Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Getaway (1972)

          Beloved by many action-movie fans for its intense mixture of double-crosses, sexual intrigue, and violent showdowns, The Getaway was a significant box-office hit for director Sam Peckinpah and star Steve McQueen, both of whom were at commercial crossroads after indulging themselves with financially unsuccessful passion projects. The Getaway is not, however, among the best movies either man made. Convoluted, sleazy, and sluggish, the picture has a few memorable moments, but events on the periphery of the main storyline often distract from the principal narrative.
          McQueen plays “Doc” McCoy, a career criminal whom we meet while he’s imprisoned. Realizing he’s unlikely to earn parole, Doc asks his wife, Carol (Ali MacGraw), to contact Jack Benyon (Ben Johnson), a businessman/criminal with political connections. Benyon gets Doc released in exchange for Doc’s promise to pull an elaborate job. Predictably, the minute Doc performs the crime, Doc and Carol realize they’ve been set up, so the bulk of the film comprises their attempts to escape Benyon’s ruthless minions and exact revenge.
          Peckinpah stages action in his usual style, blending frenetic cuts with lyrical slow-motion interludes, so scenes of guns-a-blazin’ mayhem have power; furthermore, screenwriter Walter Hill, adapting a novel by crime-fiction legend Jim Thompson, keeps things terse. Yet it’s hard to settle into the rhythms of the movie, partially because the lead characters are awful people—when Doc finds out Carol slept with Benyon to expedite Doc’s release, for instance, Doc slugs her—and partially because Peckinpah gets distracted by nonsense. In particular, the director wastes a lot of screen time on a subplot in which one of Benyon’s goons, Rudy (Al Lettieri), kidnaps a veterinarian and his wife, then seduces the wife in full view of the veterinarian, thereby deriving erotic glee from humiliating a nobody. (The wife is played by Sally Struthers, of All in the Family fame, in a screechy performance.)
          Perhaps the moment that best captures the excess of The Getaway is the bit during which Doc and Carol are dumped out of the back of a garbage truck—Peckinpah lingers on the image of two glamorous stars surrounded by junk as if it’s the height of cinematic irony. Were the entire movie not suffused with sludge, literally and metaphorically, this dramatic moment might have meant more; as is, it’s just one more unpleasant scene in a disposable movie. The Getaway was remade in 1994 with then-married stars Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger taking over the leading roles, but even with steamy sex scenes and a vivacious supporting performance by James Woods (as Benyon), the 1994 picture is no more a classic than the Peckinpah film.

The Getaway: FUNKY


Tommy Ross said...

Hmmm, I would probably say at least "groovy" for this, but I must admit I'm a sucker for bank robbery movies in general. Somehow it all works, but just barely, probably because it's Peckinpah. I also like the on-screen chemistry of McQueen & McGraw in this.

Anonymous said...

While your reviews are pretty perceptive, I don't think you quite grasp the significance of the Lettieri/Struthers/Dodson subplot. This story line is basically a projection of Doc's insecurity, about his masculinity in general, and Carol's infidelity with Benyon in particular.

While Peckinpah's films almost always feature or center upon violent men, his work is at its most captivating when it explores the insecurities and vulnerabilities that drive those men to violence. While Straw Dogs is maybe the most obvious example of this theme, it also runs through the entire film. Which is what makes McQueen, basically the epitome of American Male Machismo at the time, such a great choice for the role. As in, you literally have a scene of McQueen having a hard time making love to Ali McGraw.