Poor Little Appellate Judge Dave Ryan is a funny name for a cat.
Our review of The Getaway (1972) (Blu-Ray), published April 20th, 2007, is also available.
"You know I can screw every prison official in Texas if I have
So what exactly is The Getaway, anyhow? Is it a big, honking Sam Peckinpah sell-out? Is it a big, honking Steve McQueen sell-out? Is it the film where Ali MacGraw finally proves she has more acting ability than a 2x4? The answer is, of course, "well…" Although quite successful at the box office (certainly more successful than Junior Bonner, the first Peckinpah-McQueen collaboration), the film hasn't really aged well, and isn't considered a stand-out work for either its director or its star. But both Peckinpah and McQueen are fantastic talents, so it isn't a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. You just expect more from these two.
Facts of the Case
Doc McCoy (McQueen, Bullitt), a bank robber by trade, is doing time in the Texas prison system. When the tedious monotony of prison life finally breaks him down, he tells his wife Carol (MacGraw, Love Story, Mrs. McQueen #2) to let the local Big Boss Man, Jack Benyon (Ben Johnson, The Wild Bunch), know that he's now "for sale." She does so—in the lowest-cut blouse ever seen in cinema. Suddenly, Doc's out of prison, and Benyon's got a job for him to do as payback. He's supposed to knock over a small bank. Benyon forces two heistmates on him, including mean, cynical Rudy Butler (Al Lettieri, The Godfather).
Well, the heist goes to hell. Along the way, Doc realizes that both Benyon and Butler separately intended to double-cross him. As if that weren't bad enough, he figures out that Carol slept with Benyon and was going to be the blunt-force instrument of Benyon's double-cross plan. Several people wind up dead, and Doc and Carol hit the road for Mexico, hoping to outrun both the law and Benyon's thugs.
Yes, The Getaway has a healthy dollop of McQueen coolness. And yes, it has the traditional drawn-bow tension and pacing of a Peckinpah film. But in the end, it's just a '70s outlaws-on-the-run potboiler; a poor man's Bonnie and Clyde. That doesn't make it a bad film; it's actually a good potboiler. But it does stand out in both the McQueen and Peckinpah canons as a primarily commercial, and not artistic, venture. It's neither artist's finest moment, but there's certainly no reason for them to be embarrassed by the film.
Unsurprisingly, the weak link in the film is Ali MacGraw. MacGraw is certainly a lovely woman, and she appears (at least in the rare interviews she gives) to be both intelligent and personable. But she was thrust into the limelight mainly because she was pretty and Robert Evans's girlfriend, not because she was an elite actor suited to be matched with talents like McQueen. McQueen ate her alive in The Getaway, completely overwhelming her (probably deliberately, knowing his personality) on the screen. And off it, too—by the end of the shoot, she and McQueen had abandoned their respective spouses for each other; their tempestuous marriage lasted five years. Frankly, that developing attraction is the best thing about her performance here. She clearly cares about Doc because she really cares about Doc. But her best and most real moment came when she wasn't acting—the infamous "slap" scene.
When Doc pulls over to the side of the road, gets out, and confronts Carol about her role in Benyon's double cross, Doc slaps her hard. A few times. The story behind the story here—something that, ironically, isn't discussed in this film's commentary track, but is discussed in the definitive The Essence of Cool documentary included as an extra with Bullitt—is that there was no movie trickery at work in the scene; McQueen really did hit MacGraw, and pretty hard to boot. Not only that, he told Peckinpah he was going to do it, and the two of them agreed that she shouldn't be told in advance. So Carol's response to Doc's actions are totally realistic—because MacGraw was really being smacked around by Steve McQueen, and didn't know it was coming, and just responded as anyone would do in that situation.
