I put this on my list after watching the original Thomas Crown Affair, needing more Steve McQueen. I didn’t realize that this was directed by Sam Peckinpah, and now I need more Peckinpah!
We open with a shot of deer outside a prison. Inside McQueen as Doc McCoy is being led to his parole hearing. In here we find out that the music is by Quincy Jones, the screenplay by Walter Hill and the original novel by Jim Thompson. Also in here we have noticed Peckinpah’s unique editing style, making a montage out of quick, disjointed shots that together show the stresses of life in the clink. McCoy is denied parole, and goes back to work on these horrible machines, covered with oil and a thick coating of dust—they really went out of their way to find some ratty machines. We’re also getting shots of him constructing a model bridge and remembering his girlfriend, played by Ali MacGraw at the zenith of her beauty. At the end of the sequence McQueen crushes his newly-finished bridge, and we know he’s cracking under the pressure. Ali, named Carol, goes to visit him and he tells her to meet a man named Benyon, and tell him Doc will do any job he wants, so long as he gets him out. Carol goes to visit him with her shirt unbuttoned to her waist, and makes it quite clear what she is prepared to offer. Back at the prison, we hear the nagging machine sounds crescendo, then stop—Doc is being set free.
She makes him wait a few hours after he’s released—she was having her hair done, I’m serious—and the first thing he wants to do is go to a park and just see lakes and trees and people and kid running around. Intercut here is a tender and genuinely sexy slo-mo scene as they have sex in the water. By this time one has noticed that Peckenpah is unexpectedly good at expressing his character’s emotion through his framing and editing. Toward the end of this sequence we are getting lots of iconogizing [huh?] of McQueen as a real man-hunk, and mucho expression of the tenderness that exists between them.
So Benyon and Doc are planning a big heist, and Benyon wants his own goons to help Doc. One of said goons is smoldering hot Al Litteri as Rudy. WHY can’t I date a goon? Or at least be taken sexual hostage by one? Well, you play the hand you’ve got. Anyway, in here Doc finds out that Ali offered her love to Benyon in return for his release, which he is NOT very appreciative of.
SPOILERS > > >
So they pull off the bank robbery. Rudy has earlier been advised to wear a bulletproof vest, and declined. The heist of course goes wrong, and the other goon stupidly takes off his mask and eventually gets shot. Doc escapes with the money, but Rudy is planning to kill him. He shoots Rudy first and takes off with the money, but get this: Rudy wore his bulletproof vest after all.
Doc and Ali are preparing to escape for good, and she is entrusted with storing the bag with the loot in a train station locker. She accepts some kindly help in doing this and—whoops, when they look again, the bag is gone. You might want to just handle lockers and such yourself when you’re carrying a bagful of a huge amount of cash. Just a tip. This then involves a long scene with Doc on the train, which has no bearing on the story except to show the twisty travails these folks go through. It is, however, quite well-done and tense. Regardless, they get the bag back and somehow procure a car. Soon as they’ve got a little privacy, Doc BEATS Ali for sleeping with Banyon. She’s a cool customer, but she’s clearly not too happy about it.
Meanwhile Rudy has commandered a car driven by a married couple, a weak man who makes a feeble attempt at disobedience, and Sally Struthers. Sally quickly apprises the situation and informs Rudy that she will do aaaannnnnything he wants.
Blah, blah Doc is recognized in a store, the police called, and he reacts by calmly walking next door and purchasing a shotgun and several rounds. Good thing there wasn’t a Coldstone Creamery and L’Occtaine next door. He comes out, blasts the police cars with his new purchase, and they take off.
Now comes a good, clever part. They are speeding down the highway when they pass a bus going in the opposite direction. Doc tells Carol to do a U-ey and then “Punch it!” He will tell her to punch it several times from here on out, and she becomes an awesome criminaless as she kicks some aggressive driving. They overtake the bus, hide the car, and get on the bus, passing unnoticed by the cops chasing after their car.
Meanwhile Rudy is grabbing the compliant Sally’s boobs and shaking them around in a hotel room. The next time we see them the husband is tied up with a view of the bed, where Rudy and Sally lie in post-coital intimacy. After hours of watching Rudy pork his wife, the husband excuses himself to the bathroom and hangs himself. Rudy’s reaction is to sit down next to the body and take a crap. Gritty!
Okay, now the surprising awesomeness shoots into the red. Doc and Carol are on the run some more, and at one point jump into a dumpster to escape. The dumpster is dumped into the back of a garbage truck, and drives off. It stops for another dumpster, and one is surprised that Doc and Carol are not trying to get out. WHAT are they doing? Especially as all the trash is compacted, with them in it, after every stop. Luckily this garbage is all cardboard and little pieces of perfectly-clean rags. Hate to think what they’d endure if the garbage truck picked up from some greasy-spoon diners and auto-repair shops. The truck stops at this rural desert dump, and the driver opens the back doors. As the garbage flies away in the high wind against the desolate mountain landscape, one has to admire how this shot somehow expresses the bleakness and nihilism of the movie’s overall tone. The truck then dumps its load—we are metaphorically watching a truck take a shit—and Doc and Carol come tumbling out. What an ingenious strategy, which also expresses how low they’re willing to go to hold on to that cash.
