McQueen and MacGraw Fell in Love with The Getaway

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Director Sam Peckinpah and Steve McQueen teamed up again for 1972’s The Getaway. While a criminal-on-the-run story isn't new, their movie deviated from the norm when the protagonists found a happy ending.

“To do one picture with Steve, you must be a little bit crazy. To do two, you must be absolutely mad,” Peckinpah said. “He’s a very creative man, and I enjoy working with creative people who have ideas.”

1. There was a different director.

Peter Bogdanovich was the original director. However, he wanted to make What’s Up Doc? (read about that here) and exited the project. Sam Peckinpah was approached next, and he turned out to be the perfect fit. He had actually tried to purchase the film rights to the book, but was unable to afford it at the time. He said, “I was delighted to be counted in.”

2. MacGraw was still considered a newbie.

The Getaway was MacGraw’s fourth film, and she often commented that she wouldn’t have been able to do it without director Sam Peckinpah’s help. Producer Robert Evans pushed for his then-wife to take the lead to show her range beyond the box office hit Love Story. MacGraw said, “It’s a funny thing, but occasionally, I’d get terrified finding myself across the camera from him. Every once and awhile, I look up and lose track of the job I’m doing and realize it’s Steve McQueen and almost have a heart attack.” Peckinpah originally wanted Stella Stevens, after having worked with her in The Ballad of Cable Hogue.

3. MacGraw and McQueen fell in love.

MacGraw was first a fan of the King of Cool. She said, “He’s a great film actor. I can’t think of very many anywhere that are as interesting to watch as he is.” As the two worked together, they became closer and were eventually married in 1973 after the film’s release.  

4. The script was dedicated to another director.

The screenwriter dedicated his screenplay to director Raoul Walsh because of his film High Sierra which portrayed Humphrey Bogart as a complex criminal (read about that here). Steve McQueen watched the crime drama, which he later described as one of his favorites, and studied Bogie’s performance. He said, “I sorta fashioned the way I’m playing here after Bogart, which I’ve never done before. I guess it’s a tribute.”

5. Jack Palance could have been cast.

However, Palance asked too much for the role. Peckinpah then approached Al Lettieri, after being impressed by his role in The Godfather. Interestingly, his brother was involved with the mafia in New York in real life. Apparently, Al had some of that same toughness. Sally Struthers said, “He was so nice and sweet when he was sober, and he became so evil when he was drunk. He was really scary.”

6. They filmed at the Huntsville prison.

“It was really an extraordinary experience,” said McGraw. While Ali never entered the living quarters, Steve McQueen did, even spending whole days with the prisoners. “The orders the guards had was to treat me like any other inmate. And I got yelled at and screamed at and ran everywhere I went. A lot of those guys were there for murder.”