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Master thief Doc McCoy knows his wife has been in bed with the local political boss in order to spring him from jail. What he can't know is the sinister succession of double-crosses that will sour the deal once he's on the outside - and executing the ultimate robbery. Fasten your seat belts and join Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw in a supreme action thriller based on Jim Thompson's novel. Sam Peckinpah directed, filming on locations across Texas and in sequence - from the opening inside Hunstville State Prison to the explosive El Paso border climax. Once The Getaway starts, there's no escaping its breathless intensity.
For more about The Getaway and the The Getaway Blu-ray release, see the The Getaway Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on July 23, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw, Ben Johnson, Sally Struthers, Al Lettieri, Slim Pickens (I)
Director: Sam Peckinpah
» See full cast & crew
The Getaway Blu-ray Review
"You wanna see what I trust? In God I Trust, it's the words on the back of every bill."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, July 23, 2009
Between Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, Wild at Heart, and The Getaway—along with a score of others, both memorable and lost to time—Hollywood has made a genre out of lovers on the lam from the law. Part road movie, part romance, and part crime caper, these films present love as a literal and figurative journey, fraught with physical and emotional dangers. Director Sam Peckinpah, master of the deviant Western, turned his attentions to one such story at a time when his career desperately needed a box-office hit. The result was The Getaway, a film that seems glossier and less artistically tempered than his other works, but is nevertheless an effective thriller that plays with and against some of the director's well-noted stylistic trademarks. The movie also launched the real-life romance of its stars, Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, and the media buzz surrounding their behind-the-scenes affair hyped the film for audiences and gave the two lovebirds temporary claim to the title of Hollywood's couple de jour.
Based on a novel by Jim Thompson, The Getaway opens with Carter "Doc" McCoy (Steve McQueen) toiling through the mundane routines of prison life. After being denied parole, his wife Carol (Ali McGraw) strikes a deal with crime boss Jack Beynon (Ben Johnson), who agrees to use his considerable political heft to get Doc out of jail. In exchange, Doc must organize and carry out a bank robbery with the help of Benyon's henchmen, Rudy (Al Lettieri) and Frank (Bo Hopkins). However, the two cronies prove to be a little too trigger happy, the heist goes sour, and Doc barely makes it out with $500,000 in cash. After a series of doubled crosses and stabbed backs, Doc and Carol strike out toward Mexico with the money, pursued by cops, a con artist, Beynon's clean-up crew, and the villainous Rudy, who turns out to be a complete psychopath. Along the way, they must confront their own jealousies and mistrusts, and salvage what's left of their trashed relationship.
No, it's not the most original story, and yes, it moves quite slow compared to the all-payoff/no- buildup plots of today's thrillers, but The Getaway has two things going for it—the direction, clever cutting, and thematic subtlety of Sam Peckinpah, and Steve McQueen's steely and incomparable coolness. Peckinpah treats the film's violence with his usual, unflinching candor. Shotgun blasts rip holes in the bellies of unlucky thugs, squibs erupt with bright red flashes of blood, and at one point Steve McQueen socks a screaming woman strait in the teeth. The director has faced numerous charges of misogyny due to the treatment of women in his films, and I'll agree there's a case for that. He's no Lars Von Trier, but Peckinpah certainly puts his female characters through the physical and psychological ringer. Sally Struthers has a bit part as a dumb-as-dirt bimbo who basically exists to serve Rudy's animalistic whims. "You, get a cloth. You're going to wash me," says Rudy at one point, lending the scene a vague and seedy unease. Ali McGraw also plays a largely subservient role in The Getway, basically serving as McQueen's driver, and when Doc finds out that Carol slept with Beynon to sweeten the prison- release deal, Carol catches the brunt end of Doc's fists. It's a troubling scene, and for the majority of the film, the two characters seem mutually disgusted with one another. Their few moments of tenderness are nearly always interrupted by the looming threat of violence, and Peckinpah overturns genre expectations by never granting us audience to their passions.
The relationship doesn't exactly smolder onscreen, though you'd think it would since McGraw's acting is as dry and wooden as kindling and McQueen is basically the hottest thing since fire. While she's easily the movie's weakest link, he grounds the film with his characteristic physicality. You could make the argument that McQueen was never a great actor per se—he's a very reserved performer—but you can't deny that he has presence and charisma in spades. The way he carries himself, or simply the way he manhandles a firearm, speaks more about his character than emoting ever could.
