One of the many things that gives 1972's The Getaway the edge over its now almost-forgotten remake is that, unlike Alec Baldwin, Steve McQueen doesn't act like a movie star - he is a movie star. From the days when cool was what you were, not what you wore or owned, the plot itself is nothing special: Steve McQueen's bank robber is sprung from jail to pull a job with wife Ali MacGraw and has to hightail it to Mexico with both the relentless double-crossing Al Lettieri and numerous Texas mobsters in hot pursuit. Like most chase thrillers, you've seen it before: it's what Peckinpah does with it that counts, and Peckinpah does plenty. Most of Peckinpah's usual trademarks can be found in the margins, from children's fascination with violence to the Hellfire and brimstone preacher whose radio sermon goes unheard, and the action scenes are superbly staged - especially the hotel shootout and the lovingly filmed shooting up of a police car - but just as importantly he keeps a clear focus on his characters. The film's emotional terrain is as harsh as the barren landscape the ensuing chase is set against, with the odds on McQueen and MacGraw's marriage making it just as touch-and-go as whether they will make it across the border in one piece, their road to possible marital redemption through ordeal mirrored with the fast-track to Hell that hostage couple Sally Struthers and Jack Dodson take chauffeuring Lettieri's perverse wounded animal on their trail.
It's probably Sam Peckinpah's last truly successful film before self-indulgence, laziness and too much booze and drugs took their toll on his work. True, it's a purely commercial piece that has none of the personal passion that drove The Wild Bunch or The Ballad of Cable Hogue, but it's put together with a level of genuine artistry that's way above the norm for the genre: the editing of the first twenty minutes alone, with its freeze-frames and non-linear structure, is remarkably adventurous and successful. Both perfectly representing the state of mind and frustration and disorientation of McQueen's character in a way that is both complex and yet entirely accessible and transforming what could have been bog-standard exposition into something much more memorable, it's strikingly effective. Far more entertaining than it has any right to be.
(On an incidental note, although Walter Hill claimed that little of his screenplay made it to the screen (the bleak ending of Jim Thompson's novel is replaced by a much sweeter and more optimistic one), it's interesting to note how much of the film he would rework in his own The Driver, from the destruction of a car in a key setpiece to the train sequence with a very (un)lucky bagman.)
Warners' 2.35:1 widescreen DVD is a good transfer, with a brief 'virtual commentary' by Peckinpah and the two stars drawn from radio interviews, a full-length commentary byPeckinpah biographers and the film's strikingly awful original theatrical trailer.