The Getaway (1972 film)
Original US theatrical poster
|Directed by||Sam Peckinpah|
|Produced by||Mitchell Brower
|Screenplay by||Walter Hill|
|Based on||The Getaway
by Jim Thompson
|Music by||Quincy Jones|
|Edited by||Robert L. Wolfe|
|Distributed by||National General Pictures|
|Box office||$36.7 million|
The Getaway is a 1972 American neo-noir crime film directed by Sam Peckinpah. The screenplay by Walter Hill was based on the 1958 novel of the same name by Jim Thompson. Starring Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw, Ben Johnson, Al Lettieri, Sally Struthers, Jack Dodson, and Slim Pickens, the film tells the story of convicted robber Carter "Doc" McCoy (McQueen), who orders corrupt politician Jack Beynon (Johnson) a release from prison through his wife, Carol McCoy (MacGraw). In exchange, Doc masterminds a bank heist organized by Beynon. A series of double-crosses ensues, and the McCoys attempt to flee from their pursuers to Mexico. The film marks the second collaboration between McQueen and Peckinpah after Junior Bonner, also released the same year.
Jim Thompson was originally tapped by McQueen and producer David Foster to write the film adaptation of his book; he wrote the script in four months. Due to creative differences, however, McQueen replaced him with Walter Hill; he wrote the script in six weeks. Filming commenced on February 7, 1972, and was shot on location in Texas. During production, McQueen and MacGraw began an affair. Likewise, McQueen and Peckinpah would get involved in heated arguments due to the latter's increasing alcohol intake. Originally scored by longtime collaborator Jerry Fielding, Peckinpah became unimpressed with Fielding's soundtrack and he hired Quincy Jones to rescore it. Jones was then nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score for his work—the only nomination the film has received.
The Getaway was released on December 13, 1972. A box office hit earning over $36 million in the United States alone, the film was one of the most financially successful productions of Peckinpah's and McQueen's careers, notwithstanding generally negative reception from critics upon its premiere. The film was remade in 1994, with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger in the starring roles.
Carter "Doc" McCoy, in prison in Texas, is denied parole. When his wife Carol visits him, he tells her to do whatever is necessary to make a deal with Jack Beynon, a corrupt businessman in San Antonio, in order to free him. Beynon uses his influence and gets Doc paroled on the condition that he takes part in a bank robbery with two of his minions, Rudy and Frank. During the robbery, Frank kills a guard. Rudy attempts a double-cross, shooting Frank and drawing a gun on Doc, who beats him to the draw and shoots Rudy several times. Doc leaves Rudy for dead, but Rudy, having secretly worn a bulletproof vest, is alive albeit wounded.
Doc meets with Beynon, who attempts a double-cross before Carol shoots and kills him. Doc realizes that Carol had sex with Beynon to secure his release from prison. Doc angrily gathers up the money and, after a bitter quarrel, the couple flees for the border at El Paso. A bloodied Rudy forces rural veterinarian Harold and his young wife Fran to treat his injuries, then kidnaps them to pursue Doc and Carol. Beynon's brother Cully and his thugs also pursue the McCoys. At a train station, a shifty con man swaps locker keys with Carol and steals their bag of money. Doc follows him onto a train and forcefully takes it back. The injured con man and a train passenger – a young African-American boy whom Doc had rebuked earlier for deriding him – are taken to the police station, where they identify Doc's mug shot.
Carol buys a car, and the McCoys drive to an electronics store. As Doc buys a portable radio, he switches off the television set near the proprietor's desk, which telecasted the news reporting the earlier incidents they were involved in. Suddenly, all the television sets in the store show Doc's picture, prompting him to leave immediately. The proprietor, however, gets a glimpse of the picture, and calls the police. Doc steals a shotgun, leading to several shoot-outs and police chases. The couple escape by hiding in a large trash bin, only to end up in the back of a garbage truck that dumps its load at the local landfill. Filthy and frustrated, they argue about whether to stay together or split up. They decide to see things through.