In many ways, The Getaway seems like a 1970's precursor to No Country for Old Men. The surface similarities are certainly uncanny. Both involve a satchel full of money, a criminal organization that wants the cash back, hotel shoot-outs on the Texas/Mexico border, and a swarthy villain with unusual methods. While he doesn't have the cold-blooded bluntness of Anton Chigurh's fatalistic reasoning, Al Lettieri's Rudy is a memorable baddie that Peckinpah paints as almost sub-human. When he commands a veterinarian and his wife at gunpoint to drive him to El Paso, we see him in the caged backseat of the car, gnawing on ribs—literally chewing on bones—and then suddenly erupting into a fit of irrational rage. While The Getaway may not be as philosophically pointed as Cormac McCarthy and the Coen brother's latter-day classic, and though it's one of Peckinpah's lesser films, it's still a well-constructed, lovers on the run-style heist flick that gives Steve McQueen plenty of opportunities to look impossibly cool while squinting into the sun and holding a pump-action shotgun.
The Getaway Blu-ray, Video Quality
Released on Blu-ray day-and-date with McQueen's Bullitt, and I found The Getaway's 1080p, VC-1 encoded transfer to be the cleaner, more vibrant, and better detailed of the two. The title shows its age with the occasional smattering of specks and dust on the print, but looks otherwise stunning in the upgrade to HD. Look at the scene when Doc and Carol go to the park—the greens of the foliage are vibrant, skin tones looks warm and healthy, if a little reddish, and black levels are deep enough to give the image some pop but not so crushed as to ink out the fine details on McQueen's dark suit. Sure, there are a handful of little PQ issues—the occasional washed out shots, a few instances of contrast wavering, and an overall image that's a bit soft by today's standards—but The Getaway looks great for 37 year-old catalog title. There are only two shots that stand out as particularly awful—both of trains going by—and they're so grainy and wobbly that I'm convinced they must be either archival footage or film shot by a second-unit that was both pressed for time and running out of light. These are less than one second shots though, and the film as a whole is quite nice in 1080p.
The Getaway Blu-ray, Audio Quality
While The Getaway looks great, its monaural Dolby Digital 1.0 track sounds unfortunately less than stunning. It's not a bad mono mix—I've heard far, far worse—but the track simply doesn't have the dynamic oomph to back-up the action onscreen. High-end sounds—like the prison factory's repetitive noises—are brash and tinny, and without a .1 LFE channel, bass is rendered thin and inert. Sound effects suffer frequently from a canned and compressed hollowness, particularly screeching tires, and gunshots are never as explosive as they ought to be. Still, dialogue is broadcast cleanly through the center channel, and Quincy Jones' harmonica-led shuffles sound sprightly, even if they could use some added dimensionality and heft.
The Getaway Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Commentary by Nick Redman and Authors Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle
This spectacular commentary track is hosted by Nick Redman, who fields question after question to a panel of veritable Peckinpah experts. The three writers provide critical dissection for just about every scene in The Getaway, illuminating the director's intent and personal experiences making the film, noting the tricks of the cinematic trade, and providing some extremely insightful thematic discussion. Peckinpah buffs will learn loads, and even casual viewers will find this track lively and full of relevant information.
Main Title 1M1: Jerry Fielding, Sam Peckinpah and The Getaway (SD, 29:56)
A reminiscence of the working relationship between Peckinpah and composer Jerry Fielding, this half hour documentary features interviews with Fielding's wife and daughter, and Peckinpah's former assistant. While all three women have some funny and sometimes insightful stories about the volatile relationship that the director and composer had, this feature runs a little long and gets boring far before they even begin to discuss The Getaway. It doesn't help that the feature looks like it was shot on consumer-grade SD camcorders.
1972 Reel 1 - "Virtual" Audio Commentary (SD, 10:36)
Using audio from a variety of interviews with Sam Peckinpah, Steve McQueen, and Ali McGraw, this is a cobbled-together "virtual" commentary of the film's first ten minutes. While it's a nice inclusion—I really can't get enough McQueen and Peckinpah—the discussion is interesting enough that I was a let down when it ended so soon.
The Bank Robbery Sequence with Jerry Fielding Score (SD, 9:19)
This allows you to view the robbery sequence with Jerry Fielding's original score, and with full dialogue and effects. The track is more traditionally symphonic, and I have to say I'm glad they went with Quincy Jones' funkier sound.
Jerry Fielding Alternate Score
This lets you watch the entire film with Fielding's score, which was replaced at the last minute by music from Quincy Jones, at Steve McQueen's behest. Do note that this is just the score and the visuals—no dialogue or sound effects have been added.
Trailers (SD, 16:02 total)
Includes trailers for The Getaway, Ride the High Country, The Wild Bunch, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
The Getaway Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As far as Steve McQueen vehicles go, The Getaway is, in my opinion at least, a far better film than the flashy but sometimes incoherent Bullitt. The action is edited well, the story is intelligible and interesting, and the performances—with the minor exception of Ali McGraw's—are tight and memorable. The film looks great on Blu-ray, and though its 1.0 audio offering is a little weak, I have no problem recommending The Getaway to McQueen and Peckinpah fans— who have probably snapped this one up already—and to anyone interested in 1970's cinema in general.
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