The Getaway (1972 film)
Original U.S. theatrical poster
|Directed by||Sam Peckinpah|
|Produced by||Mitchell Brower
|Written by||Walter Hill|
|Based on||The Getaway
by Jim Thompson
|Music by||Quincy Jones|
|Edited by||Robert L. Wolfe|
|Distributed by||National General Pictures (1972, original) Warner Bros (2005, DVD, and 2007, Blu-ray DVD)|
The film is based on the Jim Thompson novel of the same name, with the screenplay written by Walter Hill. The cast also features Ben Johnson, Al Lettieri, Sally Struthers, Jack Dodson, and Slim Pickens.
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.
Carter "Doc" McCoy (McQueen), in prison in Texas, is denied parole. When his wife Carol (MacGraw) visits him, he tells her to do whatever necessary to make a deal with Jack Benyon (Johnson), a corrupt businessman in San Antonio.
Benyon uses his influence and gets Doc paroled on the condition that he takes part in a bank robbery with two of his minions, Rudy (Lettieri) and Frank (Bo Hopkins). During the robbery, Frank kills a guard. Rudy attempts a doublecross, shooting Frank and drawing a gun on Doc, who beats him to the draw and shoots Rudy several times.
Doc meets with Benyon, who attempts a doublecross before Carol shoots and kills him. Doc realizes that Carol had sex with Benyon 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, having secretly worn a bulletproof vest, is alive. He forces rural veterinarian Harold (Jack Dodson) and his young wife Fran (Sally Struthers) to treat his injuries, then kidnaps them to pursue Doc and Carol.
Benyon's brother Cully (Roy Jenson) and his thugs also pursue the McCoys. At a train station, a shifty con man (Richard Bright) 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 witnesses are taken to the police station, where they identify Doc's mug shot.
Carol buys a car while Doc steals a shotgun, leading to several shoot-outs and police chases. The couple escapes by hiding in a large trash bin, only to end up in the back of a garbage truck and dumped 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 arrive at an El Paso hotel used by criminals as a safe house, aware that the McCoys will be heading to the same place.
Doc and Carol check into a room on the same floor. They ask for food to be delivered; but the manager, Laughlin (Dub Taylor), 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 and 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 walk away. Cully himself dies when the elevator he is in crashes to the bottom of the shaft. Rudy comes to his senses and follows them outside, but Doc shoots and kills him on a fire escape.
With the police en route, the couple hijack a pickup truck and force the driver, a cooperative old cowboy (Slim Pickens), to take them to Mexico. After crossing the border, Doc and Carol pay the cowboy $30,000 for his truck. Overjoyed, the cowboy heads back to El Paso on foot, while the couple continues on into Mexico.
- Steve McQueen as Carter 'Doc' McCoy
- Ali MacGraw as Carol Ainsley McCoy
- Ben Johnson as Jack Beynon
- Sally Struthers as Fran Clinton
- Al Lettieri as Rudy Butler
- Roy Jenson as Cully
- Richard Bright as The Thief (a con man)
- Jack Dodson as Harold Clinton
- Slim Pickens as a Cowboy
- Bo Hopkins as Frank Jackson
- Dub Taylor as Laughlin
Steve McQueen 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 did not want Foster in the deal. 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.
Foster looked for a director and Peter Bogdanovich came to his attention. McQueen screened Bogdanovich's soon-to-be released The Last Picture Show and loved it. They met with the director and a deal was made. However, Warner Brothers 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 was upset and told Bogdanovich that he was going to get someone else to direct The Getaway.
McQueen had recently worked with Peckinpah on Junior Bonner and enjoyed the experience. 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 filming it 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 hobos 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 and produced a treatment, with alternate scenes and episodes. Thompson's script included a borderline surrealistic ending from his novel, featuring the kingdom of El Rey, a Mexican town filled with criminals. McQueen objected to the depressing end and Thompson was replaced by screenwriter Walter Hill. Hill had been recommended by Polly Platt, wife of Peter Bogdanovich, who was then still attached to direct; Platt had been impressed by Hill's work on Hickey & Boggs. Hill says 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." Hill:
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 Peter 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 the former model to avoid being typecast in preppy roles.
Evans arranged a meeting with her, Foster, McQueen, and Peckinpah. 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. She said, "He was recently separated and free, 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 by producer Albert 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.
They began work on February 7, 1972, filming on location in multiple Texas towns, including Huntsville, San Marcos, San Antonio, Fabens, and El Paso. Peckinpah shot the opening prison scenes at the Huntsville penitentiary, with McQueen surrounded by actual convicts.
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. Throughout the filming, MacGraw visibly wore a Love bracelet (Cartier) which had been a gift from Evans.
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 long-time 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 (1967), The Wild Bunch (1969), Straw Dogs (1971), and Junior Bonner (1972). 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' music had a jazzier edge and featured harmonica solos by Toots Thielemans, with Don Elliott credited for "musical voices." Jones was nominated for a Golden Globe award for his original score.
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 (1974) and The Killer Elite (1975).
There were two preview screenings for The Getaway, a lackluster one in San Francisco and an enthusiastic one held in San Jose, California. The film was the eighth highest grossing picture of the year, making $36,734,619. It also earned $26,987,155 in worldwide rentals.
Its North American rentals for 1973 were $17,500,000.
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. When they jump on the bus after they buy the gun, I just had them take the bus out of town. Sam had the bus circle around and come back through. That heightened the tension... I thought the stuff with the veterinarian got too broad and too sadistic for the rest of the film. But again I thought it was good film. 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.
The Getaway was released to DVD by Warner Home Video on May 31, 2005 as a Region 1 widescreen DVD, with a follow-up Blu-ray release on February 27, 2007.
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- McGilligan, Patrick (June 2004). "Walter Hill: Last Man Standing". Film International. Retrieved November 28, 2007.
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- Simmons, Garner (1982). Peckinpah, A Portrait in Montage. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-76493-6.
- Terrill, Marshall (1993). Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel. Plexus. ISBN 1-55611-380-3.
- Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em! The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8.
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