days of major studios bankrolling major-league leads in small-scale movies about real humans and their day-to-day economic fears went out with push-button driving. In today’s movie market, McQueen and Remick would be knocking off small-town Texas banks, even if the screenwriter had to jump through hoops to determine what to do with their daughter. This said, the picture could use a little more “event,” if only in moderation. But the Blu-ray is generally handsome except for some bleached-out exteriors, including one that I’m surprised got by (either originally in theaters or via this release). Overall, I’m glad I took a look after anticipating this release as heavily as I did. I’m not sure I’d seen since it since ’65 when I caught it at a nearly empty campus theater.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Big Clock’ and ‘Baby the Rain Must Fall’

Fox Releasing ‘Widows’ on Disc Feb. 5

The heist-thriller Widows arrives on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Feb. 5 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), and co-written by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), the film focuses on four women with nothing in common but the debt their dead husbands left to a crime boss after a botched job got them killed.

The widows — Viola Davis (Fences), Michelle Rodriguez (“Fast & Furious” Franchise), Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and Cynthia Erivo (Bad Times at the El Royale) — come together to attempt a heist to pay off the debt.

The cast also includes Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson.

The film earned $42 million at the domestic box office.

The Blu-ray includes a photo gallery and nearly 60 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes, including “Widows Unmasked: A Chicago Story,” “Plotting the Heist: The Story,” “Assembling the Crew: Production” and “The Scene of the Crime: Locations.”

The digital download of Widows is expected Jan. 22, according to Apple’s iTunes.

Amazon Studios Greenlights Shirley Chisholm Biopic Starring Viola Davis

Amazon Studios Nov. 29 announced it has acquired rights to The Fighting Shirley Chisholm, with Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis set to star in the title role as well co-produce.

Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress in 1969 – a seat she held until 1983. Chisholm survived racial harassment and assassination attempts in an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in the 1972 presidential election. Chisholm died in 2005 at age 81.

After recently inking a first look exclusive production deal with Davis and Julius Tennon’s JuVee Productions, The Fighting Shirley Chisholm further expands on Amazon Studios and JuVee Productions commitment to telling inclusive and impactful stories from established and new filmmakers of all backgrounds.

Co-producers include Stephanie Allain (Hustle & FlowDear White People) and Mel Jones under Homegrown Pictures, with Davis and Julius Tennon under their JuVee Productions banner.

Maggie Betts (Novitiate) will direct the screenplay written by Emmy-nominated writer Adam Countee (“Silicon Valley”, “Community”, “Mindy Project”).

Davis can currently be seen theatrically starring in Widows from director Steve McQueen and stars in Amazon Studio’s Troupe Zero, alongside Alison Janney and Jim Gaffigan.

 

 

Never So Few

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive;
Warner;
Drama;
$21.99 DVD;
Not rated.
Stars Frank Sinatra, Gina Lollobrigida, Steve McQueen, Richard Johnson, Charles Bronson, Peter Lawford, Paul Henried.

The odds of my writing about two Gina Lollobrigida movies in the same week are about the same as seeing Frank Sinatra in a goatee on screen (or, matter of fact, anywhere else), but here we are. For whatever reason in Never So Few, a chin-full of Francis follicles shows up early on in this glossy adaptation of a 1957 novel by Tom C. Chamales — but are soon dispensed with once we get to this yarn’s two dominant threads. And these would be: a) fighting the Japanese in 1943 Burma as part of an under-equipped OSS detail; and b) Captain Sinatra’s attempt to pry the more or less “kept” Lollobrigida away from a high-rolling merchant (Paul Henried) who, in one of the not infrequent scenes where the narrative takes a respite from the jungle, throws glitzy bashes for which the MGM set-dresser did a really bang-up job.

Sometimes a bad movie can be passable fun to watch in the home arena when there are historical (or otherwise non-aesthetic) reasons to do so, especially when the print is as immaculate as the one in this Blu-ray from Warner Archive. For the right person in the right mood, this one might be among those, though there’s really only one “must” reason to give this misfire with compensations a cursory whirl, and that’s seeing the emergence of Steve McQueen (then on the heels of TV’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” but not much else) into what now seems like inevitable stardom. McQueen plays the corporal/driver for Sinatra and his British counterpart-in-charge (Richard Johnson), and it’s a kick seeing the youngster, who was then about 28, interacting with his senior in movie rebel-dom, who looks admiringly amused. The two have a lot more chemistry than the future Chairman had with the King on Sinatra’s Welcome Home Elvis TV special from about a year later, and you can almost hear Frank saying, “Henry Silva and I were really digging you in that Blob thing, which is why I OKed you for this caper.”