Rudy's attraction to the veterinarian's wife results in the two having sex in front of her husband. Humiliated, the vet hangs himself in a motel bathroom. Rudy and Fran move on, barely acknowledging the suicide. They check into an El Paso hotel used by criminals as a safe house because Rudy knows that the McCoys will be heading to the same place. When Doc and Carol check in at the hotel, they ask for food to be delivered, but the manager, Laughlin, says he is working alone and can't leave the desk. Doc soon realizes that Laughlin sent away his family because something is about to happen. He urges Carol to dress quickly so they can escape. An armed Rudy comes to their door while Fran poses as a delivery girl who needs to be paid for the food. Peering from an adjacent doorway, Doc is surprised to see Rudy alive. He sneaks up behind Rudy, knocks him out, and does the same to the screaming Fran.
Cully and his thugs arrive as the McCoys try to leave. A violent gunfight ensues in the halls, stairwell, and elevator; and all of Cully's men are killed but one, whom Doc allows to run away. Cully himself dies when Doc shoots the cables of the elevator Cully is in and it crashes to the bottom of the shaft. Rudy comes to his senses, follows Doc and Carol outside on a fire escape, and shoots at them, but Doc returns fire and kills him. With the police on the way, the couple hijack a pickup truck and force the driver, a cooperative old cowboy, to take them to Mexico. After crossing the border, Doc and Carol pay the cowboy $30,000 ($171,800 today) for his truck. Overjoyed, the cowboy heads back to El Paso on foot, while the couple continue on into Mexico.
- Steve McQueen as Carter "Doc" McCoy
- Ali MacGraw as Carol McCoy
- Ben Johnson as Jack Beynon
- Sally Struthers as Fran Clinton
- Al Lettieri as Rudy Butler
- Slim Pickens as a Cowboy
- Richard Bright as The thief
- Jack Dodson as Harold Clinton
- Dub Taylor as Laughlin
- Bo Hopkins as Frank Jackson
- Roy Jenson as Cully
Steve McQueen – having divorced his wife Neile Adams a year ago – had been encouraging his publicist David Foster to become a film producer. His first attempt was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with McQueen starring alongside Paul Newman, but 20th Century Fox, particularly president Richard D. Zanuck, did not want Foster in the deal. Rather, Zanuck hired producer Paul Monash on account of being the studio's profit earner, resulting in McQueen's departure from the project. The project fell apart and while McQueen was making Le Mans, Foster acquired the rights to Jim Thompson's crime novel, The Getaway. Foster sent a copy of the book to McQueen, urging him to do it. The actor was looking for a "good/bad guy" role and saw these qualities in the novel's protagonist, Doc McCoy.
Foster looked for a director and Peter Bogdanovich came to his attention. In an effort to appease him further, Bogdanovich's agent, Jeff Berg, set up a special screening of his client's soon-to-be released The Last Picture Show for Foster with McQueen in attendance, and loved it. They met with the director and a deal was made. However, Warner Bros. approached Bogdanovich with an offer to direct What's Up, Doc? starring Barbra Streisand, with the stipulation that he had to start right away. The director wanted to do both, and the studio refused. When McQueen found out, he became upset and told Bogdanovich that he was going to get someone else to direct The Getaway.
McQueen had recently worked with director Sam Peckinpah on Junior Bonner, and enjoyed the experience. The film, however, proved to be an unsuccessful one in his name. "Out of all my movies" he said, "Junior Bonner did not make one cent." He recommended that Foster approach him. Peckinpah, like McQueen, was in need of a box office hit and immediately accepted. The filmmaker read the novel when it was originally published and talked to Thompson about making a film adaptation when he was starting out as a director.
At the time, Peckinpah wanted to make Emperor of the North Pole, a story set during the Depression about a brakeman obsessed with keeping homeless individuals off his train. The film's producer made a deal with Paramount Pictures' production chief Robert Evans, allowing Peckinpah to do his personal project if he first directed The Getaway. The director was soon dismissed from Emperor and told that Paramount was not making The Getaway.
A conflict arose with Paramount concerning the film's budget. Foster had 30 days to set up a new deal with another studio, or Paramount would own the exclusive rights. He was inundated with offers and accepted one from First Artists Group, because McQueen would receive no upfront salary, just 10% of the gross receipts from the first dollar taken in on the film. This would become very profitable if the film was a box-office hit.
