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.
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.