"Oh, that parking garage in Chicago! Steve McQueen! What was that movie? He drove there all around and then jumped in his car into the river!"
I have been showing this print in my booth at the art festivals for many years now. And these are the words that most people utter when they see this image. I know, I was really surprised myself. It’s an interesting psychological phenomenon.
Apparently, there is a strong emotional connection in mass conscience between Marina City Towers, Chicago famous architectural icon and Steve McQueen jumping in his car from this building. This is the way the legends and myths are formed. And usually they don’t have much in common with what had actually happened. We just want to relive once again the thrill of the car chase up the spiral parking ramp and sense of freedom when you fly like a bird from the top floor of the building with a safe splash at the end.
These are the facts. The movie is called “The Hunter” and it is a story of a professional bounty hunter Ralph “Papa” Thorson played by Steve McQueen. It was shot in 1980 and frankly it was a flop. Roger Ebert wrote that “it is one of those awful movies catering to a star’s ego and image”. Hello, Steve McQueen. And, no, he did not jump into the river. The other guy did.
So, “Papa” Thorson is sent to Chicago to apprehend the bad guy Ritchie Blumenthal played by Eli Wallach (a wonderful actor whom you probably remember from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” as Tuco being the Ugly and Clint Eastwood playing the Good). “Papa” chases Ritchie all over the town and they end up at Marina City Towers where Ritchie carjacks glorious brand new 1980 jasmine green Grand Prix Pontiac (again, the movie was shot in 1980) and Steve McQueen appropriates a red tow truck.
Yes, there is a car chase up the spiral ramp of the west tower of Marina City and they spectacularly wreck a lot of other cars on their way. It is a 65-story building but only the bottom 19 floors are used for parking cars (896 parking spaces if you must know). When the bad guy reaches the dead end at the top 19th floor there is no other way but to go back. He hastily turns around and rushes his car down the ramp. But here is Steve McQueen in his red tow truck. No way out but jump out of the building.
And what a beautiful shot it is: the Grand Prix flies out of the building and in a slow motion it soars like Icarus flying close to the Sun. He burns his wings and then plunges down in the green waters of the Chicago River. Big splash and it’s gone.
The legend is born.