The Getaway is a 1972 film directed by Sam Peckinpah starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw (the two started dating when shooting and their relationship ultimately went on for five years). McQueen plays Doc McCoy, a thief married to Carol (Ali MacGraw) who’s serving a ten year prison sentence. She manages to get him out by making a deal with a criminal named Benyon (Ben Johnson): Doc has to do one job for him, together with two other criminals named Rudy (Al Lettieri) and Frank (Bo Hopkins). Things don’t go very well and Doc is forced to make a daring getaway to Mexico with Carol.
The film is directed by Peckinpah but apparently McQueen had much more decision-making power than the director: at a certain point he replaced the screenwriter because he wasn’t happy with the ending of the story, he picked the composer of the soundtrack, and also had final cut rights!
In any case, even if the film at times shows its almost fifty years of age, for the most part it still works today. Peckinpah knew how to shoot action like few others, the editing is very tight, there are a million scenes in slow motion with shots and explosions, and Steve McQueen practically carries the whole film on his shoulders. The latter is both a blessing and a curse, I think: having such a charismatic actor as the protagonist helps, of course, but at the same time it seems to me that it was a bit of an excuse to forget giving the characters some depth. As if to say: Doc plays McQueen, so the audience instantly recognizes him as the usual tough anti-hero who doesn’t stop at anything, there’s no need to deepen his character or fill the script with useless dialogues. Well, maybe some dialogue would have been useful, since the relationship between Doc and Carol remains mysterious for most of the film and the scenes in which the two look at each other silently in the car don’t communicate much!
And what has aged badly about the film, are you wondering? Well, it’s hard to watch Steve MQueen threatening to break a child’s arm or slapping Ali MacGraw in 2020, although we shouldn’t forget that the character played by McQueen is a robber, not a poet! On the other hand, some things are surprising for how nothing has changed in fifty years, such as the ease with which you can buy a rifle in the United States simply by signing a paper!
I was surprised at how explicit the film was as much as it was allowed: it’s immediately clear that Carol has sex with Benyon to get Doc out of prison, and it’s clear that Rudy forces the veterinarian’s assistant (Sally Struthers) to oral sex, even if little or nothing is shown on screen (and then she seems to be happy to do more sexual favors to her kidnapper: she’s a quite incomprehensible character).
The film has a serious tone to the point of being almost depressive, with a high body count and a feeling of negativity that pervades everything (especially until Doc and Carol are reconciled in the landfill scene), but there’s room for a some irony in a few scenes, such as that of the drunk who asks if he must go on the truck of his mustachioed friend or the old woman who cannot lift her suitcase in the train.
But, and perhaps more important than the film itself, it seems only fair to talk about the influence that The Getaway had on subsequent action cinema. If there are films such as Heat (1995), Natural Born Killers (1994), and Baby Driver (2017) we also owe this film by Sam Peckinpah (written by Walter Hill who not surprisingly has a cameo in the movie by Edgar Wright). The Getaway contains every situation common to those more recent movies: a group of robbers who don’t know each other and don’t trust each other but must do a job for someone more powerful; the criminal who doesn’t react well to tension and kills a guard without any reason whatsoever; the couple fleeing everything and everyone, including themselves…
In short, this is an influential film which deserves to be watched (I haven’t seen the 1994 remake with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger but it’s safe to say that it’s an avoidable one since it was directed by Roger Donaldson whose curriculum doesn’t promise anything good). The Getaway has flaws, it’s (inevitably) a bit old, but it remains a cornerstone of action cinema that everyone should know to better understand the genesis of other excellent films that are maybe more popular now byt owe a lot to Steve McQueen and his getaway to Mexico. Ciao!