Jim Thompson was hired by Foster and McQueen to adapt his novel. Thompson worked on the screenplay for four months, changing some of the scenes and episodes in his novel. Thompson's script included a borderline surrealistic ending from his novel, featuring El Rey, an imaginary Mexican town filled with criminals. McQueen objected to the depressing ending and Thompson was replaced by screenwriter Walter Hill. Hill had been recommended by Polly Platt, the wife of Bogdanovich, who was then still attached to direct; Platt had been impressed by Hill's work on Hickey & Boggs. Hill said Bogdanovich wanted to turn the material into a more Hitchcock type thriller, but he had only gotten 25 pages in when McQueen fired the director. Hill finished the script in six weeks, then Sam Peckinpah came on board.
Peckinpah read Hill's draft and the screenwriter remembered that he made few changes: "We made it non-period and added a little more action." On Thompson's novel, Hill said:
I didn't think you could do Thompson's novel. I thought you had to make it more of a genre film. Thompson's novel is strange and paranoid, has this fabulous ending in an imaginary city in Mexico, criminals who bought their freedom by living in this kingdom. It's a strange book. It's written in the fifties, takes place in fifties, but it is really a thirties story. I did not believe that if you faithfully adapted the novel the movie would get made, or that McQueen would get the part. There was a brutal nature to Doc McCoy that was in the book that I thought you weren't going to be able to go that far and get the movie made. I found myself in this strange position, trying to make it less violent.
When Bogdanovich was to direct, he intended to cast Cybill Shepherd, his girlfriend then, for the role of Carol. As soon as Peckinpah came on to direct, he wanted to cast Stella Stevens, with whom he had worked on The Ballad of Cable Hogue, or Angie Dickinson or Dyan Cannon as possible alternatives. Foster suggested Ali MacGraw, a much in-demand actress after the commercial success of Love Story. She was married to Robert Evans, who wanted her to avoid being typecast in preppy roles, and set her up a meeting with Foster, McQueen, and Peckinpah about the film. According to Foster, she was scared of McQueen and Peckinpah because they had reputations as "wild, two-fisted, beer guzzlers." McQueen and MacGraw experienced a strong instant attraction. "He was recently separated and free" she said, "and I was scared of my overwhelming attraction to him."
Peckinpah originally wanted actor Jack Palance to play the role of Rudy Butler but could not afford his salary. Impressed by his performance in Panic in Needle Park, Hill recommended Richard Bright. Bright had worked with McQueen 14 years before but he did not have the threatening physique that McQueen pictured for Butler because the two men were the same height. Peckinpah got along famously with Bright and cast him as the train station con man instead. Al Lettieri was brought to Peckinpah's attention for the role of Butler by producer Albert S. Ruddy, who was working with the actor on The Godfather. Like Peckinpah, Lettieri was a heavy drinker, which caused problems while filming due to his unpredictable behavior.
Filming commenced on February 7, 1972 in Huntsville, Texas. Peckinpah shot the opening prison scenes at the Huntsville Penitentiary, with McQueen surrounded by actual convicts. Other shooting locations included multiple Texas towns such as San Marcos, San Antonio, and El Paso.
McQueen and MacGraw began an affair during production. She would eventually leave her husband Evans and become McQueen's second wife. Foster was worried that their relationship would have a negative impact by causing a potential scandal.
MacGraw got her start as a model and her inexperience as an actress was evident on the set, as she struggled with the role. According to Foster, the actress and Peckinpah got along well but she was not happy with her performance: "I looked at what I had done in it, I hated my own performance. I liked the picture, but I despised my own work."
Peckinpah's intake of alcohol increased dramatically while making The Getaway, and he was fond of saying, "I can't direct when I'm sober." He and McQueen got into occasional heated arguments during filming. The director recalled one such incident: "Steve and I had been discussing some point on which we disagreed, so he picked up this bottle of champagne and threw it at me. I saw it coming and ducked. And Steve just laughed."
McQueen had a knack with props, especially the weapons he used in the film. Hill remembered, "You can see Steve's military training in his films. He was so brisk and confident in the way he handled the guns." It was McQueen's idea to have his character shoot and blow up a squad car, in the scene where Doc holds two police officers at gunpoint.
Under his contract with First Artists, McQueen had final cut on The Getaway and when Peckinpah found out, he was upset. Richard Bright said that McQueen chose takes that "made him look good" and Peckinpah felt that the actor played it safe: "He chose all these Playboy shots of himself. He's playing it safe with these pretty-boy shots."
