Monday, July 15, 2013
THE GETAWAY (1972) is one satisfying motion picture. Really gets the job done. Packs a whallop in its 2 brutal hours. It features a bank robbery gone awry, double crosses, tense chases, lots of female trouble, very narrow escapes, and a 12 gauge shotgun bringing down a gallery of lowlifes. With Steve McQueen behind that gun (and, of course, the wheels of several automobiles), you know you're in for some good old fashioned moviegoing. In the director's chair: Sam Peckinpah, who had just worked with his lead in JUNIOR BONNER.
Doc McCoy is a longtime Texas convict serving his sentence in the local penitentiary. He tells his wife Carol (Ali MacGraw) to visit John Benyon (Ben Johnson), a ruthless, corrupt businessman who has the connections to get Doc sprung early. There are strings attached: Doc will be required to pull a bank heist with 2 other criminals: Rudy (Al Lettieri) and Frank (Bo Hopkins). Doc is a meticulous planner, choreographing a very detailed job, while the other two scratch their heads. Rudy, a particularly loathsome thug, (initially) declines Doc's suggestion to wear a bullet proof vest.
The robbery does not go smoothly. A bank guard is shot. Rudy decides to kill Frank as they flee. Doc will gradually learn that he's been set up by Benyon, a plan that had included Carol, who at the witching hour instead turns her gun on the boss out of her love for Doc. The chase is on. Doc is furious to learn what Carol had to do to ensure his spring from jail. Carol gets his backhand, repeatedly.
It gets nastier. Rudy, who had tried to ambush Doc but instead took a few of his rounds, survives and makes his way to a veterinarian's office. He holds a husband and wife (Jack Dodson and Sally Struthers) at gunpoint, forcing them to tend to his wounds and eventually drive him to the same El Paso hotel where Doc and Carol will hole up on their way to Mexico.
Peckinpah again uses some very uncomfortable material in his examination of the complexity of women. Rudy and the wife become attracted to each other and begin humiliating the husband. These moments are very noirish, and this movie is an adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel (by Walter Hill, who would go on to create some of his own roughhouse pics), but they fit with the sort of scenes dating back to RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, and certainly STRAW DOGS and BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. It goes far beyond "you can't trust that dame". The director is quite fascinated with female dynamics. He approaches the women in his films as mysterious, but instead of painting them as mere black widows, he gives them complexity. Meanwhile, the men, often very often cocksure in their ways, are portrayed as insecure and far more flawed. Doc will attempt to understand the depths of Carol's love for him. Tawdry means to an an end as it may be. And sometimes the men are the victims. You will certainly feel badly for Dodson's character.....
THE GETAWAY is best taken as escapism, an often exciting action flick. I especially liked the train station/train pursuit sequence, a good showcase for the director's talents. But as stated, it wouldn't be a Peckinpah without subtext. And some of those scenes with McQueen and MacGraw (who became a real life couple during filming) actually pause to show the awkwardness of a couple attempting intimacy after 4 years apart. "I'm as nervous as you are," she whispers. Other scenes are more playful, like when Doc shakes his head after he learns how much Carol paid for their latest getaway car. Then there are the darker ones, when Doc's tortured thoughts of Carol's infidelity threatens to tear the couple apart. Plus, getting stuck and nearly crushed to death in a garbage truck will put any marriage to the test.
McQueen's star quality is at full throttle in this movie. He commands the screen at every turn, whether deftly handling firearms or even in quiet conversation. He was a true star, the likes of which we don't see these days (and sorry, Alec Baldwin, but you were a poor substitute in the 1994 remake). And arguably, there was no one better than Peckinpah, his type also not seen these days, to guide him.