Back in the 80’s the Black Lizard/Vintage editions of Jim Thompson’s books were the most consistent sign of the Thompson revival. I like the black and white photos used for covers, and in the case of THE GETAWAY in particular. The picture helped wipe away the image of the story as a Steve McQueen flick. It’s not a terrible movie, but like THE KILLER ELITE, it’s neutered Sam Peckinpah, not the straight stuff like THE WILD BUNCH or BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA.
Later, the Alex Baldwin/Kim Bassinger adaptation had me apologizing to the spirits of McQueen and Bloody Sam. It’s slick and flashy and you forget it the second it’s over. And of course they skip the best part.
As with SAVAGE NIGHT, the highlight of THE GETAWAY is the ending; as with Matheson’s I AM LEGEND, the best part of the book hasn’t made it to the screen. In it, Doc McCoy and his wife Carol have escaped the cops and their crooked ex-partner, and end up in a hideaway in Mexico. The movie skips over the parts that wouldn’t work with McQueen, such as his killing of an innocent driver. Doc McCoy would bump off a guy just because it was convenient for him; Steve wouldn’t.
The movie, scripted by Walter Hill (THE WARRIORS), has Doc and Carol tumbling out of a trash container and stumbling around a little. The movie’s corny “We’re criminals, but HOLLYWOOD criminals” view of the pair means they’ll somehow make it work, those crazy kids.By Hollywood standards this is radical, I guess.
That’s not how the book ends.
Thompson goes off into loopy extremes. See, Doc paid to be hidden in Mexico, and he and Carol end up in a kind of Bad People Town. They have gotten away with the loot from a bank heist, but that money’s going to be used to finance their stay in a town peopled by criminals on the lam. The money’s going to go to room and board, and the peculiar meat churned out nearby.
The meat is made of folks whose money finally runs out. Doc and Carol know they can’t trust each other, but they’re also stuck with each other, at least until they end up smoked and between slices of bread.
Now, why didn’t they use that ending in the movies?!
This is the real madness of Thompson’s work, this grotesque stuff that’s like a horror mold that’s consuming the final pages of a straight crime novel. Thompson’s surreal/horror streak doesn’t get as much notice from critics, but it’s responsible for much of the madness in his books.