Peckinpah's longtime composer and collaborator Jerry Fielding was hired to do the musical score for The Getaway. He had previously worked with the director on Noon Wine, The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, and Junior Bonner. After the film's second preview screening, McQueen was unhappy with the music and used his clout to hire Quincy Jones to rescore the film. Jones's music had a jazzier edge and featured harmonica solos by Toots Thielemans, with additional vocal work by his longtime associate, Don Elliott. Peckinpah was unhappy with this action and took out a full-page ad in Daily Variety on November 17, 1972, including a letter he had written to Fielding thanking him for his work. Fielding would work with Peckinpah on two more films, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and The Killer Elite. Jones was nominated for a Golden Globe award for his original score.
There were two preview screenings for The Getaway: a lackluster one in San Francisco, and an enthusiastic one held in San Jose, California. In the second week of January 1973, the film grossed an estimated amount of $874,000 in thirty-nine locations in the United States, during which time it also peaked Variety's box-office chart. About a year later, it grossed $18,943,592, and went on to become the second highest grossing film of the year. Its North American rentals for 1973 were $17,500,000. The film grossed $36,734,619 in the US alone.
Walter Hill later recalled:
I thought of the films I wrote, I thought it was far and away the best one, and most interesting. I thought Sam did a few things while shooting that were terrific. [...] It was not reviewed very well, but a huge hit. Biggest hit Sam ever had. [...] He would always say we did this one for the money which is one of those kind of half truths... He was well paid and the movie made a lot of money and the fact it was about the only film where his points meant anything; he took a fair amount of money out, too. After all the disappointment and heartbreak of all these films he had never gotten any reward or been well paid, meant a lot to him.
During its premiere, The Getaway got a negative reception from critics. Vincent Canby of The New York Times described the film as "aimless". Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times complained that the story was contrived, calling it "a big, glossy, impersonal mechanical toy." Ebert rated it two stars out of four. Pauline Kael, writing for The New Yorker, felt that the on-screen relationship between McQueen and MacGraw wanting, the latter whom she referred to, in hindsight, as much worse an actress than Candice Bergen. In addition, Kael said in Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, a biographical book authored by Brian Kellow, that the film is "long and dull", and "has no reverberations except of other movies, mostly by Peckinpah." Jay Cocks, writing for Time magazine, felt that Peckinpah "was pushing his privileges too far," but ultimately saying that the film is "a work of a competent craftsman." Kathleen Carroll of the New York Daily News denounced the film for being "too violent and vulgar." Carroll also cited a scene whereby the McCoys wind up in the garbage dump, and declared that it is, "the very place for [the] film.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, gives the film an 85% approval rating based on 20 surveyed critics, with an average of 7/10. Much of the praise is directed to the film's plot, citing its action sequences and ruthless characters. The film remained a modern-day classic as judged by some contemporary reviewers. Dennis Schwartz of Ozus' World Movie Reviews gave a "B" grade, praising most of the film's action sequences and, as a whole, called it "a gripping thriller ... filmed in Peckinpah's excessive action-packed violent and amoral style." Adam Tyner, writing for DVD Talk, referred to it as "a crowd pleaser" since its release, as well as "more carefully crafted than most action-dramas." Eric Vespe, writing for Ain't It Cool News under the username "quint", reacted positively, complimenting it as: "sexy, funny, violent, exciting, fun and strangely experimental." Casey Broadwater, writing for Blu-Ray.com, opined that the film is, "an effective thriller that plays with and against some of [Peckinpah]'s well-noted stylistic trademarks" and, "a well-constructed, lovers on the run-style heist flick."
Warner Home Video released a two disc DVD version of The Getaway on November 19, 1997. The film was again released on DVD in "The Essential Steve McQueen Collection" seven disc box set on May 31, 2005, followed by an HD DVD and Blu-ray version on February 27, 2007, also by Warner Home Video.
A remake of the film was released on February 11, 1994, directed by Roger Donaldson, and co-produced and co-written by the original's David Foster and Walter Hill, respectively. It features Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger in the leading roles, and Michael Madsen, James Woods, David Morse, and Jennifer Tilly in the supporting roles. Owing largely to its bland and equally contrived retreading of the original, the film received mostly negative reception from critics. Accordingly, Baldwin referred to the film as a "bomb".
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In '93, I did the remake of The Getaway, with my wife [Basinger]. That was a bomb.
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