"If you're ever curious why people made such a fuss about Steve McQueen check out NEVADA SMITH, Henry Hathaway's sprawling tale of vengeance and obsession.
McQueen plays young half-Indian/half-white Max Sand, whose parents are murdered by a trio of bandits (Martin Landau, Arthur Kennedy, Karl Malden.) McQueen was 36 years old in 1966, the year NEVADA SMITH was made, and was probably a decade past the time when he could effortlessly portray a naïve young hero. There's a brief, disturbingly violent scene at the beginning of the movie where the three villains are torturing Smith's parents, and the woman portraying McQueen's Kiowa mother doesn't look much older than 35. Still, McQueen brings a wide-eyed innocence to his performance that tremendously helps us suspend disbelief. Besides, I believe I counted exactly zero close-ups in this action western. If you want to check out the crow's feet around McQueen's eyes you'll have to look hard and fast to see them.
McQueen gets a chance to play against some Hollywood professionals at the top of their games. Brian Keith is growlingly good as traveling gunsmith Jonas Cord, who plays Polonius to McQueen's Laertes, and plies the young stranger with instruction and advice. Max Sand won't be argued out of his mission to avenge the death of his parents, and the pragmatic Cord reluctantly agrees to be his mentor. It's through Cord and, later, a priest Sand comes across, that the movie is allowed to question its central theme - vengeance. Cord argues the practical ("You'll turn into one of the rats you're hunting,") the priest the spiritual. It's a tribute to the brilliance of McQueen's performance that by the time we reach the last scene we can see how both arguments have contributed to his maturation. Karl Malden plays the evil, racist Tom Fitch with sadist gusto. Malden overacts a bit in one of those rare roles that benefits when an actor takes it over the top. Watching the suspicious Fitch interrogate the no-longer-naïve Max Sand is one of the highlights of the movie.
The underrated Hathaway shot most of NEVADA SMITH on location, and the realistic look is used to great advantage. He doesn't go for the landmark shots a la John Ford in Monument Valley, choosing instead to play scenes in anonymous swamps and deserts. The realism shoots through all the way to stunts and props and costumes. Instead of elaborately choreographed fist fights with exaggerated sound effects every time a blow is struck, the characters in NEVADA SMITH scratch and claw, bite and kick when they fight. The clothes they wear are torn and dirty and they stay dirty.
NEVADA SMITH has enough going for it to appeal to those who aren't typically fans of westerns. If you are a fan this is a must-see."
Excellent western, McQueen is superb.
Marc Flanagan | 06/22/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Steve McQueen plays Max Sand ( Nevada Smith ) who sets about finding his parents three killers played by karl Malden , Martin Landau, and Arthur Kenndy. But finding them and killing them is a bit harder then he thought. While on his trail he meet's Brian Keith who teaches him to be an expert marksman.Nevada Smith is a tense violent western which follows Nevada every step on his revenge crazed journey. McQueen is excellent , in this classic western."
McQueen In A Cowboy Hat
Marc Flanagan | Santa Monica, Ca. | 07/29/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This was a film that never made it on to my radar although I am a fan of westerns and Steve McQueen. Last month, I watched a special on TMC about McQueen and they had a clip from "Nevada Smith", it looked interesting, so I ordered one from Amazon.The verdict? It is a terrific little film. Henry Hathaway, a skilled director with a long list of impressive credits, did a terrific job telling this Harold Robbins story and McQueen is great. Loads of wonderful character actors and georgeous scenery, artfully recorded adds up to a fun experience. I am glad I have it in on my shelf."
Terrific Psychological Western
David Baldwin | Philadelphia,PA USA | 01/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Forget completely that the title character's name is incidently derived from Harold Robbins' trashy "The Carpetbaggers". This film is more of a piece with John Ford's "The Searchers" or the psychological westerns of Anthony Harvey. The film poses the question as to the cost vengeance does to a man's soul. Steve McQueen, whose character ages from green teenager to hardened criminal, subtlely suggests the toll of blood vengeance to one's person. McQueen may have been a tad too old for the role but his expertise as an actor makes you suspend disbelief. The film has a vast and impressive supporting cast. I was most taken by the two women in the film, the late Janet Margolin ("David and Lisa") as an Indian dancehall girl and Suzanne Pleshette as a paddy girl who facilitates McQueen's escape from a Louisiana work farm. Look and listen quick for Strother Martin who plays "Strother". Also noteworthy is that the film was lensed by longtime Sam Peckinpah collaborator Lucien Ballard."
Mcqueen's Best Western Film
Gus Mauro | Brandon,mb | 11/01/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Steve Mcqueen is excellent in this well done western revenge thriller Nevada Smith, a young half breed man seeks revenge agaisnt a lethal gang who murdered his parents. Along the way Smith learns proper gun handeling technicqes and as he draws closer to his prey he relazies that revenge isn't all what it seems. Very well played story about revenge and the conseqeunces that goes along with it and the lonliness that transpires from being consumed from the hate. A Western that also looks at the rights of indians not often seen in Westerns. Steve Mcqueen pulled off a very belivable, and powerful performence."