This Week in Steve McQueen: Nevada Smith (1966)

The latest installment in the Steve McQueen festival I’ve been attending was last week’s screening of the 1966 Western, Nevada Smith.  I’d actually seen this movie once before, at the impressionable age of about 13, and mostly all I remembered about it were the things the average impressionable girl of about age 13 would remember — the Native American woman being stripped to shame her and then brutally murdered (while she looked her also-being-murdered husband in the eye and said, “I am not afraid” — I never forgot that), and the romantic scenes involving first the Cajun woman who loses her life trying to help the hero and later the young Native American woman with whom he first experiences “true love.”

What I’d forgotten, or more likely not even noticed, was that this is actually a pretty bad stinker.

The story focuses on a young man, Max Sand (McQueen), who arrives a few minutes too late to save the lives of his (white) father and his (Native American) mother after they are tortured and murdered by a gang of three bad guys.

Max’s response, as a hot-blooded young’un, is to immediately pack up his horse and the eight bucks he’s got to his name and set out on a quest for vengeance.  One by one, he hunts down each killer and takes them out — until gets to the final one, the ringleader, where he suddenly has an epiphany of sorts about the (lack of) value of vengeance.

Meanwhile, he meets some good guys, smooches some hotties, etc. etc.  The story is fairly standard, though I appreciated some of the things the writer was trying to do with his tale.  But the direction of this film, and, I’m sorry to say, the hammy acting from Steve McQueen, eventually turn what could otherwise have been a fairly solid (if predictable) Western into an absolute wreck.

For one thing, the director, Henry Hathaway, tried way too hard to turn his film into something visually grand.  A visually grand Western epic.  There are lots and lots (and LOTS) of swooping, dramatic shots of stunning enormous scenery, for example.  And while those shots were, in fact, frequently lovely, it finally got to the point where I stopped appreciating the beauty, which served no narrative purpose I could see, and instead started to get really annoyed.  Okay, enough with the hills and trees already– let’s get on with the story.  I don’t have all day here, and neither does Max Sand.

Even worse, though, were the badly, madly choreographed fight scenes, which were where, surprisingly enough, Steve McQueen really fell down on the job for me.  Silly faces (baby faces, really, far too young for his character), poorly done pulled punches, and some “stunt” work that was absolutely laughable  at times — both clumsily done and ludicrously out of place with the action.  So bad.  So BAD.  So very, very bad.

The acting was so goofily overdone in places it was impossible for me to connect to any of the characters, the direction was an annoying and unpolished blend of lethargy and startles, and the look of the film itself was just. . . meh.  Uninspired.  It was like Hathaway had seen lots of really great Westerns and was trying to replicate what he’d seen without truly understanding it.  He was missing the point.  He missed the point completely.  He totally Passchendaele‘d it.  And man, I hate it when that happens.

Overall, I give Nevada Smith decent marks for theory, but low, low marks for execution.  Definitely one you’re better off dodging, and that goes double for fans of Steve McQueen.  (Avoid!  Avoid!  Avoid at all costs!)

Tune in next week for my review of The Sand Pebbles — three hours of Steve McQueen hanging out on a boat and periodically blowing some shit up in Asia.  Yeah, bring it, Steve.  I’m in.  I’m up for that.  But, please, for me, dearest good sir, try to act your age?  No more of this silly baby-face stuff and the flying over branches when you’ve barely been tapped on the shoulder.  You’re a man now.  Let’s not be ridiculous.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Western
Cast:  Steve McQueen, Karl Malden, Brian Keith, Arthur Kennedy, Suzanne Pleschette, Martin Landau


2 Responses to “This Week in Steve McQueen: Nevada Smith (1966)”

  1. Melinda Says:

    When I was in high school, I did track and field (Okay, I did field. I’m a little solid to be a runner.) and there was this sprinter that I had a *terrible* crush on. And there was no logical reason. None. The guy was an absolute jerk and in a completely different world from me. And then one day I realized he looked just like Steve McQueen. Inexplicable attraction to jerk totally explained! So, yeah, I agree, Steve McQueen is beautiful, and thank you for reminding me (and not in a bad way) of the joys of high school crushes.

  2. Nevada Smith (1966) | Tim Neath - Visual Artist Says:

    […] This Week in Steve McQueen: Nevada Smith (1966) ( […]

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