The Getaway (1972) ****
Directed by Sam Peckinpah
This original version of The Getaway surprised me more than once, and more often than not, I like it when a film surprises me. Considering first of all that this movie was part of Filmspotting’s Classic Heist Marathon and second, that it’s titled The Getaway, I expected a fun heist followed by an entertaining chase of some kind. What I didn’t expect was this film to be off beat, sometimes even delving head first into the bizarre; however, I’ll return to the film’s oddities later.
First of all, it didn’t really sink in until the opening credits that this is a Peckinpah film. The only other film of his I’ve seen is The Wild Bunch, which is an ultra-violent, gritty Western. I challenge you at some point to watch The Wild Bunch and The Getaway back to back. You will no doubt notice how violence is presented similarly in both films. I keep forgetting that there was no PG-13 rating in the early seventies, and the ratings system back then was a little loopy, often allowing movies with nudity to receive a PG rating instead of an R rating. The Thomas Crown Affair was rated R and has virtually no real violence. The Getaway, on the other hand, was rated PG and has considerably brutal violence. Therein lies surprise number one.
Steve McQueen does a truly excellent job playing recently paroled prisoner Doc McCoy whom we learn was found guilty of robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. Though not mentioned explicitly, we are led to believe that he was caught during an attempted heist. His wife, Carol, played by the gorgeous Ali MacGraw who comes off a little too icy in her performance, seems a bit nervous during their first night back together in four years. While in prison, Doc’s lost the ability to truly trust anyone, which is initially quite helpful since he’s always got a plan B in mind in case the people he’s working with aren’t loyal. Yet, the emotional wall that Doc puts up around himself severely strains his marriage as the chase progresses.
Crooked Sheriff Bunyon, played by the great Ben Johnson, desires to use the McCoy’s to pull of a local bank heist. He insists that two of his men assist Doc in its planning and execution. One of the men, named Rudy (Al Lettieri), is as evil as evil can be, which we learn later on in the film. For the most part, the heist is a success, except for the fact that the bank guard was shot and killed in the process. That wasn’t part of the plan. Now, the stakes are raised since everyone involved is wanted for murder. This makes the getaway itself that much harder.
Almost immediately, we learn that Bunyon and his men are planning to kill Doc McCoy and take the money for themselves. Meanwhile, Rudy kills his partner, dumps the body, and heads for the agreed upon location where Doc thinks they are going to split the money. Like I said earlier, Doc’s always prepared for exactly this reason. They both draw their guns on each other, and Rudy’s the one that gets shot. The only problem is that he is wearing a bullet proof vest. He waits for them to leave, and then he begins his pursuit of the money.
McCoy’s next plan is to visit Bunyon’s ranch to deal with him personally. At this point, something happens between Doc and Carol that festers in their relationship throughout the rest of the movie. Once Bunyon is dead, the McCoy’s begin their escape from Rudy, the cops and Bunyon’s brother. At one point, the bag of money is stolen from them by a con-artist, which allows the movie to sidestep a bit by having Doc chase this con-artist up and down a train. Eventually, Doc and Carol make it to
A second surprising element of The Getaway involves a veterinarian named Harold (Jack Dodson) and his wife Fran (Sally Struthers) whom Rudy forces at gunpoint to drive to
Struthers is absolutely hilarious, and I’ve got to give her credit for the acting choices she makes. On paper, her character makes no sense at all, and as such, I wonder how she even began to figure out how to play Fran. I’m not kidding when I say that Fran is one of the most unnecessary characters I’ve ever seen in a movie. Yet, she was fun to watch. Every time Fran was on screen, I was absolutely baffled by her truly bizarre inclusion and behavior.
Finally, the third big surprise occurs right at the end of the movie. It involves a good spirited redneck willing and eager to help the outlaws, not caring that they had a gun pointed at his head when they first encountered him. The late addition of this truly strange character is meant to showcase how Doc has grown as a person and as a husband. Still, it’s a peculiar way to end the film, and out of the three surprises I’ve mentioned so far, this last one was least effective. By the way, I can probably even include a fourth surprise, albeit a minor one in comparison. For reasons I won’t get into here, Doc and Carol end up spending the night in a garbage truck, and not in the front part.
There’s some genuine tension in The Getaway, and the violent shootout works brilliantly. From my limited experience with Peckinpah films, I’m impressed with the talent he has for showing violence on screen. The Getaway works very well as a heist movie and as a chase movie. In one sense, it’s quite formulaic, though well executed. In another sense, this movie is quite wacky. Some viewers might not embrace The Getaway’s off the wall elements. I, on the other hand, found them to be refreshing and yes, surprising.