The movie certainly reflects Peckinpah's then disparaged love of pulp (soon to become a pop culture favourite). Jim Thompson's nihilistic novel gets the treatment it deserves in Walter Hill's screenplay (he also scripted the remake) and in the acting of Steve McQueen, impeccably cast as Doc McCoy, a bank robber sprung from jail by a corrupt politician in return for organising a heist. Roger Donaldson's remake might be more faithful to the letter of the book - but Peckinpah understands its spirit.
To wit: McCoy and his wife (Ali MacGraw, with McQueen) are pursued by mobsters, cops and a psychopathic partner from Texas to Mexico (when you see McGraw's performance you'll undertsand why there's a psychopath on her trail).
The film, vastly underrated in its day, plays straight to McQueen's strengths: he gives a brutal, detached performance in pursuit of his goal. He also has ample opportunities to mumble one-liners like 'when you work on a lock, don't leave any scratches' before beating the crap out of a con artist. (Pauline Kael described McQueen as 'one dimensional' - if this was the case, then The Getaway was the perfect showcase for his talents. Or do I mean talent?)
Maybe Kael didn't get the joke, the way many contemporary critics don't get Tarantino and Woo and Ferrara's black brand of humour. The numerous confrontations, shoot-outs and chases are handled with a twisted fervour by Peckinpah, right up to the obligatory climactic shoot out. The gratuitous slo-mo bloodshed, although beautifully choreographed, is so overblown that laughter is the only possible reaction.
The ending was of course altered, Thompson's conclusion considered too bleak for mainstream audiences. The studio ending is ridiculously idyllic, the McCoys driving off into Mexico, all memories of devastation forgotten. It's inappropriate (Peckinpah didn't want anything to do with it) but beautifully amoral. Ninety percent of the film is dominated by vicious brutality, but the McCoys manage to wipe out their evil adversaries and escape without a scratch: crime does pay.
Donaldson's film, whatever its virtues, will be hard pushed to measure up. Tarantino, Woo and Ferrara can tell him what that feels like.
Roger Donaldson's remake of 'The Getaway' will be released on the 1st of July; Peckinpah's original is available on video
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