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The Get-Away

The Get-Away(1941)

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teaser The Get-Away (1941)

Donna Reed made her movie debut at age 20 in MGM's The Get-Away (1941), playing the long-suffering sister of an imprisoned mobster (Dan Dailey, then billed as Dan Dailey, Jr.) who is tricked into making a jailbreak by the FBI. The agents' plan is to follow the escapee back to his old gang and make a mass arrest. Matters get complicated when the Fed who has posed as a fellow inmate (Robert Sterling) falls for the sister.

The movie is a remake of Public Hero #1 (1935), which starred Chester Morris, Joseph Calleia and, in Reed's role, Jean Arthur. The remake borrows generously from stock footage used in the earlier film. In the updated storyline, Dailey's crimes include the robbing of U.S. defense payrolls.

Reed, a beauty queen from Denison, Iowa, attended Los Angeles City College and drew the attention of Hollywood talent scouts when she was elected Campus Queen and her picture appeared in The Los Angeles Times. Three studios approached her with offers of screen tests, and she chose MGM, she later said, because it was the only one she had heard of. She tested with Van Heflin, already an established star on Broadway, winning a $75-per-week contract and her role in The Get-Away.

When The Get-Away was screened at a sneak preview in Inglewood, California prior to its release, Reed decided to attend incognito with Lou Hurtitz, a friend from college. In the biography In Search of Donna Reed by Jay Fultz (University of Iowa Press), the actress "described the experience of seeing herself on the screen: " Lou and I hung on to each other, we were so excited. I started to laugh and cry at the same time. It was the biggest thrill of my life!"

The biography also added that "the preview audience liked Donna and said so on sheets handed out in the lobby. "Miss Reed a comer," read one. Donna thought The Get-away was "a fair B" and her work satisfactory for a beginner. "I have very much to learn," she wrote to her confidante in Iowa...The most encouragement came from Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times: "Donna Reed arrives in spectacular fashion as an ingenue heroine with potentialities of a Janet Gaynor, as one remembers from her debut."

Producer: J. Walter Ruben
Director: Edward Buzzell, Richard Rosson (uncredited)
Screenplay: W.R. Burnett, Wells Root, from story by Root and J. Walter Ruben
Cinematography: Sidney Wagner
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof, Earl K. Brent (uncredited)
Editing: James E. Newcom
Cast: Robert Sterling (Jeff Crane), Charles Winninger (Dr. Josiah Glass), Donna Reed (Maria Theresa "Terry" O'Reilly), Henry O'Neill (Warden Alcott), Dan Dailey Jr. (Sonny Black, aka "Dinky").
BW-90m. Closed captioning.

by Roger Fristoe

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The Get-Away (1941)

David Foster was a publicist, not a producer, but one of his clients, Hollywood superstar Steve McQueen, thought he should be. He encouraged Foster to the point where he was willing to let his own commitments rise or fall with Foster. As a result, when McQueen signed on to do Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) with Paul Newman, he did so only under the condition that Foster produce. The studio would have none of it, and McQueen walked away from what would become a huge hit. Of course, McQueen had his own hits and while working on one of them, Le Mans (1971), Foster purchased the rights to The Getaway (1972) and convinced McQueen to take the lead, a criminal, but one the audience could root for. And since he owned the rights, no one was going to say Foster couldn't produce it, not this time. They got studio backing, hired a director and were ready to go. Well, that is until McQueen decided he didn't like the director much. That director, by the way, was the acclaimed Peter Bogdanovich, but McQueen had someone else in mind, someone he had worked with before, Sam Peckinpah.

Peckinpah brought on his own team of talents, including cinematographer Lucien Ballard who made sure the movie was beautiful to look at, no matter how gritty the story. He also brought in his supporting players, like Slim Pickens and Ben Johnson. Finally, his editor Robert L. Wolfe, who would work with him again on Pat Garrrett and Billy the Kid (1973), joined the team. To play the female lead opposite McQueen, Ali McGraw was cast, fresh off of her blockbuster hit Love Story (1970). McQueen and McGraw worked well together, so well in fact that they would fall in love and shortly after the movie's release, get married.

The story of The Getaway is as simple as a bank robbery but with a thousand complications added in for good measure. And if you're paying attention to the title, you should also suspect it has more to do with the aftermath than the robbery itself. When the story begins, Doc McCoy (McQueen) is in prison but his wife, Carol (McGraw), plans on getting him out using some creative deal making with the warden, up to and including a large cut of a big robbery they can commit if only McCoy is on the outside. From there, they assemble their team, rehearse every move, and watch every part of the plan go out the window when it's time to execute it, leading to the remarkable, and complex, getaway of the title.

The Getaway was written by Walter Hill who had spent years writing for TV and was eager to get involved in major film production. His story sensibilities led him to crime plots and his talents led him to Sam Peckinpah. The two got along well and a better marriage of writer and director couldn't have happened if David Foster tried. And try he did, of course, with Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich began writing the script with Hill before McQueen gave him the nix and so everything he had done was thrown out the window, allowing Hill to take full control of the work. Still, some of what Bogdanovich had intended remained, as Hill later said that Bogdanovich wanted a more Hitchcockian feel and clearly, that happened. Roger Ebert noted in his original review that there is a moment in the movie that felt as if it came straight from a Hitchcock thriller.

The Getaway was the second film in a row that McQueen made with Peckinpah, the first being Junior Bonner (1972), and the two were a good match. Peckinpah was never much for actors doing a lot of emoting, except anger and frustration. Stoic worked much better for his characters, the kind of stoic McQueen excelled at.

The movie didn't do as well as everyone had hoped, thanks in part to a snarky review by the aforementioned Roger Ebert, but over time its greatness has become apparent. Walter Hill himself has remarked it's some of his best work and today it's considered alongside The Wild Bunch (1969) and Straw Dogs (1971) as one of Peckinpah's finest films. It's always discouraging for the artists involved in a production to have to wait several years before they get the appreciation they deserve. In McQueen's case, it's doubly heartbreaking, as he died too young, just eight years after The Getaway's release. He never got to see what a classic it would become. But a classic it is, and it just gets better with each passing year.

Director: Sam Peckinpah
Producer: Mitchell Brower, David Foster
Writer: Walter Hill
Music: Quincy Jones
Director of Photography: Lucien Ballard
Film Editor: Robert L. Wolfe
Cast: Steve McQueen (Doc McCoy), Ali MacGraw (Carol McCoy), Ben Johnson (Jack Beynon), Sally Struthers (Fran Clinton), Al Lettieri (Rudy Butler), Slim Pickens (Cowboy), Richard Bright (The Thief), Jack Dodson (Harold Clinton), Dub Taylor (Laughlin), Bo Hopkins (Frank Jackson)
122 minutes

By Greg Ferrara

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