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.

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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.

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Baby the Rain Must Fall


Available via;
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.

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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


Available via Warner Archive;
$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.

Steve McQueen: American Icon


Box Office $1.23 million;
$19.98 DVD;
Not rated. 

As boilerplate shorthand goes when it comes to documentaries that brandish “icon” in the title, 2017’s Steve McQueen: American Icon really throws the word around in the laziest cheerleading fashion from a few of its on-camera principals in the early going — leading one to suspect and fear that this portrait might turn out to be for fans only (if that). We live in an age when seemingly every actor who made it even a little is made a member of the “I” club, plating the suspicion that similar paeans to Percy Helton or maybe John Agar will eventually come our way.

Two things, though. If anyone was a screen icon, McQueen certainly was; past McQueen docs have carried titles like An American Rebel and The Essence of Cool — and at minimum, no one would dare argue with the second designation. And the other redeeming point is that a significant part of this feature-length limited theatrical release deals with a key part of McQueen’s life that never gets a whole lot of attention: his conversion to active Christianity at the very end of his days during his final rejection of the Hollywood rat race. The timing, of course, suggested something even more wistful: This life change   possibly came before he knew he was going to die but probably not before he knew something was really wrong with him. One of those interviewed notes that ultimate cancer victim McQueen’s cough on the set of his penultimate movie (Tom Horn) was the most horrible he’d ever heard.

You don’t have to go very far into the commentary section for this doc to note the griping from several moviegoers who saw Icon theatrically and felt burned at having walked into what was an ad, however softly the message was sold, for accepting Christ. I suppose if I’d paid top dollar here, I’d have felt a little singed myself, but as a rental or perhaps a viewing that you might fall into, it has its moments — and occasionally from unexpected sources.

One is the fairly extensive appearance of Mel Gibson, an apparent “friend of the production” and one who’s in no position these days to turn down the chance for some decent publicity. My first inclination was to say, “What the hell is he doing here” — but Gibson is so wired and enthusiastic talking about an actor he didn’t even know that it’s not tough to see how he turned into a director of some merit (though count me in with those who call The Passion of the Christ flagellation porn). Gibson is good talking in general about the life trade-offs that go with superstardom and more specifically in about the ways that McQueen obviously knew about camera placement and lenses (all the better to accentuate “cool”) and also the actor’s dexterity with props, which now seems obvious but is nonetheless a subject that hadn’t occurred to me.

The latter skill gets back to the story (oft-repeated and repeated here) of how the then relative newcomer McQueen drove Yul Brynner crazy on the set of The Magnificent Seven by cheekily stealing scenes with any gesture or doohickey that was at his disposal. It also may explain why McQueen was such a natural fit with his greatest role (as gunboat engine-room specialist Jake Holman in The Sand Pebbles). Oddly, that commercially brave blockbuster is noted only in passing, even though it got McQueen his only Oscar nomination (almost no performance in movie history has ever gotten to me more on a purely personal level). Similarly — and possibly because those involved in the production are vroomvroom enthusiasts who lean more toward The Great Escape and Bullitt — there’s no mention of the doomed labor of love An Enemy of the People (as in Henrik Ibsen), which was McQueen’s only movie between 1974 and 1980 (his remaining two came out in 1980, the year he died at age 50). It rarely shows but is worth catching due to the tension between the actor’s on-paper obvious miscasting and the not unmoving personal passion he brought to the chore.

The doc’s other coup is the participation of widow Barbara Minty McQueen, who seems to have been a really good match for him despite the fact that he all but picked her out of a magazine that showcased one of her modeling assignments. This is a part of McQueen’s life that never comes up in general discussion too much, though Marshall Terrill’s biography (he’s extensively interviewed here and is one of the film’s producers) gives this chapter a lot of space — which includes, of course, the alternative-medicine trips to Mexico (where McQueen died post-op of a heart attack) after his diagnosis of mesothelioma (a specificity I’d forgotten and one that’ll make me look in a different way at the frequent TV spots that deal with the disease. This and other parts of the doc feature reel-to-reel audio from an extraordinary interview McQueen gave just two weeks before his death — this from an actor who went years turning down interviews of any kind except for one to a kid journalist who approached him for his school paper (which thoroughly exasperated the professional press). The last, of course, was when McQueen was in his extended “jerk” phase as the world’s highest paid actor, who was further charging $50,000 just to look at a script.