Sinatra had that kind of clout, and, in fact, the corporal role was originally intended for Sammy Davis Jr. — who got bounced from the project when he went on a radio interview show and hinted that his superstar benefactor sometimes treated people harshly. In addition to keeping this picture from then qualifying as a footnote in the Rat Pack oeuvre (Peter Lawford is cast here as a military doctor), you have to believe that Davis’s firing necessitated a little script-doctoring, given a scene early on where McQueen beats up a couple of fairly burly guys. In fact, given Davis’s real-life ocular situation, you have to figure the army wouldn’t want him peeling rubber on Burmese dirt roads in a government Jeep. The payoff was that Few’s nominal director was John Sturges (probably forced by Frank to phone it in), who then cast McQueen in The Magnificent Seven and (speaking of peeling rubber) The Great Escape.

Getting back to what’s on screen (which isn’t as interesting) and speaking again of chemistry, Sinatra had more of the latter with the Nevada Gaming Control Board in 1963 than with Lollobrigida here, though you’d think that Old Home Country considerations just by themselves might have generated some sizzle. When you combine my comments here with the ones on Trapeze, I likely come off as a disser of “Lollo” (as I seem to recall she was termed), though I suspect the actress’s pre-Hollywood career in Italy was a lot more potent. For one thing, Kat Ellinger says so on the Trapeze commentary, and she thoroughly knows the material. For another, I fairly recently saw the actress’s substantial career-makers Bread, Love and Dreams and sequel Frisky for the first time, and both are delightful. (I’m pretty sure Bread was the first foreign-language film I wanted to see as an 8-year-old during my weekly devourings of the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer movie page). Lolo just didn’t register well in domestic productions, and December 1959 was a bad month for her all around when she also co-headlined one of the era’s most snake-bit undertakings, Solomon and Sheba, which gave the originally cast Tyrone Power a fatal on-set heart attack and further ended King Vidor’s five-decade directorial career. I did like Lollobrigida’s 1961 Come September, though substantially because Bobby Darin sang “Multiplication,” which we about-to-be ninth graders thought was a dirty song.

Few is more fun when Sinatra’s captain tosses out the book and stays sassy: talking back to nurses, combatting institutional racism against the campaign’s Kachin colleagues and risking an almost certain court martial for defying orders to combat Chinese renegades who’ve been killing American soldiers. The last confirms a couple things we already knew — that Brian Donlevy was great at playing grizzled old army generals and that when Whit Bissell was a child, the pediatrician must have said to his parents: “This lad was put on this earth to grow up and play army psychiatrists.” A most handsome picture, Few was shot by Sinatra favorite William H. Daniels, who before that had been an Anthony Mann favorite and a Greta Garbo favorite and before that had photographed Greed. In an alternate universe, one can imagine Sinatra on location in Death Valley for the famed climax of the Stroheim picture, with Daniels saying, “Don’t worry Frank; we’ll fly in Dean with the liquor cart for your trailer-with-a-pool — plus some Vegas showgirls who want to get a really deep tan.” Either it was this kind of excess or simply the impressive Burma-Thailand-Ceylon location shooting, but Few’s swollen budget prevented it from covering its costs, even though a lot of people did end up paying to see it. Sinatra was Ruler of the World at the time, and Come Dance with Me had been a monster hit earlier in the year on LP.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Trapeze’ and ‘Never So Few’

‘The Great Escape’ Tribute Documentary ‘The Coolest Guy Movie Ever’ Available Now From Virgil Films

The Coolest Guy Movie Ever, a tribute to the John Sturges classic The Great Escape, is available now on DVD ($14.99), EST and VOD from Virgil Films.

The documentary follows hardcore fans that return to the locations where the film was made, revealing little known facts about The Great Escape, which starred Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson and James Coburn.

Narrated by an actor in the film, Lawrence Montaigne, The Coolest Guy Movie Ever celebrates the 55th anniversary of the theatrical release of The Great Escape.