Hollywood is longing for Steve McQueen in a big way. Not even a month after MGM put out its boxed set boasting “The Great Escape” and “The Magnificent Seven,” TCM aired a retrospective to usher in a set from Warners. This time around, a two-disc remastered “Bullitt” joins “Papillon,” “The Getaway” and the new-to-DVD “The Cincinnati Kid.” The more irrelevant “Tom Horn” and “Never So Few,” co-starring Frank Sinatra, round out the pack.
Like most DVD titles released from the late ’60s and early ’70s, there are few bells and whistles to tout, with inexpensive and low-grade behind-the-scenes docus serving as the only value-added propositions.
But these featurettes, in their charmingly cut-rate way, provide a kitschy insight into filmmaking when it was less reliant on high-tech form, computer technology and spectacle. The “Papillon” short shows off Dustin Hoffman getting into character as the bespectacled Louis Dega, and director Franklin J. Schaffner’s crew trudging through Jamaican brush as they re-create the French Guyana prison from which the two leading men plot their escape. No green-screen, no CGI — just a bunch of Chevy trucks hauling clunky equipment through heavy terrain.
A hilarious old-school piece for ‘The Cincinnati Kid” has a technical adviser showing supporting actress Joan Blondell how to deal cards. Narrated in a way that resembles grade-school health films about the benefits of Mr. Toothbrush, it has a deep-voiced reporter explaining, in simplest terms, how to behave as a poker player. It’s a hoot.
But even classic titles can misstep with their DVD treatment: A scene-specific commentary from Dave Foley and Phil Gordon, hosts of Bravo’s “Celebrity Poker Showdown,” just junks up “Kid.”
As for other group remarks, “The Getaway” features the most creative entry, with director Sam Peckinpah, and Ali MacGraw joining McQueen in a “virtual” session. Sound clips of old interviews have been juxtaposed with a running time code as the film evolves; edited together, it seems like all of them are sitting around the screen. Pic’s other commentary involves three authors of Peckinpah bios dissecting every moment.
The gem in all of this is the special edition of “Bullitt,” which contains a special docu called “The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing,” narrated by Kathy Bates. Directors including James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese expound upon the tricks of the editing trade. It’s the perfect companion piece to a movie always charged as the film that changed the splicing craft. (The car chase alone won “Bullitt’s” editor — Frank Keller — the Oscar.)
Separately, New Line just released the first season of “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” the TV series that more or less launched McQueen’s trajectory in 1958.