The Getaway (1972) / Thriller-Action

MPAA Rated: PG (most likely an R by today's standards)
Running Time: 123 min.


Cast: Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw, Al Lettieri, Ben Johnson, Sally Struthers, Slim Pickens, Jack Dodson, Richard Bright
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Screenplay: Walter Hill (based on the novel by Jim Thompson)
Review published March 11, 2007

This is the third time I've seen The Getaway (as of this writing) and with each instance, I have grown to like it more.  It's one of those films that seems edgier and fresher as time passes, not nearly as conventional as the slickly-produced heist thrillers being made today.  While contemporary thrillers thrill you with eccentric characters, comical shootouts, tongue-in-cheek attitude, and hip musical scoring, the vision here by Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, Convoy) is purely his own, with amoral representations (typical for Jim Thompson adaptations), intense violence, a bleak outlook, and a skewed plot structure that is anything but conventional.  

Steve McQueen (Bullitt, The Thomas Crown Affair) plays Carter 'Doc" McCoy, a Texas convict released only to go back into a life of crime with his wife Carol (MacGraw, Love Story), heisting banks for slimy politician/crime boss Jack Beynon (Johnson, The Last Picture Show).  Things aren't so rosy this time out, as McCoy must use a couple of Beynon's men.  Nevertheless, the heist is mostly a success, as the quartet of thieves get away with about a half million dollars in cash, Double-crosses abound, as one of Beynon's men, Rudy (Leitieri, The Godfather), aims to kill the others and keep the money for himself.  McCoy gets first draw and leaves Rudy for dead, only to have Carol nearly do him in; she opts to cap Beynon instead at the last second.  With the cops out to nail him, a surviving Rudy on his tail, and Beynon's powerful brother out to whack everyone else involved, the McCoys must try any means necessary to secure a safe passage to Mexico.

McQueen doesn't play a hero -- in fact, he is every bit a criminal  -- but it's still easy to root for him, not only because he is McQueen, but the rest of the characters are far more heinous than he is.  McCoy's just in it for the money, pure and simple, while everyone else derives a certain perverse pleasure in taking out the competition in a power play to gain the money, the power, as large of a slice of the pie as they can get away with.  MacGraw's portrayal of Carol is sympathetic but dubious, as she breaks Doc's trust by nearly killing him herself, and though we can sense her feelings for him, we aren't always sure she wants him or the money and escape he affords.  Lettieri is fantastic as the amoral Rudy, who is truly despicable to the core.  If you don't hate him for being a lying, thieving killer, you surely will once you see what he does to an innocent bystander named Harold, as he kidnaps him, forces him to cooperate and seduces his wife right in front of his very eyes.

Although it is usually billed as a drama with thriller elements, Peckinpah's film is also an excellent action vehicle, with a strong visceral style, superbly edited car chases, and a heaping helping of realistic destruction and mayhem.  You can almost feel the impact and damage that bullets can do, as they're riddled into cars, walls, doors, and people.  There are some classic scenes of harrowing immediacy, such as a scene where Doc and Carol end up in a garbage truck, continuously compacted, preventing their means of escape.  The climactic hotel shootout is brimming with intensity, and the car chases throughout are continuously exciting and never come across as gratuitous.

Despite many changes to the original story and the fight for creative control between Peckinpah and McQueen (with the latter usually winning out, most notably in the scoring and the script's ending), The Getaway has gone from cult film for fans of 70s cinema to a minor classic.  It's a must for fans of McQueen, Peckinpah, screenwriter Walter Hill (48 Hrs., Undisputed), and those interested in film versions of works by Jim Thompson (this was the first of his novels to be adapted).  It certainly also warrants a look for fans of the films of the early 1970s, especially in the action-crime genre.  It's as tense, tough, and gripping as you'd expect from a Peckinpah thriller, but just as often, surprisingly quiet and profound.

-- Remade less successfully in 1994.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo