Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dimestore Dostoyevsky

Some hipsters out in Consumerland might remember The Getaway, that grimy masterpiece featuring Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, directed by Sam Peckinpah. The hipsters most likely don't recall the name of Jim Thompson, the scribe who penned the novel. Big Jim produced intense, dark, realistic pulp fiction decades before TarentinoCo took off, and The Getaway rates as only one of a handful of Thompson classics. The movie version of The Getaway was not bad, though with only a tangential relation to the book. McQueen as Doc McCoy, and McGraw as Carol were believable, if somewhat well-scrubbed for Thompson's perps. In the novel, Carol bears little resemblance to an Ali McGraw-like malibu-babe: Carol's a cheap, adulteress-murderer--a gun moll, as they were formerly known. Doc McCoy, an aging convict, alcoholic, and bunko artiste, works out the details of a big heist, his retirement job--McQueen's a bit cleaned-up as well. Had Peckinpah, that drunken, ho-mongering, speed-tweaking megalomaniac, cast a Bruce Dern-like actor for Doc he would have stayed closer to Thompson's vision, though McQueen had the star power in the 70s, and was probably calling the shots (Dern played another great Jim Thompson character--Uncle Bud, a cop on the take-- in the film adaptation of Thompson's After Dark, My Sweet--).

After successfully pulling the heist, Doc and Carol head out on the great American highway. McQueen, .12 gauge in hand, does rock in the hotel shootout--one of Peckinpah's classic blood ballets (actually, the Getaway seems rather superior to Peckinpah's wannabe-spaghetti westerns ala the Wild Bunch. Sam was great, but no Sergio Leone). In the book, Doc comes off as a bit frail (as was that gloomy genius Raskalnikov), and the energy's different-- desperate, and one might say existential, instead of the road-romance of McQueen/McGraw (Alec Baldwin and Miss Basinger remade it as well, reportedly). Peckinpah also altered/deleted key scenes from the novel, such as Doc and Carol's hide-out with a crime family with an uncanny resemblance to the Barker gang-- Thompson may have partied with Ma and her boys at some point in his salad days. Doc and Carol's time spent on the lam in a pig sty become an afternoon at a dump in the movie--an evocative scene, but not the novel; the novel has a somewhat David Lynch aspect (though without the kookiness) which Peckinpah downplays. Finally, Doc and Carol make a desperate escape to Mexico, and to a strange pueblo run by the mysterioso El Rey--that's not in the flick, however: McQueen the Star reportedly objected to Thompson's dark-surreal ending, and replaced him with some unknown writer who gave it the Tinseltown "happy ending". Most read the Mexico scenes as Thompson's take on a real-life mobster's paradise in the hills above Acapulco. It's only a false paradise however: El Rey and his goons demand payments from old Doc and his mollie--financial, sexual, psychological. Those who read the last scenes of the novel will note a spooky, Dantean aspect: Doc and Carol may have pulled off their last great Heist, but they pay the price for their crimes in El Ray's hellish-compound. In the Ho-wood version, Doc and Carol head off into the sunset.

Keepin' it Real

Nietzsche praised the authentic criminal as a sort of precursor of his Uebermensch; McQueen's Doc McCoy seems a bit Uebermensch-like, a precursor to the Bruce Willis WASP knight. In Thompson's fictional crime world, there are no Uebermenschen, however, or great masterminds such as Sherlock Holmes' nemesis Moriarty. Desperation defines Thompson noir, really. Criminals, whether Al Caponays or two-bit losers like Doc may dream of freedom, of a gangster's paradise but they rarely if ever acheive it. The power of the law and the power of creditors, loan sharks, and pimps conditions them; they are prisoners whether inside the joint or out, even On the Road. Instead of downtown Chicago or Brooklyn, Thompson's crime dramas go down in the landscape of the western America-- though Thompson's no country sh*tkicker (some snobs have mistaken him as such). As with Hammett and Ray Chandler's books (say, Lady in the Lake)--and thank Osiris, no Tarentino-esque kitschmeister. Thompson may hint at the old west at times, but the West of saloons, sagebrush and small towns has been upgraded if not replaced with highways, cars, motels, diners, 'burbs. The mobster or perp, as the cops say now, replaces the outlaw; the mollie stands in for the salloon gal. The cops themselves are no longer Pat Garrett-like bounty hunters, but colder, ruthless, robotic, driving big sedans, backed up by technology--helicopters (at least in the flick), communication-- and firepower, and the liberal State, first-cousin to an Orwellian state (one senses Thompson had more respect for the Barker gang or Dillinger sorts than he did for J- Edgar, the G-men and the new American lawmen-). Booze and ho's, and one might say gear itself remain as solace for the perp. The criminals rely upon .12s, snub nose .38s or .45s, however, not colts or rifles, and instead of riding mustangs, they drive 'em.
(first part in a series....).

1 comment:

McX said...

the MacRadioShackens (from an irish name) submitted to Cromwell and his roundheads, circa 1640s--so much for scotsmen--they were probably with clan Douglas, etc Tory protestants. scottish loyalists work for the english King

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