The late Sam Peckinpah is a legend as a director and as so there are a variety of opinions about what is his best work. So, today I’ll write that I believe his best (with apologies to “The Wild Bunch”) is “The Getaway” with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. It’s simply a sensational film on all levels. It has Peckinpah’s signature violence but it is also a great story, a great drama and is tightly directed to a wonderful conclusion. The violence in a Peckinpah film is so much more effective than you’ll find in films today. If you don’t remember “The Getaway” then watch it again, if you didn’t see it … put it on your to-do list.
(1972; 122 minutes; rated PG; directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Steve McQueen, Ali McGraw and Al Lettieri)
VIOLENCE SOLVES JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING HERE
(NOTE: I expanded this review with a bit more opinion and the updating of links on March 18, 2017.)
Today, you know you’re in for a rough ride watching any film by Quentin Tarantino. However, back in the day, moviegoers knew they were in for a rough ride when they sat down to watch a film by the pioneer in violence: Sam Peckinpah.
After “The Wild Bunch,” Peckinpah brought out “Straw Dogs” and continued to ratchet up the violence and tension and after a change-of-pace with “Junior Bonner.” So, today I’ll look at “The Getaway,” which landed in theaters with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw burning up the big screen as they made their way across the Southwest. “The Getaway” simply sizzles because of the two stars and the director.
There were few bigger stars at the time than McQueen and the Oscar-nominated Peckinpah had hit his stride with this one in 1972 and would go on to make the cult classic “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” and his only World War II film “Cross of Iron” (click here for my review).
One cannot find any flaw with the timing, cinematography or carefully choreographed violence highlighted with slow-motion sequences. The rest of “The Getaway” is the same and the electricity crackles between McQueen and McGraw both on screen and off as they would be divorced from their respective spouses and within a year they would be married (they would divorce in 1978).
A remake of the same name in 1994 starred Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger (they were married at the time) but it was nothing but a shadow of the original. Frankly, it’s crap. Basinger was certainly much more steamy and physical than McGraw, but she couldn’t hold a candle to the effort by the much more superior work by McGraw. Baldwin is a legend in his own mind and could never be compared in any way to McQueen.
In “The Getaway,” McQueen plays “Carter ‘Doc’ McCoy,” a jailed bank robber looking to get out. He sends his wife “Carol McCoy” (McGraw) to a parole board member who’s crooked and looking for someone to pull a bank job. It’s hinted that she uses feminine charms to ease the situation along and they get involved with robbing a bank. The job goes wrong; one of the two men hired to help them tries a double-cross and soon McQueen and McGraw are on the run.
Peckinpah takes his time and the film is carefully plotted but without sacrificing pace. Once the bank is robbed, it rolls and gathers momentum until you’re on a roller coaster ride. But Peckinpah doesn’t ever sacrifice good filmmaking, even in the search of a train for a man who rips off the stars. The scene is as detailed and intricate as any in the film and not just a toss away bridge to the next plot development.
Here’s a look at the principal cast:
- McQueen is his usual self-assured leading man here and does everything to be the superstar he had become. He is just right in a role that stretches from prison to Mexico and doesn’t let down for a moment. McQueen was also in the WWII classic “The Great Escape” (click here for my review) as well as the classics “Bullitt” and “Papillion.” However, I liked him best in “The Cincinnati Kid.”
- McGraw has a smoldering passion for her husband, but the couple’s relationship is strained by her helping get him out of prison. She’s in love completely with him but does have to pull a gun on him at one point and is just as strong and audacious as he. McGraw was most famously in “Love Story” as well as “Goodbye Columbus.” It’s surprising that she has a very thin acting resume of only 15 roles (the last being in 1997), but it’s quality work and she was nominated for an Oscar for “Love Story.”
- Al Lettieri is “Rudy Butler” and is the double-crossing member of the bank job team. There’s a nice twist when he wears a bullet-resistant vest during the job and survives when McQueen shoots him before he can shoot McQueen in their first showdown scene. Lettieri, who was “Sollozzo” in “The Godfather” the same year as “The Getaway,” is a tough guy here and kidnaps a veterinarian and his wife to help him treat a gunshot wound. Lettieri is good at being psychotic and has also been in “ Majestyk” with Charles Bronson.
