Monday, July 18, 2005

Get It Away From Me: The Getaway (1972)

The Siren has stumbled into a week of posts about movies she didn't care for that much, though she wouldn't call The Getaway bad. Here a bloody bank heist gets pulled off by the Cooler King, oops I mean Doc McCoy, played by Steve McQueen.

Some critics call Doc amoral. Poppycock. No matter what the movie, McQueen always has a code of ethics. Here, under the direction of Sam Peckinpah, McQueen seeks to avoid killing bank guards. He wants everyone to wear the proper safety equipment during a robbery. He behaves magnanimously toward annoying children. He will pay big for a favor (within certain limits).

The Getaway opens with a brilliant sequence on Doc's humiliating stint in prison. It isn't equalled until later, when McQueen stalks a crowded train tailing a con man who walked away with the loot from the bank. Otherwise, it's mostly bank-robber stuff like watching the guards through binoculars and the Big Pre-Heist Meeting in Some Kind of Cellar. There are lots of things exploding, odd since logic suggests an ideal getaway would be quiet. Late in the movie you get a two-people-trapped-in-a-trash-compactor scene that surely must have suggested something to George Lucas for Star Wars.

After seeing Ali MacGraw in two of her big pictures, Love Story and this one, I don't think she deserves her reputation as an all-time bad actress. She isn't nearly as bad, for example, as Daryl Hannah was on a regular basis. She's hampered by a thin, teenagerish voice that clashes with her beauty (Penelope Cruz has the same problem) but Ali is adequate to the demands this script makes on her, which are look sexy, look nervous, shut up. I suspect Peckinpah and screenwriter Walter Hill considered this pretty much all you could expect from a broad anyway.

The Getaway is an action movie; I wasn't expecting Adam's Rib. I wasn't prepared, however, for this film's devotion to what Louise Brooks called "the beloved proposition that all women are whores anyway." There's Ali, who sleeps with a repulsive Ben Johnson to get her man out of jail and gets slapped around by McQueen for her pains. After that, she threatens to split, but never does. Treat 'em mean and keep 'em keen. Will someone put that cliche out of its misery?

And any reviewer who calls this movie "gritty" or "realistic" has to be either ignoring Sally Struthers' character or harboring a bit of a grudge against women himself. Sally and her veterinarian husband are taken hostage by McQueen's wounded, double-crossing robbery accomplice (Al Lettieri). By the very next scene the wife decides she wants a piece of that big, big gun. Struthers isn't bad, exactly, but what could any actress do with this role? Getting it on with Lettieri lets the wife's nymphomaniac inner self come screeching out. What she really wanted to do instead of nursing animals was to have sex with a criminal while her husband, bound to a chair, looks on. Would even Caril Ann Fugate find this believable?

By the end, despite her admiration for the film's stylishness, energy and suspense, the Siren had a headache. Rampaging misogyny does that to her.


Victoria said...

Isn't there another, more recent version, of this film? I thought that it sounded familiar, but I definitely do not remember it being from the 70s.

Campaspe said...

Yes, it was remade in 1994 with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. Jennifer Tilly (lucky her) got the Struthers part. Did you see that version? I haven't seen it and can't imagine when I would, unless I was maybe snowed in and that was the only DVD available within a five-mile walking radius.

Victoria said...

Yes, I have. I really do not recommend it. It is much worse than 1972 version in terms of very issues that annoyed you.

Campaspe said...

Yeah, this version has some excellent moments, and McQueen deserves his reputation as a great action star. But the women ... good grief, it was 1972, people. To make that aspect even worse in 1994 is truly depressing.