American actor Steve McQueen (1930 - 1980) stars as Captain Virgil 'The Cooler King' Hilts in World War II drama 'The Great Escape', 1963. Here he poses on his motorcycle at the German-Swiss border. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Movies - TV
The Wild Stunt That Failed To Save Steve McQueen's Final Film
While "The Hunter" — a lunk-headed action film based on the real-life exploits of skip tracer Ralph "Papa" Thorson — was not Steve McQueen's finest hour, the late actor did the best he could with poorly written material. The film is essentially a stunt showcase, and, as such, delivers a few memorable smash-ups.
One scene follows a calamitous car chase in a spiraling parking structure, where the criminal finally runs out of upward real estate, forcing him to turn around and race head-on into Thorson. He foolishly opts to avoid the collision, which results in the Pontiac soaring from the structure into the Chicago River.
In a 2019 tribute, the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips noted, “Reporter Storer Rowley wrote that the impact of car hitting river was like 'a cannon blast ... about 1,500 spectators gasped, gaped, and then swarmed through the stopped rush-hour traffic on Wacker Driver and peered over the rail into the dark waters as the car floated for a few seconds and then disappeared.’”
The film opened a few months prior to McQueen's death from cancer. Paramount likely knew they had a clunker, so they flooded theaters with a trailer that gave away every stunt gag in the movie, and while "The Hunter" got trashed by critics, in retrospect, it's a poignant swan song for a rugged leading man who lived fast and drove faster.