THE GETAWAY. Director Sam Peckinpah. Stars: Ali McGraw, Steve McQueen, Slim Pickins. Music: Quincy Jones. Distributor: Cinerama Releasing (UK), for National General Pictures.

Sam Peckinpah, in company with Bob Rafelson and John Schlesinger, is one of the three greatest living film directors. His films have consistently managed to create a highly original style, a style which not only has won him critical acclaim, but constantly brought the movie going public to the cinemas in force. This so called style emerged significantly in the “Wild Bunch” and is contained in what I would call his fascist romanticism, that is an unyielding love for the traditional violent all male Americans, while ceasing to really believe in it. His love of and appreciation of how much part of man’s inner-self bloody violence is, led to his instigation of the now legendary slow motion shots of men bloodily dying

Peckinpah has undoubtedly been far more responsible than Kubrick for shocking us into a realisation of how much we love violence, and how close to the top of our minds it lurks. His characters are usually tough, uncomplicated, but above all, likeable. The exception was in “Straw Dogs”, where Dustin Hoffman played an exceeedingly unlikeable American college professor, delivering what Peckinpah would consider to be the ultimate left wing affront, that of taking over a kind of patronising squire’s role in a small Cornish fishing village, where he rents a cottage and treats the bored locals with an ugly disdain, at which they justifiably, in the Peckinpah moral code book, violently retaliate in a fashion which makes “Straw Dogs” his most controversial film.

Having made a point, his two most recent movies have seen a mellowing in the images. His last film “Junior Bonner” was an evocative, sensitive observation of traditional values in America, seen through the eyes of an ageing rodeo star, Steve McQueen, whose ability to turn out brilliant performances for Peckinpah is nothing short of miraculous, considering most of his earlier work.

Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw shoot their way out.

In “The Getaway”, again at his brilliant best, accompanied by Ali McGraw as his wife, McQueen plays a crook who is bailed out of jail by a local lawyer, on the condition that he organises and carries out a daring bank robbery. But the film starts out as a slow, very atmospheric character study of yer actual crook, and there is a beautiful scene, as just after being released, he stands outside the prison in front of a long flat skyline, accompanied by those almost eerie sounds one only seems to hear in America, fascinating sounds so familiar to anyone who’s ever been there. The raid is excitingly staged and is followed by a superb non-cliched car chase and by inter-gang arguments, during which McQueen shoots the leader and one of his accomplices. The rest of the film is then grippingly concerned with McQueen and McGraw’s attempts to flee the pursuing gang and escape over the border into Mexico. But this is much more than just an exciting chase movie. It is really a kind of American travelogue of excess. The story is incidental to the images, like McQueen and McGraw dodging their pursuers at one stage on to an interminable city dump, with its mounds of trash stretching into oblivion; the acute observance of Texas as the two flee partly by train, the ultimate USA symbol of decayed splendour.

For the first time in a Peckinpah movie there’s a strong element of sarcastic humour. He has learned to gently mock his own ideas, so that when Slim Pickins, the ultimate delight of the film, is reached, we are being simultaneously amused, excited and being persuaded as to the moral justness of it all. Pickins plays a clapped out garbage truck driver who much to his delight is hijacked with his van to carry our heroes and their money on the last stage of their journey over the border. He doesn’t mind them being gangsters, but are they married? Well, they are, and safely over the border he sells them his van for more money than he normally earns in ten years.

It’s all so much fun. I just can’t wait to see it again.

Another American Dream

19720914-10JUNIOR BONNER starring Steve McQueen, Ida Lupino, Robert Preston. An ABC Pictures production filmed in colour and TODD-AO, and directed by Sam Peckinpah. Released by Cinerama Releasing (UK) Ltd.

Peckinpah is desperate about the disappearance of the old pioneering America, the rough, wild, dangerous way of living. He’s an artistic, romantic, reactionary who doesn’t fit into the new style frozen fish colour TV style of life. Nor do a lot of us, but in this glorification of the past, he tends to forget about the traumas of pioneering, like poverty, illness, etc. Junior Bonner (Steve McQueen) who in 1972 is gradually ageing, fading just like the travelling rodeo circuit he’s on. After all who wants to see a man risking his life riding bareback on a rampaging bull when the ‘Lucy Show’ is on the colour telly.

The rodeo circuit brings Jr. back to his home town of Prescott, Arizona, where his first sight is the family ranch being bulldozed into a gravel pit. He looks on shocked and stupefied, and Peckinpah’s brilliant direction makes the bulldozers and earth movers look like monsters out of a King Kong film. Jr’s mum (Ida Lupino) seems fairly resigned to her son and husband (Robert Preston) refusing to conform, but approves of her other son, Curly, who is in the tourist trade and making money. Dad, known as Ace Bonner, is 60 and still involved with rodeos. He’s an eccentric womaniser, who wants to go to Australia to mine for gold, as there’s nothing left to pioneer in America, and one can’t help feeling he is Peckinpah transferred to the screen.

Curly, who’s respectably married, wants Jr to join him in ripping off tourists in his Arizona history museum. His wife, as she serves her two kids with yet another bottle of cyclamate filled Coke, comes out with comments like – “Once you’ve seen one rodeo you’ve seen them all”. Curly and Jr are always fighting, the conflict between the old and the new which is very effective, but Peckinpah does overstate his case in the big fight scene in the bar, which while technically superb, attempts to suggest visually that the couple of hundred people there are enjoying fighting each other, rather like one enjoys watching a funny film.

After seeing Junior Bonner I have begun to understand Straw Dogs, Peckinpah’s last film, which appalled and puzzled me when I first saw it. Peckinpah was seeking to destroy the epitome of the 1970’s pseud, the ‘liberal’ American university professor renting a cottage in a Cornish fishing village while writing his thesis, and being patronising to the locals. They set out to destroy him and rape his wife, and if you accept the violence as a symbol – why not? What does the American bullshitter know of their boring and useless lives?

Peckinpah undoubtably tends to be excessive in his images, but his films are made . with real feeling and understanding of the awful plight of man, his degeneration into a plastic culture where he can no longer initiate or invent. Perhaps Junior Bonner is a tamer film than ‘Wild Bunch’ and ‘Straw Dogs’, because of all the criticism Peckinpah has received for the violence in these films, but it is rich in beauty and atmosphere, and I highly recommend it.