Steve Mcqueen Was The True King Of Cool In This 8-Minute Scene


Ali MacGraw once said of her then-husband Steve McQueen in an interview with People Magazine, “This was a man who could walk into any room and man, woman, and child all would go, ‘Whoa, what’s that?’ And I was no exception.” Well, that’s some pretty high praise for “The King of Cool” who thrilled us with roles in classic films like Bullitt, Papillon, The Cincinnati Kid, The Magnificent Seven, and The Getaway. These films all portrayed McQueen as an unflappable and indefatigable leading man who rarely broke a sweat even when he was under extreme duress. But there is one 8-minute scene that encapsulates what made McQueen so damn cool on screen, and it came in the incomparable 1963 film The Great Escape.

Steve McQueen Is King of the Chase Scene

Based on the true story in Paul Brickhill’s novel, McQueen easily raced away with the show featuring a star-studded ensemble cast that included the likes of a dashing James Garner, a classically trained thespian in Richard Attenborough, and a rugged-as-hell Charles Bronson. The performance laid the groundwork for a career full of harrowing chases. When “The Cooler King” (as he’s known in the film for his proclivity for earning time in the isolation “cooler”) decides it would be a good idea to try to break out of a new German POW camp and take a motorcycle on a little joyride, the precedent was set.

McQueen may be considered “The King of Cool,” but you could also make a strong case for him being the king of the chase sequence as well. He has been involved in two of the most well-known and lauded high-speed chase scenes in the history of film. Many remember him behind the wheel of a certain green 68 Ford Mustang GT in Bullitt, which remains the best chase scene ever, as he sped through the streets of San Francisco and into the northern California hills eluding his mob pursuers. He was cool as a cucumber as the mobsters chasing him were sweating bullets. He just kept his foot on the gas, leading them on a long goose chase before sending them crashing off the road. But it was many years earlier that we first got a taste of just how elusive the actor could be in the famous motorcycle chase scene throughout the hinterlands of rural Germany.

A single man on a small dirt bike behind enemy lines being pursued by scores of motorcycling Nazis provide the long odds that McQueen thrives under.

The 8-Minute Scene Is More Than Just a Cool McQueen

Yes, Steve McQueen is cool without even trying to be. We understand that some actors just have a quiet intensity that just can’t be taught, and he was one of those gifted performers. Whether it’s the sharp jawline, the stoic demeanor facing impending death, or the subtle furrow of his brow, the actor just exudes a combination of smoothness and physicality that few can match. The scene starts with a crafty McQueen procuring the motorcycle he would need by setting up an invisible clothesline booby trap that almost takes a German’s head off as he speeds by, but leaves the motorcycle operational. After intermittently concluding the story arcs of several other escapees that somewhat suffer by comparison, he pops back into frame donning the goose-stepper’s uniform (a little trick you would see a guy n amed Indiana Jones use again later in Raiders of the Lost Ark) and takes off down a winding road toward a small village.


As he begins darting around the rural roads and off-road areas of Germany, director John Sturges and cinematographer Daniel L. Fapp shoot the lush and rolling hills of the country’s sprawling hinterlands in a sweeping and panoramic way that makes the scene even more entertaining to watch (almost as majestic as The Sound of Music scene synonymous with the picturesque German-Austrian countryside). McQueen as Captain Virgil Hilts cutting through the grassy knolls of the wide open clearings is like a razor blade cutting through a beautiful solid green tapestry touched up with a backdrop consisting of the Swiss Alps mountaintops. The SS Soldiers and vehicles dot the crests and nadirs of the widespread acreage like an army of ants in hasty pursuit of McQueen as he makes beelines in every direction trying to escape being recaptured and returned to POW camp Stalag Luft III.

Classic McQueen Coolness Right Up Until the Bitter End

McQueen may have been the coolest of cats, but escaping from a fortified enemy war zone that is lined with wood and barbed wire while being hunted down by a legion of Nazis takes more than just a legit suave modus operandi and ace motorcycling skills. Eventually, the escape routes are shut off by loads of soldiers, and try as he might, escape just isn’t in the cards. But just because he didn’t succeed this time doesn’t mean that McQueen can’t be cool in defeat as well. After making an incredible Evel Knievel-like jump to clear the first line of barbed wire, his luck runs out as he drops the bike and slides into a second line of gnarly barbed wire in a hail of machine gun fire.

But in true McQueen fashion, he takes his time getting up, even taking a moment to pat the motorcycle as if to tell the machine, “We gave it our best shot, buddy!” Bleeding and bruised, he dusts himself off while the same Nazi bastard that put him in “the cooler” barks at him in German and points his rifle. Most people in such a predicament would be shaking in their boots or trying their damnedest to control their bowels, but not Steve McQueen. The King of Cool meets his adversaries with a sheepish grin, completely unfazed by the series of events. Would you expect anything else? It all makes sense, as Ali MacGraw told People, “He was incredibly attractive most of the time, but there was also danger, there was a bad boy there.”

More Cool McQueen Moments That Barely Missed

There is a bevy of McQueen scenes to choose from when it comes to the “cool factor” that either wasn’t long enough or just didn’t quite measure up to the epic motorcycle sequence. We’ve already mentioned the Bullitt chase, but other noteworthy smooth scenes include two sequences from The Cincinnati Kid where McQueen’s character “the Kid” somehow manages to rebuff the advances of Ann-Margret’s seductive Melba before coming up short yet again in a poker game against the legendary James G. Robinson.

Honorable mentions also go out to the train station scene in The Getaway where McQueen tests Ali MacGraw’s loyalty by excessively (and successfully) brooding. The Thomas Crown Affair lacked a certain something in the script, but the role of a brilliant thief could have been tailor-made for McQueen. In fact, Pierce Brosnan’s best role was emulating Steve McQueen in the remake. And finally, there were several instances in The Magnificent Seven when a young and relatively unproven McQueen stole the swagger and show from star Yul Brynner in one of the greatest Westerns of all time.

McQueen was the epitome of cool from the first time he appeared on the big screen, and only got cooler throughout his legendary career.