Tag Archives: Peter Yates

R.I.P. Peter Yates

Peter Yates helmed three of the most iconic films of my life.

The first, Bullitt, simultaneously instilled Steve McQueen as the epitome of cool and provided what remains one of the best car chases ever filmed. Of course, the film boasted an incredible plot, a first-rate cast (Robert Vaughn, Simon Oakland, Don Gordon, Normal Fell) and even featured a young Robert Duvall as a cabbie. Yates used McQueen’s quiet and internal performance as a guide, and the silences in the film are as critical as the action; it continues to reveal nuances in later viewings. I can still watch the film beginning to end and thoroughly enjoy it even though I’ve seen it more than a dozen times.

The second, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, was a brilliant crime film set in Boston starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle and featuring an excellent ensemble cast including Alex Rocco, Richard Jordan and Steven Keats. (Keats’ character was a gun runner named Jackie Brown; Quentin Tarantino would later pay tribute to this film by using that name.) Mitchum was excellent as the aging and desperate small timer trying to survive, it’s easily one of the best performances of his career. I still believe this underrated film is still one of the best crime thrillers ever made.

Years later, a small coming-of-age film set in Indiana would catch me off-guard. Breaking Away captured struggles that many have transitioning from adolescence to adulthood – the social caste system, the depth of infatuation and romance, the testing of friendships, the loss of innocence and acceptance of responsibility and consequence. Centered on four townies living in Bloomington whose lives are overwhelmed by the presence of Indiana University, the film uses the “Little 500” bike race as the catalyst to mirror the transition in everyone’s lives. Yates was blessed with a supporting a cast of pros (Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley as Dennis Christopher’s parents) and soon-to-be-more-famous actors (Daniel Stern, Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley). An absolute feel-good movie.

Yates made other films I enjoyed – Suspect, Eyewitness, The Dresser among them – but these three are all time classics.

Yates, a four-time Oscar nominee, was 82.

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Happy Birthday, Steve McQueen

#2 poster after Farrah Fawcett

…or as my generation knew him, Joe Fucking Cool

Steve McQueen would have been eighty years old today, and that just doesn’t seem possible. Nor does the fact that he died thirty years ago, a month before John Lennon was murdered. Needless to say, that was one tough winterSteve was never a kid and was never old – he was always a man. He was always the man. Even when the guy got busted, he was cool enough to flash the peace sign. That’s cool


He got his start on TV like so many actors did then – many of the best writers were feeding scripts to anthology series and live stage productions. In the midst of his run on Wanted Dead Or Alive he got a great break in one of the best Westerns ever made – The Magnificent Seven. After that, it was on

We didn't get any more than we expected, old man

Women were drawn to him, and why not? Here was a guy who did what he wanted to do, made the movies he wanted to make, and said more by saying less. And men – well, they wanted to be him, especially fellow actors. Every man who wanted to play a more subtle kind of cool – when a Brando take would be too over the top – echoed his poise. Hell, Kevin Costner has spent a career trying to be Steve McQueen

He did his own stunts and raced his own cars. He was instrumental in getting LeMans made when few had the passion for racing or thought it could be captured properly on film. 


Bullitt might be famous for the great car chase, but Steve’s performance is top-notch. Matched up against his Magnificent Seven buddy Robert Vaughn, he is serious, relentless, unflappable. Peter Yates proved to be the perfect director, and the cast and script were stellar. It is so taut and mesmerizing that you might need to see it a second time just to catch the subtle nuances of the plot…but even if you miss a few things the first time you will not feel cheated. But it was McQueen who was the thread; if you didn’t buy his character, you wouldn’t see the film through his eyes.  And that was the core of the magic

Watch some coolness 

His career, for all intents and purposes, spanned fifteen years. Before and after he made flicks like The Blob and The Towering Inferno, but during his run he was something special and unique. In the 70’s, followers like Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino and Gene Hackman found their footing and picked up the ball, showing the industry what great actors with discerning tastes could really do. 

Had Steve McQueen lived, I like to think he would have been like Gene Hackman – an actor’s actor. Instead, dead at fifty. We’ll never know. 

But we have do his legacy. Soak up The Sand Pebbles or Papillon. Revel in the revenge western Nevada Smith. See why remaking The Getaway was unnecessary. Be cool

 

Steve McQueen’s IMDB page

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