Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Getaway

The Getaway (1972) might be director Sam Peckinpah's most straightforward and commercial-sounding movie - a married fugitive couple on the run - but don't think Peckinpah's selling out. Quite the contrary, it's really, really good, possibly his leanest, most efficient work, and filled with his trademark style.

The fugitive couple in question is played by Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw. How can we tell she's not as completely disposable as some of the other women in other Peckinpah movies? She has to drive McQueen around because his license has expired.

McQueen and MacGraw play the McCoys, Doc and Carol (My God, these "Mc/Mac" names are a nightmare to keep track of!). In a script by Walter Hill based off the novel by Jim Thompson, the movie follows them after Doc gets out of prison, the pair plan and participate in a bank heist that goes terribly wrong, and they flee to Mexico with all sorts of loons and scumbags in pursuit, not to mention dealing with the occasional civilian who recognizes them as criminals.

It's a meat-and-potatoes story, but it is well served by Peckinpah's direction, Hill's characterization, and the performances of the cast. The film opens with a mostly wordless sequence of Doc in prison, and in a fluid, visual montage that captures the boredom and soul-crushing routine of life inside, we understand why Doc tells Carol to do whatever she can to get him out.

No, of course he won't regret telling her to do that and then blame her when he finds out exactly what she did because it impedes on his sense of manhood.

There are a number of standout sequences: the bank robbery and its meticulous planning and timing, the cat-and-mouse chase between Doc and a sleazebag cowboy who steals the money bag from a train station locker, a nighttime car chase at a burger joint that ensues when the waitresses realizes she's serving the McCoys, an evasion from police that ends with our leads in the back of a garbage truck, and the final showdown in a motel.

Peckinpah's great strength is to show rather than tell. While there's no absence of dialogue (in fact, there's a few good lines), he relies on imagery and action to tell his story without getting bogged down with over-explaining everything and leading the viewer by the hand. He and Hill both favor characters who take action rather than talk.

The cast is great. Nobody does laconic cool like McQueen; no one else could say so much while doing so little. MacGraw is the perfect foil, more open and emotional but willing to call him out on his stubborn nonsense. For a couple of lowlifes, they make for a sympathetic couple, and we root for them.

It helps that the rest of the performers play characters who are even worse. Ben Johnson is the corrupt businessmen who peddles his influence to get Doc out of prison and expects favors in return, Al Lettieri is a backstabbing accomplice in the robbery, and Sally Struthers is a hostage whom Lettieri takes in his pursuit of the McCoys but who quickly hops in the sack with him (they even tie up her husband to make him watch).

In fact, the only truly decent person in the movie is the appropriately credited Cowboy, played by Slim Pickens (aiding and abetting fugitives aside), providing further evidence that Pickens could remain jovial and good natured under any circumstances.

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