|I watched THE WAR LOVER the other day. It's a 1962 British black-and-white film based on the novel by John Hersey (which, sad to say, I've never read). The film stars Steve McQueen, Robert Wagner and British actress Shirley Anne Field, who is a dead ringer for American actress Tatum O'Neal.|
McQueen is definitely cast against type in this film. Instead of exuding his trademark '60s cool, McQueen gives off crazy vibes in his portrayal of a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber pilot. He's the captain of the crew and he's the best damn pilot flying against the Germans in 1943. He loves his job. Really loves his job. He loves his job so much that on the bombing mission that opens the film, he continues on to the target and drops his payload of bombs even though the attack has been called off by the high command and all of the other bombers in his squadron have been ordered to return to base.
Co-star Robert Wagner is McQueen's second-in-command and co-pilot. The men have a love-hate relationship. They don't have much in common but Wagner respects McQueen's uncanny flying skills and ability. Wagner falls for a beautiful British woman (Field) but McQueen finds himself incapable of loving anyone or anything other than war itself.
When a bombing run over Germany goes wrong at the end of the film, it's up to a wounded McQueen to get his plane and crew back safely to England. Most of the crew survive. McQueen doesn't. How's that for a downbeat film?
Capably directed by Philip Leacock, THE WAR LOVER is a good psychological portrait of men at war. It's more concerned with the characters and their mental states than on combat itself but the flying sequences at the beginning and end of the film are superbly staged.
I'm a big fan of McQueen and he gives a good performance here in a film that isn't usually included when critics assess his body of work. That's a shame because THE WAR LOVER is a very good film.