Sunday, January 26, 2014

THE GETAWAY (1972) - Sam Peckinpah
& THE GETAWAY (1994) - Roger Donaldson

Here's the thing about all film adaptations of Jim Thompson's 1958 pulper The Getaway thus far. None of them have been ballsy enough to go for the novel's bleaker than bleak ending. I'll go ahead and SPOIL it because, honestly, who out there other than me is reading old Jim Thompson originals?

In the novel, couple-on-the-run Doc and Carol never "get away." They do, but they don't. They end up in Mexico, sure enough, but not in any feel-good, Slim Pickens drops you off in his truck and you're on your merry way kinda way. They end up at this resort town for criminals run by a mysterious gangster named El Rey. It's the kind of place where you can never leave once you enter (worse than Thunderdome, where even one man leaves!). And once your stolen loot runs out Lord help ya. Basically, they're trapped in something worse than prison. There's no "getting away" in Thompson's original Getaway. Doc and Carol can't even get away from each other for very long. It's all very existential. And, apparently, unfilmmable in Hollywood.

But I digress. Though The Getaway has never been one of my absolute favorite Peckinpahs, it's definitely his most accessible to mass audiences. It's what I might call Sam-Lite. The aforementioned happy ending, bopping Quincy Jones soundtrack, killer opening montage and train chase, the real life romance between McQueen and McGraw. It's a damn fun movie. Apart the "slap on the side of the highway scene," it trucks less heavily in Peckinpah's more troubling misogynist/male animal tendencies. No one gets raped in The Getaway. They just get a bunch of short ribs thrown at them. But I'll get to that in a sec...

Peckinpah's biggest, ballsiest move is to spend the first 20 minutes in prison with Doc. That's a lot of time for a two-hour movie. But, in doing so, you REALLY get to know Doc's day-to-day. More importantly, why he never, EVER wants to go back. It's the crushing relentlessness of ROUTINE. The way Peckinpah cuts it all together with freeze frames, the slowly building monotony of the machines and the little model bridge Doc builds (and finally crushes) is perfection. These first 20 minutes and the fabulous moving train chase later on are the things I always take away from Peckinpah's The Getaway. The hotel shootout is very well-done, but when I re-watched it again the other night the feeling was..."Oh right, there's a shootout in here too!"

Let's not forget Al Lettieri, so good and watchable as gut-shot thug Rudy (see rib pic above). Forget McQueen and McGraw's canoodlings off-set or on. Lettieri's performance is the real story here. Whether he's chucking ribs at his captive veterinarian couple in the front seat or stroking a tiny kitten next to his chest that you're constantly worried he's going to squash, Peckinpah seems to delight in these scenes and Lettieri more than anything else in the movie. Just watch the highway rib-tossing scene as Peckinpah directs it and Lettieri plays it, then compare that to the far blander Roger Donaldson-Michael Madsen '94 version. It's a study in directorial vision, varying acting styles. There's so much more menace underlying Peckinpah's version, especially when Rudy grows weary of the back seat-front seat rib-toss game.

Which brings me to the '94 The Getaway remake with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. For whatever reason, I had never seen it before, though it came out during that time in my life when I was just discovering noir and neo-noir. It probably had something to do with it garnering many Razzie-worth reviews. Is it really as bad as all that? No, it's not horrible. But it does wreak of Baldwin-Basinger vanity project.

Roger Donaldson is a competent action director (though no Peckinpah). Walter Hill again fills in on screenwriter duties, though not adding much to the mix other than an irrelevant backstory heist between Doc and Rudy at the beginning of the film. Basically, he changes the robbery from a bank to a dog track. The prison scenes are edited down to a few shots of Baldwin looking pensively at a jailhouse mouse. So much for FEELING the sting of incarceration. Most everything else transpires as it does in the original but noticeably blander. The only spots where things are juicier are the Baldwin-Basinger sex scenes. The uncoded message: Yes, we are a REAL LIFE COUPLE and, yes, in real life we do fuck. I guess that's one of the few benefits you get when your lead actor and actress are hitched. Does it make the movie any better? Not really. But with this version of The Getaway any little thing helps. There's also a very young Phillip Seymour Hoffman with an ear ring, James Woods being his usual smarmy James Woods, and, hey, is that Richard Farnsworth in the Slim Pickens role!

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