of heroes, great escapes, and magnificent sevens

Hilts "The Cooler King" (aka Steve McQueen) on his Triumph in the Great Escape (1963) #motorcycle #motorbike

And the day started out so sane, too.

It ended with Elisabeth (my sister) and I, exhausted and exuberant all that the same time (watching about seven hours of movies in a day will do that to you), wondering why certain movies (aka “Hell Is For Heroes”) aren’t better known, and finally understanding why Steve McQueen is such a big deal in the Yesteryear Of Hollywood.  We had a lot of free time on our hands today, since Mom and Dad were both out doing Things, so we decided to watch a movie, and it kind of escalated from there.  Who knew that we owned not one, not two, but THREE movies that featured Steve McQueen and James Coburn together?  (Which is not to be taken lightly.)  (And in case you’re wondering, said movies are “Hell Is For Heroes”, “The Great Escape”, and “The Magnificent Seven”.)  So, being the crazy US that we are, we decided to marathon all three, and that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

(I know I don’t really ever do this kind of impromptu post, but I simply couldn’t not write something the experience, so here it is.)

First, we watched “Hell Is For Heroes”, which a good blogging friend of mine – Hamlette – gave to me as sort an earlier-than-early birthday gift, and which I desperately wanted to re-watch, mainly so that I could review it on this blog if I had the chance (although, because I’m talking about it right now, I might not end up reviewing it after all, but the idea’s not dead yet, at least).  HIFH was my first introduction to Steve McQueen, and while his acting was fine, the character he portrayed – Reese – was not, shall we say, the most cheerful guy you’ll ever meet.  But I didn’t really mind, because the rest of the characters were great (especially James Coburn’s Henshaw), along with the story, and the general atmosphere on the film; it feels very much like a long Combat! episode, which is smashing.  One thing about HIFH, that I really like, is that it feels so very, very real.  Like the part where Henshaw and Kolinsky have been killed, and Reese is close to hyperventilating and I could just feel the desperation and guilt and how it’s like to have your breath coming so hard and fast that you can hardly think because of all oxygen getting muddled up with your thoughts.  A little frightening, actually.

MP299. "The Great Escape" Movie Poster by Frank McCarthy (John Sturges 1963) / #Movieposter

So, yes, we watched that, and then I discovered that we owned both “The Great Escape” and “The Magnificent Seven” on DVD, so I proposed the idea of a marathon (especially since I’d been wanting to watch TGE for forever) and Elisabeth went along with it quite merrily.  We watched TGE next and my reaction was basically “OH MY GOODNESS THIS FILM IS ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC HOW HAVE I NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE NOW?”.  Absolutely mind boggling, in a fantastic way.  In a ‘scrape your jaw off the floor and try to cope with the sheer awesomeness of what you’ve just seen’ way.  The whole thing was so daringly clever and tragic and wonderful all at once.  Add to that the fact that nothing (and I mean nothing) beats Steve McQueen on a motorcycle being thrillingly chased by Germans…and you have an epic, EPIC movie.  And when the little “Dedicated to the fifty” appeared on screen at the end, I nearly cried.

“The Great Escape” was one of the only movies I’ve ever been so vocally into – from yelling at the characters to “Hurry up already and just go!” or “WATCH OUT THEY’RE GOING TO CATCH YOU.” to fangirl-squealing every time there was a Motorcycle Chase Scene (I really did do that – just ask my sister), it wasn’t a very quiet viewing experience.  (Those chase scenes are intense and epic and cool and some of my favorite parts of the whole movie.) (Oh, and James Coburn’s character survived this movie, which is something – one out of three isn’t a very good score, if you ask me.  One out of four, if you count the Combat! episode he’s in.)

(Also.  Am I the only one who thinks that the main theme is very similar to the one from “The Devil’s Brigade”?)

The Magnificent Seven

By the time we got around to “The Magnificent Seven” (which was actually more like “The Magnificent Six & One Angsty Kid”), we were both rather tired and sprawled over our respective chairs and prone to offering nearly unintelligible comments concerning the action on-screen.  Plus, I started up the vaguely annoying habit (to Elisabeth, that is), of referring to James Coburn’s gun (knife?) slinging character as ‘Cobie’ and I just couldn’t stop, because I couldn’t remember the character’s name, and by that point I didn’t really care all that much.  As Westerns go, it was an excellent film, but I don’t really find Westerns as interesting/entertaining as war movies, so I’d have to say that the best part of the whole thing was the cast.  I mean, with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen (who looks amazing in Western garb, I must say), and James Coburn (ditto), how can you go wrong?

Answer: You can’t.

And I swear that the movie studios only had about twenty different actors back in those days.  Charles Bronson popped up in both “The Great Escape” and “The Magnificent Seven”, and there are about three actors in “Hell Is For Heroes” that’ve been in different Combat! episodes.  Along with the fact that we were able to do this kind of marathon (Steve McQueen AND James Coburn) at all.

It’s a small world in Old Hollywood, I’m telling you.



6 thoughts on “of heroes, great escapes, and magnificent sevens

  1. Here’s what I wonder: was the title “Hills Are For Heroes” supposed to be a play on Hell Is For Heroes? 🙂

    I’ve never seen the first two, but I’d like to see The Great Escape sometime! My family has enjoyed The Magnificent Seven too (another very quotable one). It’s not my favorite Western ever, but it’s a pretty darn good one. I’d thought from the trailer that it was going to be just all action, but I was surprised by how thoughtful the script was, showing how the gunfighters were fallible men rather than superheroes—bits like the “arithmetic” scene and the scene where Bernardo scolds the boys for calling their fathers cowards, for instance.


    • I’ve wondered that too! The titles/plots are very similar, so maybe the episode was a bit of a tribute to the movie – I read that the title for “Hills Are For Heroes” was thought of at the wrap party, but I don’t know if whoever suggested it was thinking of HIFH just then.

      Oh, I’m sure you’d really enjoy The Great Escape. So epic.


  2. (which was actually more like “The Magnificent Six & One Angsty Kid”)

    Hahahahahahahahaha! Oh, that made me laugh aloud quite merrily. So spot-on 🙂 Mag7 is one of my most favoritest movies ever, but you know I love westerns 🙂

    I’m so glad you like HIFH! And I do think “Hills are for Heroes” must be a hat-tip to it, especially since Robert Pirosh created C! and wrote HIFH. Just my theory, though.

    I remember reading in a Steve McQueen biography years ago that the way they convinced him to make The Great Escape was by telling him a bunch of the guys from The Magnificent Seven were in it too.

    If you’re getting intrigued by McQueen (and who isn’t?), try to find some eps of his TV show, Wanted: Dead or Alive. He’s one cool cat in those (as always) as a bounty hunter with a conscience and a soft heart carefully hidden underneath about 27 layers of steely resolve. There are only 3 seasons, and the eps are only half an hour long, but they pack a wonderful punch. Looks like there are full eps available on YouTube, though the DVDs aren’t all that pricey either. Or weren’t a few years ago. That’s the show that made him famous.


    • I believe I have heard of that TV show, although at the time, it was more of a passing reference than anything else because I didn’t understand the epicness that is Steve McQueen. 😉 Since the episodes are short, I think I’ll watch one this afternoon…it looks like most, if not all, the seasons are available on YT.


  3. Pingback: movie review: the great escape | coffee, classics, & craziness

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