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The Getaway

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Getaway

Starring: Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Rated: PG
RunTime: 122 Minutes
Release Date: December 1972
Genres: Classic, Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Ben Johnson, Sally Struthers, Al Lettieri, Slim Pickens, Dub Taylor, Bo Hopkins

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

True measurement of someone's greatness can often be seen in the palpability of his or her absence. Stars of Hollywood aren't exception to that. When we talk of Hollywood giants we usually think of actors and actresses who aren't here any more and whose greatness often comes from comparison with their present-day successors. In the realm of action stars, one of those giants is Steve McQueen, man who didn't have spectacular thespian talents but who nevertheless managed to leave huge impact on Hollywood history in 1960s and 1970s by playing many memorable roles in equally memorable films. One of such examples is THE GETAWAY, 1972 action film directed by Sam Peckinpah.

The plot of the film is based on the novel by famous pulp fiction writer Jim Thompson (and later adapted to the screen by Walter Hill). Protagonist is Carter "Doc" McCoy (played by Steve McQueen), bank robber who is serving long prison sentence in infamous Huntsville penitentiary in Texas. In order to get an early parole, "Doc" agrees to make a deal with corrupt local politician Jack Benyon (played by Ben Johnson). Benyon uses his influence to secure early release for "Doc" who must, in exchange, set up a bank robbery in order to cover some of Benyon's associates and their less than honest banking practices. "Doc", unaware that the price of freedom included Benyon having sex with his wife Carol (played by Ali McGraw), meticulously plans the robbery. During the execution, Frank Jackson (played by Bo Hopkins), one of his helpers hired by Benyon, turns out to be trigger-happy and near-perfect robbery turns into bloody mess. After evading police "Doc" barely survives encounter with another of his new partners, Rudy Butler (played by Al Lettieri), who is apparently hired by Benyon to silence "Doc" as a dangerous witness to the whole scheme. "Doc" and Carol are left with some 500.000 US$ of loot, but they know that they would have to run not only from police but also from Benyon's goons before they are able to reach safety of Mexico.

THE GETAWAY looks surprisingly good for a film that was disowned by its director. During the production Peckinpah and McQueen had more than serious creative differences with the actor having the upper hand, receiving the backing of studio heads and making sure that the final cut would be his and not Peckinpah's. Because of that, many of those who think of Peckinpah as a great director often have a low opinion of THE GETAWAY. This opinion is unjustified because Peckinpah's talent nevertheless managed to survive McQueen's intervention. Perhaps this film is bellow the highest standards of Peckinpah, but it looks like a masterpiece compared with the most of action films made today. The reason for that could be found in the realism that is present throughout the film - in authentic Texan locations, characters and motivations that resonate with people we might meet on the street, and in the action that is spectacular yet not beyond the realms of real life. From the first haunting shots that show the depressive monotony of incarceration, the audience is thrown to the world that doesn't look like a Hollywood fantasy. In this world heroes are often damaged or morally questionable, marriages aren't the fairytales in which people live happily ever after, and the crime is often in the form of petty thefts or small-time cons. Peckinpah nevertheless manages to turn this simple and prosaic reality into something truly exciting. One of the finest examples is the scene in a train, which uses rather simple yet unexpected plot development to create suspense of Hitchockian proportions.

Perhaps because of this Steve McQueen was one of the actors best suited for the role of protagonist. McQueen, who had built his reputation by playing tough and seemingly emotionless heroes, established the ideal balance between machismo and vulnerability in the role of "Doc". The audience can sympathise with him (and this is very important, because he happens to be a criminal) because he is a hero with flaws, sometimes even insecure in his manhood (which may reflect in the way he treats his wife). McQueen's minimalist but nevertheless powerful play is well matched by the actor who had played his seemingly indestructible adversary. Al Lettieri is excellent as ruthless killer whose evil can prove to be seductive to people around him. Lettieri also had a good chemistry with Sally Struthers in a subplot that brings some humour to otherwise grim plot. Unfortunately, McQueen doesn't have a good chemistry with Ali McGraw who was obviously miscast as his wife; this is quite surprising, considering that two of them were romantically involved in real life during the production. This was, however, compensated with a small but very effective group of character actors. Among them the most memorable is Slim Pickens whose humorous appearance in the end represents perfect conclusion to the film.

THE GETAWAY was recently, like many other great films from 1960s and early 1970s, remade. And, like in almost any of such occasions, the results were less than satisfactory, to say the least and the reputation of THE GETAWAY suffered in the process. However, whether THE GETAWAY is worse film than it should have been or not, it is still a very good piece of cinema that might still entertain those viewers who are thirsty for the well-written stories and characters that doesn't seem to be with us any more.

Copyright 2001 Dragan Antulov

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