Relaxing in a nearby car shell, she tells him that she’ll take her share and split. She had previously informed him that “there is nothing left between us.” He tells her money with him, or no money alone. She tells him he blew it because he “couldn’t get over it,” then says “I chose you, not him, you know that?” At last he hears her. She says “No more about him,” and he agrees. Love. Love will keep us together.
So they get a hotel room where they think they’ll be safe, unaware that a climactic shoot-out is still on the agenda. They have it, and Rudy gets wasted, leaving Sally blathering “Rudy!” in the hallway. Yes, Sally does not portray a positive role-model to young teens as she is not an empowered self-starter who makes her own decisions, but I think when we have a portrait of one kind of woman as brutally and honestly drawn, it rises above the politically-correct. Sally saw the situation and resigned herself to it, which maybe is not what the Indigo Girls might do, but look, Sally is alive at the end. And if you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything.
Doc and Carol commander a pickup from a older jovial farmer with a big mustache who also sees them both a decides to do exactly as they say. Which you can tell they appreciate. He happily drives them to Mexico for them, and they end up giving him $30,000 instead of just $10,000. So the next time you’re hijacked by killers on he run, try a smile! You might just find that crime can pay.
< < < SPOILERS END
It was good! You have the direction and editing, which is enough to give you something to think about and pay attention to, as well as effectively conveying the emotions and state of mind of our two fugitives. Then you have the nihilistic bleakness of the Jim Thompson material, including several clever tricks [like the bus thing] and examples of just how far this couple is willing to go to hold on to their loot [like the garbage thing]. McQueen is the classic McQueen—man you don’t want to mess with—and Ali holds her own with her hot driving and take-no-shit attitude. This is what they mean when they say “Gritty!”
I understand that this is Peckenpah on the downslide, so I’m very interested to watch The Wild Bunch and other of his all-cylinders movies. In the meantime, this one was a revelation—especially after the hideous Convoy—that this is a guy that needs to have attention paid. Which is not even to mention the obvious influence on nearly every action movie to come since.
NOTES ON THE NOVEL:
So some time after I watched this film I became somewhat obsessed with the writing of Jim Thompson and in my rush through all of his novels, I of course came to this one. I had become curious upon reading that the film deviated from the ending of the novel significantly, and that the ending of the novel is widely considered to be "unfilmable." So I guess the truck thing, that I attribute to Thompson above, was not him at all! I was also quite intrigued by Stephen King's comment, that I came across somewhere, along the lines of "Those only familiar with the film will have no idea of the existential horrors that await Doc and Carol after the point where the film ends." So… do you want to know? Needless to say, all of the below contains spoilers from the novel, and if you like this movie, you could do a lot worse than to read the novel, or most of anything by Thompson.
First off, some differences from the novel prior to the end. For one, in the novel, Carol is 14 years younger than Doc, so she's about 20 when the story happens, while he's 34. This makes their relationship very different, as in the book she is definitely a younger, more naïve, sentimental girl. In the book the fact that Carol slept with Benyon is NOT that big a deal. It merely becomes a point of suspicion and unease between the two, but is quickly gotten over. I can see why they would have enlarged this aspect to give some shape to the relationship in the film, but it's just not that way here. The other difference is Rudy. In the book he is a big, indestructible GOON with a misshapen head, and in the novel it's not that he survives because he wears a bulletproof vest when he said he wouldn't, it's that he is FUCKING INDESTRUCTIBLE, which is even scarier. However, he doesn't last nearly as long as he does in the film, and the whole thing with him schtupping the other guy's wife is not at all as much of a big deal as it is in the movie. Here the sex part literally lasts just lasts a few paragraphs, not at all as it was extended in the film.
For the most part, the changes from the film represent good screenwriting, and maintain the majority of the sense of the novel and its feel, as well as the gritty and low-down nature of these characters, which you would appreciate if you watched even three seconds of the Alec Baldwin/Kim Basinger "remake." Oh, one other thing—Doc NEVER slaps Carol around in the book. That sort of stuff is certainly not unheard-of in Thompson's fiction, it just didn't exist in their relationship here.
Okay, ready for the ending? After escaping from the hotel, it's looking like curtains for our anti-heroic duo, when they spot this old woman who has raised a criminal family and helps criminals. She has a pit that they sink the car into, and it has these chambers, not much larger than a person, just under the surface. The old woman tells them that there's sleeping pills down there, and Carol naively asks "What for?" When she gets in [separate from Doc], she soon gets bored [remember she's a lot younger and less formed], and tries to sit up. She does—with her chest bent forward over her stretched-out legs, and realizes that SHE CANNOT MOVE from that position. She gulps down the sleeping pills and comes out of the pit—48 HOURS LATER. Then—three days inside a huge pile of manure! Yes, in the hot sun, with the stench, the drips of liquid shit, and the WORMS. They get a boat safely down to Mexico, but it's far from a paradise of freedom. They end up in a town run by this gangster who lets criminals live there—very expensively, and when they run through their money, they are sliced up and burned in the ovens. It's a sort of horrific "Hotel California"-type situation, where Doc and Carol learn to hate each other and the scent of burning human flesh wafts through the air. Wow, I guess crime really doesn't pay!
Yes! It’s a down-and-dirty little crime thriller with actual characters and an emotional arc.
THE GETAWAY (1994) is the horrid remake with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, and should only be watched by serious Thompson fans in need of a good laugh.