Wednesday, March 24, 2010

McQueen, Gleason, and a Couple of Guys Who Had it Coming

First things first: I love Steve McQueen. And Jason Bellamy, over at The Cooler, is right this minute hosting a Steve McQueen blogathon from March 24th through the 27th. Under normal circumstances, I'd be all over this, but, as it happens, I'm about to go out of town for a few days, and will not be doing much with computers at all in that time, much less writing lengthy blog posts about The Cincinnati Kid or The Great Escape or Bullitt or The Getaway, or anything. So I'm out in the cold! Or am I?

Yes. One point of this post is to alert anyone who cares that this blog will be dormant at least until Monday, and possibly until Tuesday. No big deal, but until my return, you're all going to have to get your whatever reason you have for coming here somewhere else.

But what about Steve McQueen? Well, knowing that I wouldn't be able to participate in Jason's blogathon in any significant way, I still wanted to take part in what little way I can, so I tracked down (it was super easy) a video of one of the greatest, yet unjustly forgotten, fight scenes in film history.

The film is Soldier in the Rain, directed by Ralph Nelson, and adapted, by Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin, from an early novel by William Goldman (this film being one of only two times, to my knowledge, that a Goldman novel was adapted by anyone other than himself, the other one being Jack Smight's No Way to Treat a Lady). It's not a great film -- it's a sort of loose, dramatic comedy about a wily Army supply sergeant named Eustis Clay (McQueen) and his friendship with a brilliant, sage-like master sergeant named Maxwell Slaughter (Jackie Gleason). The role is right in Gleason's zone, but I personally find watching Steve McQueen act like such a goofball to be oddly disconcerting.

At any rate, towards the end, Eustis Clay is feeling down, about a number of things, one of which is the letter he got from home informing him that his beloved dog had to be put down. He's drowning his sorrows at the local bar, when a couple of asshole MPs come in and start hassling him. McQueen, as Clay, is holding his own for a while, but he's outnumbered, and soon he's being overpowered. Then Jackie Gleason shows up.

There are a couple of things that happen during this fight that are a bit hard to swallow, but they gain a certain level of verisimilitude due to the clumsy brutality of everything else. It's strange to watch this moody little comedy, and then find yourself smack in the middle of a terrific, bone-crunching beatdown -- these guys are pounding the shit out of each other, and it makes them tired. And there's one moment that, to me, is almost as cool as the motorcycle jump in The Great Escape. I remember stumbling upon this movie on TV when I was a kid, right at the fight scene, and not knowing what the hell I was watching. For the longest time I wondered what movie I'd been watching, and when I picked up a VHS copy of Soldier in the Rain several years later, I did so because of the cast and, primarily, the William Goldman connection. And I'm watching the movie, going along, my opinion swinging back and forth, when suddenly...that's the fight! That's the fight I saw!!!!

Yeah!! Dropkick that sonofabitch!!!

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Okay, that's my kinda-sorta Steve McQueen Blogathon post. See you guys in a few days!


Greg said...

I figured you must love Steve McQueen when you commented on my post earlier that... oh, no, wait. You didn't comment on my post! Never mind then.

Great fight scene from a movie I've never seen. Ever fought someone, either for real or just sparring? I have a few times and let me tell you, you do get tired. Really tired! So, well, there you go. Have a nice trip for whatever the hell you're doing. Drug running I'm assuming.

bill r. said...

Hey, I wasn't on-line all that much yesterday, and when I DID read your post, everybody was fighting, so I left. But you're absolutley right about McQueen in THE TOWERING INFERNO.

I haven't been in a fight since the seventh grade, so I don't know what an "adult" fight would be like. Probably like the one between Mark Wahlberg and Juaquin Phoenix in THE YARDS, but the fight in SOLDIER IN THE RAIN is the bad-ass version of that.

Word verification: hazablat

bill r. said...

Oh, and I'm going to Austin. To run drugs.

Jason Bellamy said...

Bill: I'd meant to leave this comment a few days ago. Thanks very much for this post, as it led me to a scene I'd never experienced before.

It looks like McQueen's audition tape for WWE. Amusing, unusual, fascinating!

A fun contribution to the blog-a-thon! Thanks so much for taking part!