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The Getaway

The Getaway(1972)

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Home Video Reviews

There are three important ways to look at 1972's The Getaway: as a Steve McQueen movie, a Sam Peckinpah movie or a Jim Thompson movie. The new The Getaway Deluxe Edition DVD does a good job at the first, as it partially owes its existence to Warner Home Video's recent Steve McQueen boxed set. It covers director Peckinpah's role more extensively, rounding up the trio of Peckinpah biographers from MGM's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia disc for another affable audio commentary. Alas, it only incidentally touches upon the movie in relation to Thompson, whose novel provided the source material (other Thompson adaptations over the years have included The Grifters, The Killer Inside Me and After Dark, My Sweet). So while this is a very good DVD of a very good action-thriller, I wouldn't go so far as to call it definitive.

The Getaway is relatively conventional territory for both Peckinpah and Thompson. The story of veteran bank robber Doc McCoy (McQueen) and wife Carol (Ali McGraw) eluding a corrupt backer (Ben Johnson) and a vengeful cohort (Al Lettieri) after a Texas heist, this bullet-riddled road movie is faithful to most of Thompson's novel, despite betraying the overall irony of Thompson's title (his tale is a steady descent into hell in which Doc and Carol do not get the escape hatch afforded their movie counterparts). Many of the best sequences come right out of the novel, smartly rendered by Peckinpah, while the book's most extreme endurance test for the couple (three days and nights spent in a sweltering dung heap), has been wisely transferred to a death-defying trip in the hold of a garbage truck with a hydraulic compactor the driver is very fond of using.

We usually think of excess when we think of Peckinpah, most readily from the trademark slow-motion violence of 1969's The Wild Bunch. We don't often think of his nuts-and-bolts filmmaking. Yet despite the gunplay and occasional slow-mo in The Getaway, the movie is ample evidence that he could really tell a story in more traditional ways, too. The crisp opening detailing the grinding monotony of Doc McCoy's prison stint, the cross-cutting among all the elements of the heist and a tense sequence in which McQueen scours a train for a con man who bamboozled Carol out of their bag of ill-gotten money are all textbook examples of visual storytelling. Peckinpah and McQueen had just come off of the flop Junior Bonner together (another fine collaboration), while McQueen laid a more high-profile egg before that with Le Mans, so the emphasis here was to make a crowd-pleaser, and they definitely succeeded.

Balancing the crime story is the romance between Doc and Carol. Their relationship has to survive the fact that she slept with a member of the parole board (Johnson) in order to get Doc out of jail, as well as overcome the stress of being outlaws on the run. This part of the story doesn't date as well as the brisk action. McGraw's performance has always been flat, but her star power gave it a big boost when the movie was new (this was her first film after the pop culture phenomenon that was Love Story). She's beautiful, and we don't doubt Doc's affection for Carol for a moment (indeed, McQueen and McGraw each divorced their spouses to be married after falling in love during the shoot). But, 30+ years later, McGraw comes off as awfully dainty for the rough-and-tumble role. Typically for a Peckinpah movie, the stars bump into all sorts of colorful supporting players during the story, many, like Johnson, familiar faces in the director's movies. These include Dub Taylor, Slim Pickens, Bo Hopkins and Richard Bright.

In addition to the audio commentary with the Peckinpah biographers, there is also a 20-minute compilation of audio clips of the director and his two leads separately talking about the movie. Perhaps the most interesting thing in it is McQueen's comment that they took High Sierra as the model for how The Getaway should look and feel, and that he wanted Doc McCoy to be the same sort of sympathetic underdog criminal as Bogart's Roy Earle in Raoul Walsh's 1941 thriller. I wouldn't say we get as emotionally attached to McCoy as we do to Earle because, for better or worse, the movie jettisoned the novel's background details and because McGraw is no Ida Lupino (but who is?). McQueen mentions having read Thompson's 1958 paperback novel, while Peckinpah states that he tried to option the book a decade before, but someone had beat him to it. That someone was the movie's producer, David Foster.

A Thompson featurette might have gotten into how The Getaway was the first Thompson movie adaptation, and how in the past 20 years his searing novels have become more famous than ever and been filmed more than ever. Thompson was still alive when Peckinpah made The Getaway, but as pulp paperbacks became a thing of the past, he had been relegated to penning novelizations, including one for TV's Ironside. No doubt the success of the McQueen movie was a financial and emotional shot in the arm for the man. I'm sure Thompson biographer Robert Polito (who appears on the extras on the DVD of The Grifters) and The Getaway screenwriter Walter Hill (who's nowhere to be found on this disc) would have tales to tell about Thompson. Of course, the movie was remade unremarkably in 1994 with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, another married couple, playing the leads. Like McQueen and McGraw, they broke up a few years after playing Thompson's married criminals.

For more information about The Getaway, visit Warner Video. To order The Getaway, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Sherman