Sam Peckinpah made action cool.
When he arrived on the scene in the mid-'60s, audiences were stunned: They'd never seen action sequences pulled off with such tenacity and gritty realism. He couldn't have made films any other way, the man was as rough and tumble, as gritty and violent as the characters in his films. Peckinpah wasn't a show-boater either, and the films that constitute his legacy remain daring and fresh to this day. Even if you've never seen one of Peckinpah's films, you've seen his influence in every action picture made since he blew into Hollywood. His mark on American cinema is like the mark of Cain, perpetual and notorious.
Made in 1972, The Getaway was Peckinpah's biggest, most commercial film. His subsequent movies (with the exception of Cross of Iron) were either exceedingly grim (Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia), or unclassifiable (Convoy). While he was drafted by Hollywood to bring a fresh voice to mainstream cinema, he learned the hard way that playing by the rules can be as vicious and painful as fighting against them. The Getaway suffers because Peckinpah gave in, and while it has touches of ragged, wild violence, it's also mechanically plodding and dissonantly sentimental.
Convict Doc McCoy's (Steve McQueen) wife, Carol (Ali MacGraw), has made a deal with a corrupt Texas politician. The deal secures Doc's early release in exchange for half the loot from a bank robbery Doc has been planning. Of course things don't end up the way they were intended, and Doc and Carol wind up running from both rival crooks and the cops. The plot barrels along from one contrivance to another until the whole thing sputters to an unimpressive close.
Peckinpah packs the film with avant garde editing techniques and his trademark slo-mo shootouts, and McQueen balances out MacGraw's frigid performance. The action sequences are well constructed and executed, though those looking for the barrages of ferocity in The Wild Bunch will be disappointed. The film's keenest assets are cinematographer Lucian Ballard's beautiful long shots and actor Al Lettieri's blistering performance as Rudy. His scenes with Sally Struthers (as Fran) are both engagingly funny and frighteningly unhinged. He's got a face that was made for cinema and his early death (of a heart attack) robbed the screen of one of its best character actors.
But The Getaway is simply too contrived to be taken seriously. Walter Hill's script is good, but it's not the right vehicle for Peckinpah. There are twists and counter twists, car chases and explosions, but it's not enough for Peckinpah to really get his hands dirty. And Peckinpah needed to get his hands dirty to make a good picture.
While The Getaway was a major commercial success, following the critical success of the box office dud Junior Bonner, it's not a Peckinpah film as critics have come to recognize one. Today, critics consider Peckinpah's most divisive and controversial films, Straw Dogs and Alfredo Garcia, as his best. When compared to Peckinpah's artistic successes, The Getaway looks like a routine, bulk-produced crowd pleaser.
The new DVD adds commentary from Peckinpah scholars and an odd "virtual" commentary from McQeen, MacGraw, and Peckinpah, too!
He ain't getting away.
Run time: 122 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 13th December 1972
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Fresh: 17 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Screenwriter: Walter Hill
Starring: Robert Sterling as Jeff Crane, Charles Winninger as Doctor Josiah Glass, Donna Reed as Maria Theresa 'Terry' O'Reilly, Henry O'Neill as Warden Alcott, Donald Douglas as James 'Jim' Duff (as Don Douglas), Ernest Whitman as Moose Jones, Grant Withers as Rufe Parker, a Gangster, Chester Gan as Sam, Black's Butler, Charles Wagenheim as Hutch / Hoodlum in Montage, Guy Kingsford as George, Matty Fain as Bryan, a Gangster
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