Viking Night: The Getaway
By Bruce Hall
October 1, 2014
Obviously, Steve McQueen is King of All Men. But his continued reign is a complicated one. McQueen lived in a time when being a badass meant racing cars, partying hard, shooting guns, having your pick of beautiful babes, and being pals with Bruce Lee. No action hero alive today would stand a chance against such highly concentrated manliness. Vin Diesel only thinks he can drive. The Rock would pee himself. Channing Tatum would voluntarily start wearing a dress. The only reason Steve McQueen does not rise from the dead and personally kick all their asses is because it would take no effort whatsoever, which means technically, it’s already happened.
The man was just. That. Cool.
At least, in theory. Unfortunately, he also lived in a time when being an avowed misogynist was par for the course. Don Draper has nothing on the man, and in an alternate universe, they might even be partying together right now. As with most celebrities who die (relatively) young, McQueen is a time capsule incarnate. He probably wouldn’t have a place in today’s world, and neither would most of his films. That’s what makes The Getaway such a haunting experience. It’s a gritty, often brutally violent film populated with cruel men and the women they rely on to fuel their constant consumption of everything around them.
It too is a dinosaur - but there’s a reason everybody loves dinosaurs. It’s so hard to believe such a thing ever existed, we’d give anything to see it in person.
Speaking of dinosaurs, Sam Peckinpah made a career out of exploring what the temptation of violence does to men of small minds. The fact that his best work remains so genuinely controversial says more about him than anything his detractors or supporters could ever come up with. It’s also possible he couldn’t have picked a better lead than McQueen. The actor’s hardscrabble upbringing and defiant man-child image fits the hotheaded Doc McCoy like a pair of kickass leather racing gloves. At the film’s outset, Doc is serving hard time for bank robbery. Prison is doubly shitty for a guy who likes to do his scheming and plotting on the move.
And as proof to the haters that Peckinpah really did have a brain, I submit the opening of this movie. Doc’s mind races as he rots away his days in the prison mill. The obnoxious, rhythmic clattering of the machines might as well be the sound of his brains bouncing restlessly around his skull. Assuming his particular set of skills might be useful to a very particular kind of dirtbag, Doc instructs his wife Carol (Ali MacGraw) to strike a deal - by any means necessary - with nefarious local politician Jack Benyon (Ben Johnson) to get him out of prison. She clearly thinks it’s a bad idea, but her husband is Steven Fucking McQueen (the two actors shared a disastrous real life marriage), so of course she does it anyway.