I looked to see if you'd reviewed Hell Is for Heroes
, a 1961 (released 1962 or 1963) typical low-budget WWII potboiler, set apart from its ilk by direction from Don Siegel (The Killers
, Invasion of the Body Snatchers
, The Beguiled
, Dirty Harry
; links to Bill's Strange Picture Scroll reviews) including some rather blunt and disturbing action scenes, performances by early Steve McQueen, James Coburn, new-to-film Bob Newhart, Fess Parker. Not out on BD yet, even. Only on a couple of DVD compilations.
The film is clearly B-grade, but A-quality in some aspects. Filmed on location with limited materiel, sites, etc. Apparently McQueen was so sour on his payment situation that the gruff, bitter attitude of his character may not be acting at all. (The film was supposed to be Bobby Darin's star turn until the Wanted: Dead or Alive
TV star got hired, and the focus switched to McQueen. Someone visiting the set is supposed to have said, "That McQueen is his own worst enemy," to which Darin is reported saying, "Not as long as I'm alive.") Bob Newhart's comedic turn is classic, the pencil-pushing buck private, caught in the war zone driving a Jeep laden with typewriters he's delivering to HQ. Never held a gun let alone fire one. But even the desk clerk plays a role in the outfit's heroic night holding off overwhelming German forces.
Robert Wise or someone commented years later that no one could handle props like McQueen. He knew how they worked, how to use them. Bikes and fast cars of course, but guns and other things (I think it was McQueen that told Wise how the sailor would and would not handle his gun in The Sand Pebbles
). You can see it here in how he handles his submachine gun, grenades, etc. There's an effortless authenticity to how Reese uses the tools of war. Don Martin, Robert Vaughn and other regular costars talked in his bio about Steve-O's insistence on giving others his dialog, claiming he was a "re-actor" who responded nonverbally to others. Plenty of that technique in evidence here.
After this film, he was cast in The Magnificent Seven
in which his constant fiddling with guns, shells, etc, would annoy Yul Brynner no end. Another star turn, now in a bigger flick. Then rehired by Seven
director John Sturges for The Great Escape
, again a star turn in a supporting role, this time fiddling with a baseball & mitt, and burning up the screen on a motorbike. Thus was a career made. Hell Is for Heroes
wasn't his first film, or even his first lead (The Blob
scores that; poor McQueen opted for the $2500 payment instead of the offered 10% of the take that would've netted him way, way, way more), but this little war flick possibly owns McQueen's first real on-screen detonation of Cool(TM).
Available for streaming on Netflix, pretty good quality image IMHO (used Chromecast HDMI connection).
Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool
, available on the Bullitt BD release
, highly recommended. (Bill's review here