On the basis of opinions that seem pretty unanimous (and the pastors seen here seem like good guys), the conversion was sincere), which means the entire McQueen saga — impoverished childhood to worldly riches to inner peace in the twilight hours — is fraught with irony. I remember how Andrew Sarris apologized in print for knocking McQueen’s then incomprehensively listless performances in Tom Horn and swan song The Hunter, but the general public just didn’t know what was going on until the actor’s condition started making the national news (we see the evening broadcast clips here). Yet from The Magnificent Seven through The Towering Inferno, it was quite a run, and even some of the occasional box office failures are grabbers today (McQueen even shared a pre-Seven screen with Frank Sinatra himself in 1959’s Never So Few). I wouldn’t exactly include The Blob in this company (though a hit is a hit when you’re starting out), but certainly would include TV’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” — speaking of McQueen’s prowess with props. Though he would soon move on to objects with more horsepower, he was still working with a souped-up … Winchester.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Hanging Tree’ and ‘Steve McQueen: American Icon’

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Hanging Tree’ and ‘Steve McQueen: American Icon’

The Hanging Tree 

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Western, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gary Cooper, Maria Schell, Ben Piazza, Karl Malden, George C. Scott.
Gary Cooper made three more movies after The Hanging Tree before his death in the spring of 1961, but due to varied limitations in terms of conception and/or execution, none of them seem like the “real” Gary Cooper movie that this oddball 1959 Western absolutely does.
Read the Full Review

Steve McQueen: American Icon

Universal, Documentary, B.O. $1.23 million, $19.98 DVD, NR.
2017. A significant part of this feature-length limited theatrical release deals with a key part of Steve McQueen’s life that never gets a whole lot of attention: his conversion to active Christianity at the very end of his days during his final rejection of the Hollywood rat race.
Read the Full Review

Junior Bonner


Kino Lorber;
$19.99 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Steve McQueen, Robert Preston, Ida Lupino, Ben Johnson, Joe Don Baker.

To hear a welcome barrage of familiar Sam Peckinpah experts accurately tell it as part of Kino’s ample-plus Blu-ray bonus features, not many moviegoers were waiting for Junior Bonner in 1972 at a time when lead Steve McQueen (coming off his Le Mans debacle) needed a hit. I was an exception — and in one of the more folkloric stories in my personal movie-going history, drove 75 Ohio miles (each way) from Columbus to Dayton to see it in an early booking, only to discover that its too-brief engagement had wrapped the previous day. Something must have been in the water (or, given my peer group’s age at the time, firewater): Not long before or after this, a close friend of mine tried to impress a woman by driving the two of them from Columbus to Cleveland to see if they could score tickets for the day’s Browns-Giants game — rudely unaware that the Browns were playing in New York that day.

Both of us could have used the Internet, and Junior Bonner could have used an ad campaign that sold its maker’s most gentle movie as a family drama and not another of the rodeo sagas that were flooding the market at that time. McQueen, Robert Preston and Ida Lupino are three of my favorite screen performers ever, and here they are as a wayward son and his estranged parents, with Joe Don Baker (as the more responsible “Curly” Bonner) as a brother trying to make a go with a (so far) lucrative Prescott, Ariz., real estate development. What more could anyone want — and this at a time when The Wild Bunch, The Ballad of Cable Hogue and Straw Dogs in quick succession had established Peckinpah as possibly the most dazzling U.S. director then going — though rebuttals were intelligently advanced by disciples of Robert Altman and also Mike Nichols, who’d come back big-time from his Catch-22 stumble with the oddly not-on-Blu-ray Carnal Knowledge).