- Sally Struthers, best known as “Gloria Stivic” in TV’s “All in the Family,” plays “Fran Clinton,” who is the over-sexed wife of the passive veterinarian. She’s immediately attracted to Lettieri and even gets frisky with him while her husband, who’s tied to a chair, looks on. Struthers is very good here in a solid dramatic role for her. She was also in “Five Easy Pieces.”
- Ben Johnson gets co-star billing as “Jack Benyon” and gets McQueen out of prison and casts more than a lustful eye on McGraw. It is Johnson ordering the bank job to cover up his brother’s financial fiddling there but he leaves quickly at the business end of McGraw’s gun. Johnson was also in “Dillinger” (click here for my review) as well as “The Sugarland Express,” “The Last Picture Show” and even horror experience in “Terror Train” with scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis (click here for my review).
- The final notable supporting role is from Richard Bright, who was also in “The Godfather” the same year (he played “Albert Neri,” who was “Michael Corleone’s” bodyguard and was in its sequels). Bright is the thief who pulls a train locker switch on McGraw and McQueen has to track him down on a train. Bright is smooth and confident and has also been in “Once Upon a Time in America.”
Hiding in plain sight in the film are …
- Bo Hopkins as the fourth gang member, “Frank Jackson.” It’s a small role and he’s good, but he’s even better in his first Peckinpah flick (“The Wild Bunch”) and still better when he reunited with the director for the original “The Killer Elite” (click here for my review). He did special work in “American Graffiti” and its sequel.
- Slim Pickens in the delightful role of “Cowboy,” who helps McQueen and McGraw escape to Mexico. His voice is distinctive (turn on “Blazing Saddles” – click here for my review – and you won’t have to open your eyes to know when he’s on screen) and plays the goober here very well. Pickens also had a magnificent scene in “ Strangelove or: How I Learned to Love the Bomb.”
Peckinpah does his usual sensational work in violent scenes as McQueen and McGraw have to shoot their way out of two towns before the climactic shootout in a hotel as they are about to cross the Texas border into Mexico. McQueen is completely old school with his choice of weapons: He wields a 12-gauge pump shotgun with double-ought buckshot and an iconic Colt .45-caliber M1911 military-style automatic handgun. Plus, he knows how to use them (McGraw reportedly had to learn how to shoot for the film).
“The Getaway” was the ninth ranked film at the U.S. box office in 1972 with $36.7 million in ticket sales, according to Wiki. Since it was made on a budget of $3.3 million, it was a hit with investors, too. Of course the No. 1 film of that year was “The Godfather” with $133.6 million. It was the second film in two years starring McGraw that made more than $100 million – the other being “Love Story” in 1970. Here are the other films from 1972 that I’ve reviewed:
- “The Hot Rock” (solid Redford) – click here for my review
- “Joe Kidd” (OK Clint Eastwood) – click here for my review
- “The Mechanic” (among Bronson’s best) – click here for my review
- “The Night Stalker” (great TV vampire flick) – click here for my review
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Peckinpah originally wanted Jack Palance to play the part of “Rudy,” but the production couldn’t afford Palance’s pay scale.
- Directly from com: “The film was rated PG by the MPAA in the United States. A few years later, in retrospect, this was considered a mistake and the board believed that the film should have been rated (what was then) one step higher, an R.”
- For “The Getaway,” McGraw not only had to learn how to fire a weapon, but she also had to learn how to drive.
- “The Getaway” was nominated for a Golden Globe, but it wasn’t for acting, direction or cinematography. It was for the music of Quincy Jones, who was nominated for Best Original Score. However, Jones was not the original driving musical force. Peckinpah favorite Jerry Fielding did the first score but was replaced – at McQueen’s instance – by Jones.
- James Garner has an uncredited role as the driver of an orange Volkswagen that you can see in the getaway after the bank robbery. He was at the shoot to visit a friend and was hired to drive the car by the stunt coordinator who knew that he could handle the driving. Garner was also in HBO’s “Barbarians at the Gate” (click here for my review) and recently passed away.
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