“I came here to drink, not to talk.”
Writing about Steve McQueen’s vice grip on style is, by and large, done to death. He was, in base terms, a man incapable of looking like shit onscreen. But contrary to everyone else’s opinion, his getup in ‘Bullit’ (as detailed in the US poster copy, “You look at the Italian shoes and the turtleneck and you have to wonder…”) isn’t my thing – too streamlined. Despite the forward-thinking opening titles, soundtrack and car chase (though I’m a ‘To Live & Die In LA’ man when it comes to vehicular action), it fell beneath some gritty thrillers from the following decade like ‘The Laughing Policeman’, ‘The French Connection’ and ‘Black Sunday’ in my underage estimation, all of them introduced to me by my father.
On a paternal subject, dad-wear is a minefield – I never wanted mine to eschew denim, but conversely, a single teeter from the smart-casual tightrope could fall into the forbidden zones of either Peter Pan mid-life crisis or premature ageing – Steve nails the right look at the age of 49 in 1980′s ‘The Hunter’, and it’s still ingrained in my psyche as some dignified action flick outfitting for someone pushing 50. That, or a matter-of-fact suit and tie combo for arse-kicking is the right attire, as demonstrated by 53 year-old, fellow Marine trainee-turned-actor Lee Marvin in ‘Point Blank’ – in fact Steve’s ultimate sartorial moment is the suit in ‘The Getaway’, proving it’s ideal anti-hero getup. But back to the heroics.
Despite a strong performance from Steve as Ralph ‘Papa’ Thorson, a real-life bounty hunter (blown up by a car bomb in 1994) ‘The Hunter’ is a pretty clunky film that proved to be his last, but despite some accounts of some clues to future illness being discovered during takes, there’s no real John Wayne ‘The Shootist’ style signs of ill-health during his cinematic finale. His choice of clothing however, works well.
Proof that Steve exudes some supernatural levels of cool, was his evasive approach to bad clothes – consider that this was shot circa 1979, it could have been a semi-fitted sea of synthetic fabrics, large collars and the dying embers of the flared denim phase. Some of the supporting cast fall victim to it, including the real Papa in a barman cameo (word to Def Jef), looking nothing like McQueen at all, more like Brian Blessed, respendent in some supersize collars. ‘Papa’ is only superceded by the real-life Frank Serpico in recieving a flattering screen depiction with superb style that, in line with Serpico’s story, goes well beyond the call of duty.
Bounty hunters tend to be portrayed as trenchcoated, motorbike booted tough guys, see racist televisual moron ‘Dog’ or Rutger Hauer in scene-chewing, Gene Simmons exploding mode in ‘Wanted: Dead Or Alive’ (in which Mr Hauer plays Nick Randall, grandson of Josh Randall, the star of the late 50s and early 60s television series, played by none other than Steve McQueen) or sci-fi toughs à la IG-88 or 4-LOM. None have a look that’s even mildy aspirational. The less said about ‘Domino’, the better.
Papa however, sports the ultimate bounty hunter gear without compromising on cool – each key item has a certain purpose – Lee Riders 101Z denim is neither too loose nor constrictive and has lasting power, the MA-1 bomber jacket offers lightweight protection against the elements, as well as labouring the point when he opens his coat to prove he’s not carrying a weapon to reveal the indian orange hi-vis lining, while the ASICS Tiger Mexicos (though for a long time I suspected they were Californias) are a good choice for high speed fugitive pursuit and McQueen’s trusty Rolex No-Date 5513 Submariner. If chasing criminals across cornfields with the help of a combine harvester, or blowing vengeful madmen to smithereens by misusing bunsen burner terminals is part of your working life, this is the uniform you’d need.
In Japan, Real McCoy’s Toys McCoy ‘Real McQueen’ collection went one louder than the superb Travis Bickle 101Zs and had a ‘Papa’ edition made. You’d have to engage in some serious action to get them to the finish Ralph has attained though. There’s an action figure too. Perhaps they were drawn to the amplified everyman look, or despite the film’s lack of classic status, they understand the relevance and dignity of Steve McQueen’s last performance. Dad-wear done right.
Tenuously linked, here’s a good trailer for ‘The Laughing Policeman’ and some psychedelic soul show beatdowns from ‘Point Blank’ -