For a movie that bombed at the box office during its release, a lot of people revere Junior Bonner — including Ali MacGraw (also a part of this Blu-ray’s bonus features), whose The Getaway with McQueen opened four months after JB to become what I am virtually certain was Peckinpah’s biggest commercial hit. (She also did Convoy, the director’s penultimate film.) MacGraw is one of many who’ve advanced, or at least implied, the sentiment that Peckinpah’s more characteristic big-screen bloodbaths only told half the story; in other words, where were all you clowns who put Sam the Man down as reprehensible when the still underseen Cable Hogue and then this unpretentious beauty were showing an entirely different side?

Uh, huh.

Via a lovingly constructed Jeb Rosebrook screenplay that Peckinpah fleshes out with a couple of show-stopping extended set pieces, Junior (McQueen) returns to his hometown to compete in a contest that necessitates his doing well in front of parents and old acquaintances, even though he’s been banged up from getting bucked and is otherwise no longer the competitor he used to be. Papa “Ace” (Preston) is an irresponsible mental child — albeit a onetime real-deal rodeo star as well, who keeps eating up Curly’s money-tree generosity in grand schemes that may probably will not extend to his latest: prospecting for minerals in Australia. Meanwhile, the siblings’ heard-it-all-before mom Lupino, who long ago fled the marital coop, is running the knick-knack register at one of Curly’s “shops” in a construction endeavor that earns him no little money but perhaps not a whole lot of respect. Junior matter-of-factly balks at the offer of a cushy job with the business, apparently preferring to nurse body bruises from unfriendly four-legged creatures.

The movie exudes an extraordinary sense of community, with added autobiographical touches here and there, including one McQueen-Preston gesture involving a hat that I’ve never forgotten over the years. Both virtues come through in Rosebrook’s authentic dialogue (sparked by actors who can really deliver it) — and the predominantly nonverbal flair of an elaborate barroom brawl and an earlier parade sequence that’s the best of its type I’ve ever seen on screen. These kinds of sequences are not easy to shoot (the brawl packs a few dozen participants into a cramped widescreen frame), but Peckinpah gave them lots of coverage, which at least one of his editors had always stressed was the way to go.

The project, which came together quickly, is one that McQueen especially coveted as one that would make certain audiences take him seriously as an actor when, in actuality, he had one of the most readably nuanced screen faces of anyone who ever stepped in front of the camera. This is one of his best jobs ever, but rodeo pics were inevitably a tough sell in taste-making geographical regions (I suspect that Nicholas Ray’s as extraordinary The Lusty Men had troubles of its own knocking down 1952 turnstiles). Peckinpah’s take on the genre is extraordinary as well but in quiet ways that camouflage its full virtues. This said, the included coming attraction and TV trailers make it look like a feature-length bundle of clichés and fail to emphasize the extraordinary cast Peckinpah had at his disposal.

Thus, it has always remained for revisionists for trumpet its considerable virtues, and, in fact, Junior Bonner was the very first movie I ever programmed upon launching nearly a decade of daily programming and almost as many whiplashing calendar changes at the AFI Theater in Washington, D.C. Offering the commentary are definitive Peckinpah experts Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle, who long ago established themselves as the go-to crew on Sam-related voiceovers, no matter which distributor is behind the home release. Rosebrook, who can easily spin an anecdote, rates a half-hour of his own, and another featurette of similar length features an array of actors (L.Q. Jones, Ernie Borgnine and the expected usual suspects) who worked with Peckinpah and lived (though perhaps at times without their livers) to tell about it. One Kris Kristofferson anecdote — about Bob Dylan’s reaction to Peckinpah’s creative response to some faulty lab work on Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid — is by itself worth the price of admission.

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