For someone as synonymous with 1970s pop culture iconology as Ali MacGraw, it’s always surprising to recall that she only starred in three classic films. And those three films were basically the only hits throughout her film career. Of course, this suddenly starts making sense when you learn that MacGraw was originally a successful fashion model who married the head of Paramount Pictures in the late 1960s — Robert Evans — and was subsequently cast in two of the studio’s movies.
Her three movies are Larry Peerce’s romantic comedy “Goodbye, Columbus” (1969), Arthur Hiller’s romantic drama “Love Story” (1970) and Sam Peckinpah’s crime thriller “The Getaway” (1972). The “Getaway” wasn’t technically a Paramount movie, but Evans was the one to personally suggest MacGraw to Peckinpah and the producers. All three films are essentially products of their time, though “Goodbye,” “Columbus” and “Love Story” do still have their fans — even with the latter becoming victim to overexposure. The “Getaway,” on the other hand, was directed by the polarizing and usually politically incorrect Peckinpah and was written by the equally divisive Walter Hill.
Set in locations across Texas, the film is about an infamous convict named Doc McCoy (Steve McQueen) who gets released from prison under a shady agreement — he must plan and execute one last bank robbery. The heist goes as planned until one of the hired robbers, Rudy (Al Lettieri), is shot and injured when he double-crosses McCoy. Rudy’s gunshot injury is non-fatal, but he is forced to flee town immediately. Things get more complicated when McCoy’s wife Carol (MacGraw) kills the corrupt official who orchestrated his release from prison. And of course, the injured and vengeful Rudy is secretly following the couple across the state seeking revenge.
The “Getaway” received mixed reviews from critics when it was originally released, but it was such a hit with audiences that it’s now considered a classic. It has all the elements you would expect from a film by Peckinpah and Hill. Gratuitous, indulgent violence, and harsh, barely redeemable characters. As someone who has always found Peckinpah’s brand of on-screen violence a turn-off, whether it be in “The Wild Bunch” (1969) or “Straw Dogs” (1971), my feelings stay the same with “Getaway.” On top of the bloodiness, there’s also a gross and uncomfortable affair subplot between Lettieri’s and Sally Struthers’ characters that is a struggle to sit through. And yet, this was the film where MacGraw impressed me the most.
While the genres of “Goodbye,” “Columbus” and “Love Story” are more my style, I didn’t really understand the appeal of the model-turned-actress until her more intense delivery here. It also helps that she has a natural chemistry and makes an attractive couple with her lead co-star — MacGraw is said to have started an affair with her future husband McQueen, while still married to Evans, during production.
“The Getaway” is a bit overhyped to me, though many seem to think otherwise, as the film got a 1994 remake with another press-fueled married couple in Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. But, it’s probably worth adding “Getaway” to your expanding quarantine watch list.