Because of the magnitude of the tabloid fodder that the McQueen-MacGraw romance generated, it's easy to forget that this was not only a Sam Peckinpah film, but the second film he had done with McQueen. The first was Junior Bonner, a sad, elegiac film about the death of the traditional American West, as seen through the character of a broken, over-the-hill rodeo rider. It was nothing like Peckinpah's "normal" films—nobody died, there weren't gallons of bright-red blood spraying around, and nobody had a slow-motion gun battle. Although Junior Bonner was a fine film, it flopped miserably at the box office—primarily because it was marketed as a McQueen action film. The two apparently enjoyed working together, though, and when McQueen (through his production company, Solar) approached Peckinpah about directing an adaptation of Jim Thompson's (The Grifters, After Dark, My Sweet) novel, Peckinpah jumped. The Getaway had more action than Junior Bonner—but it still was no Wild Bunch or Straw Dogs. Was this a blatantly commercial venture? Did McQueen and Peckinpah view this film as a way to recoup some of the cost of the more personal and intimate Bonner? We'll never really know—but it was the most commercially successful film in Peckinpah's career, and arguably the most "mainstream" film he made. I guess sometimes you make a film for the love of the craft, and sometimes you make a film to pay your mortgage.
Again, none of this should be taken as a harsh indictment of the film—it's just observation. I enjoyed The Getaway; it's a well-paced film with a typically interesting McQueen performance. Its taut and precise pacing, as well as some of its more, um, sadistic and sexual moments, mark it as a Peckinpah film. (Poor, poor Mr. Clinton…) Al Lettieri—you may remember him as Virgil Sollozzo, a/k/a the Turk, from the first Godfather—turns in a quirky and surprisingly nuanced performance as Rudy Butler, who's a real turd dipped in chocolate. The film as a whole has a weird "Texas is different" oddball feel to it that works very well for it. The ending, graced by yet another of Slim Pickens's inexplicable-but-appreciated cameo appearances, is satisfying—far more satisfying (apparently, based on what the commentators on the bonus track have to say) than the hyper-surrealistic coda of Thompson's novel. And, as I noted earlier, Ali MacGraw is a lovely woman.
This is the first high definition disc I've reviewed for the Verdict—and it's really the first HD disc I've ever seen. So you may wish to take this with a grain of salt, but OH LORDY, does this picture look great. Yes, the earthy-muted color tones mark this as a product of the Seventies; but the picture has almost a photographic quality to it. This is miles ahead of even the best Seventies-era films on standard DVD. But for a slight softness in the picture—and the above-mentioned period-specific color balance—I'd assume this film was shot last week, not 35 years ago. Everyone's ga-ga about the hyperrealism possible from the combination of HD technology and the latest and greatest digital film technologies, but I think this is where high definition DVD will make its most lasting mark: with older films that now can be presented in first-print-positive quality. I'd say The Getaway is worth a rental just to see what the format is capable of presenting. Imagine The Wizard of Oz, or The Ten Commandments, or Gone With the Wind in this kind of quality! The mind boggles.
But back to The Getaway…The picture is spectacular for a Seventies film. The audio is less spectacular; here, it's presented in the original mono format. It is, however, quite good for a mono track, clear and well-balanced at all times. The disc has all of the extras from the standard definition release, including the outstanding commentary track from a group of Peckinpah experts. This commentary track is a two hour lesson in All Things Peckinpah, and will be very educational for fans of his work. Added for this HD DVD release is a new featurette, "Main Title 1M1: Jerry Fielding, Sam Peckinpah and The Getaway." It details the conflict Peckinpah had with his long-time collaborator Fielding when Peckinpah (for reasons unexplained) tossed Fielding's score for The Getaway out in favor of a Quincy Jones-penned score. It's moderately interesting, but it's really an esoteric issue in the grand scheme of things, except for die-hard Peckinpah fans. If the subject interests you, the disc also includes a re-scored cut of the bank robbery scene with Fielding's music, and the complete score as an audio-only extra. With all due respect to the late, talented Fielding, I just don't think this is that big a deal to anyone but him. There isn't a lot of score to begin with, and it never plays a major role in setting up scenes, so whether it was written by Fielding or Jones doesn't really matter to me. I would have preferred something focused more on Peckinpah's motivation behind making the film, or something about the McQueen-MacGraw relationship, each of which is a more significant part of the Getaway experience.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Getaway was remade in 1994 as an Alec Baldwin/Kim Basinger vehicle, back when they weren't communicating solely through cadres of attorneys. Avoid this film and stick to the original.
Returning to the original question, "So what exactly is The Getaway, anyhow?," I will channel the great (for a Wesleyan grad) Bill Belichick: It is what it is. And that's all I have to say right now.
Not guilty—except for the bank robbery part.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Peckinpah Biographers/Documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle
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