Steve McQueen 'left cops in awe of him' as star stunned onlookers on set


McQueen is back on screens today as the World War Two classic The Great Escape airs on Film4. The war epic, directed by John Sturges, was released in 1963, and remains one of the country’s most loved films, with likes of McQueen, Richard Attenborough and Charles Bronson all starring in it. It sees allied prisoners of war plan for the escape of hundreds of inmates out of a Nazi-controlled camp during World War Two.

McQueen’s turn in the film earned him acclaim and the Best Actor award at the Moscow International Film Festival.

Among its most iconic moments is when McQueen’s character Captain Virgil Hilts is involved in a motorcycle chase and jump scene, which is often considered the great stunt ever performed.

McQueen was known for his love of fast cars, and in one recollection Tom Adams, who played RAF officer Dai Nimmo in the epic, claimed the US star was “mad as a hatter” when on set.

According to Hagerty, Adams said McQueen “wrote off six or seven cars” while performing stunts in them during filming for The Great Escape.

McQueen reportedly tried to change a number of passages in the film’s script, and even took issue with Garner wearing a more handsome suit.

Many of the cast also enjoyed playing on motorcycles but, according to David McCallum, who played Eric Ashley-Pitt in the 1963 film, McQueen took the most risks.

McCallum said: “Everyone drove like a maniac, including Donald Pleasence.

“But Steve was the guy ‒ mirroring the film, almost ‒ who took the most risks and had the traffic police in awe of him.

JUST IN: ‘Pain in the a**’ Steve McQueen enraged his co-stars

The pair enjoyed a colourful friendship throughout their lives, first connecting at Lee’s martial arts school he opened in Los Angeles.

McQueen was one of a host of celebrities, including James Coburn, who attended the institution, striking up a friendship with Lee, who had just starred in 1966’s series The Green Hornet.

They bonded as friends over the sport, and according to Author Matthew Polly, author of Bruce Lee: A Life, they had a lot in common.

He wrote: “They really connected because they were the same kind of guy, rough and tumble coming from similar backgrounds.”

In return, McQueen reportedly helped teach Lee some of the most important lessons of acting.

As their relationship developed, so did Lee’s infatuation with McQueen’s Porsche 911S Targa, and soon the star convinced his contemporary to purchase one.

Mr Polly noted in the 2018 book how Lee visited a Hollywood dealership for a test drive in a similar car to McQueen’s, and called his fellow star to say he was “going to get a Porsche like yours”.

McQueen, though, was concerned Lee was taking a risk in purchasing the car, replying: “It’s a hot car, but if you don’t know what you are doing you can get into trouble with this thing.”

To put him off further, McQueen then took Lee out for another ride in his car, which led to the now-infamous row.

McQueen reportedly took Lee up into winding roads of the San Fernando Valley, before revving up the engine and speeding down the roads of the Santa Monica mountains.

He continued shouting over the deafening engine asking Lee “what do you think of this power” as he navigated the tight corners of the hills.

According to Mr Polly, Lee then hid down in the footwell, shouting: “McQueen, you sonovab***h!… McQueen, I’ll bloody kill you!

“I’ll kill you, McQueen! I’m gonna kill you!”

The Great Escape airs today at 3.35pm on Film4.


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