“That’s a walk-in bank. You don’t have to be Dillinger for this one.”
Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw in front of the camera. Sam Peckinpah behind it. That’s a triple threat of names so 70s-tatsic, that I can’t believe I’ve never seen this movie before. Especially when you add a story about bank robberies, hardened criminals and car chases. Everything about The Getaway just seems like a perfect storm of B-grade cinema at its best
After a few years of serving hard time, Doc McCoy (McQueen) is initially refused bail, despite being a model prisoner. Eventually, his wife (McGraw as Carol) strikes a deal with local, influential businessman Jack Benyon (Ben Johnson), who pulls the necessary strings to have Doc released. Only problem is, the payment for that early release is pulling off a bank robbery for Benyon.
Reluctantly agreeing to work with men supplied by Benyon, including Al Lettieri (AKA Solotzo the Turk from The Godfather) as Rudy, the heist leaves a couple of dead bodies in its wake, but Doc and Carol get away with half a million dollars. After a botched attempt by Rudy to kill Doc and take the money for himself, Doc realises that he can’t rely on any sort of honor amongst thieves (even when it comes to his wife), or trust any of the deals made with his accomplices. Now the title starts to make sense as Doc and Carol desperately try to get away from their past and survive long enough to enjoy their $500,000.
Despite its silly double crosses and large number of characters, The Getaway is simple cinema at its best. We don’t need elaborate back stories to give these characters motivation. We’ve dropped in on these few days in their life. We’ll never learn anything about what came before and we’re free to speculate what might happen later, but none of that matters. This is an immediate story about immediate events and how these characters react to them in real time. No lessons to be learned, no hindsight to be reflected on, no past to look back on.
The Getaway also further proves something I already knew. Something I assume anyone who’s ever seen a Steve McQueen movies knows. When you want a steel faced, hard ass, no messing around man who gets the job done with minimum fuss and maximum cool, you want Steve McQueen playing that man. His muted emotions, his calm demeanor at all times, his ability to understand a bad situation and react to it in lightning fast time. All of these things that could seem super hero-like in their implausibility come across as totally believable in his hands.
Don’t watch The Getaway if you’re after serious mediations on important issues. Don’t watch The Getaway if you’re after serious drama and deep emotion. Don’t watch The Getaway if you’re after prestige film making. Watch The Getaway because you’re after visceral action, exciting caper sequences, and 70s cool at its 70s coolest.