961 (103). The Getaway (1972, Sam Peckinpah)

screened Friday March 27 2009 on Warner DVD TSPDT rank #865  IMDb Wiki

Even the likes of Pauline Kael turn their noses at Sam Peckinpah's most commercially successful feature as a formulaic genre exercise done mostly for the paycheck. But Peckinpah's creative investment is apparent from the opening sequence, a dense montage that weaves multiple layers of time to establish a cold, mechanistic world in which ex-con Steve McQueen and wife Ali McGraw (who, with his consent, sleeps with a prison warden to ensure his release) rediscover each other with tension and tenderness. The overt mechanical elements of this opening, such as the numbing, clacking sounds of prison doors and work equipment, might be Peckinpah's way of acknowledging the trappings of heist film formula with which he must contend.  The film is far from resembling the satire on the genre he had planned, but it expresses his candid, problematically misogynist views on sexual relationships and loyalty perhaps more complexly than any of his features, though as usual the depth lies more on the male side of the ledger.

This time Peckinpah's Man, that molotov cocktail of helplessness and violence grubbing for salvation, is imbued with a cold professionalism unparalleled in his filmography thanks to McQueen's tightly coiled appearance of masculine assurance: unflinching eyes incessantly assessing everything around him; a body that betrays nary a twitch of unnecessary movement. He's among the least sentimental of Peckinpah's heroes, but this should not be confused with a lack of pathos; McQueen's character finds redemption in a job well executed, and the upholding of a moral code throughout - involving repeated beatings of McGraw whenever she messes up. Peckinpah validates McQueen's behaviors by contrasting him with Al Lettieri, a heist accomplice who betrays McQueen, then kidnaps a doctor who saves his life and seduces the doctor's voluptuous, dim-witted wife (Sally Struthers), enacting a comic and nightmarish opposite of McQueen and McGraw's Ideal Man and Woman. While I don't have that much use for Peckinpah's worldview, and consider his prominence largely a sign of pervasive misogyny in Hollywood culture (I'll reconsider my position the day that Hollywood regularly produces eloquently man-hating movies by female directors), I have to admit that few directors are as good at dramatizing their pathologies as Peckinpah.



The following citations were counted towards the placement of The Getaway among the 1000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures Don't They?

Angela Glaser, Steadycam (2007) Katja Nicodemus, Steadycam (2007) Klaus Lemke, Steadycam (2007) Larry Clark, indieWIRE (2006) Kinema Junpo, The Greatest Foreign Films (1999) Maxim, The 100 Greatest Guy Movies Ever Made (1998) Premiere, 100 Best Action Movies on DVD (2003) Taschen Books, Movies of the 20s-90s (2003-2007) TV Today, The Best Movies on DVD (2004) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

If The Getaway had just rolled off the studio assembly line, the work of a competent craftsman, it could pretty easily have been passed over and forgotten. It is, however, the work of a major American film artist. Sam Peckinpah's 1969 western, The Wild Bunch, looks even at this distance like a great film, and his other movies, from 1961's Ride the High Country to last year's Straw Dogs, form a body of work as substantial as any other contemporary film maker's. Such a director is owed more than a measure of indulgence and loyalty. But in The Getaway, Peckinpah is pushing his privileges too far.

The Getaway is basically a streamlined heist-and-chase movie, but Peckinpah keeps stumbling over his subplots. Moreover, his two stars, Steve McQueen and All MacGraw, are unregenerately narcissistic. They appear as a husband and wife, professional thieves, who knock over a small-town Texas bank and spend the rest of the time speeding across the state to Mexico, pursued by the cops and crews of greedy confederates.

It has lately become Peckinpah's ironic pleasure to refer to himself in interviews as a "whore," and, appropriately, The Getaway works on that same kind of disinterested, mechanical level. There are a great many scenes of action and bloodletting, professionally handled and exciting. But the viewer is always aware that he is being manipulated very coolly and cynically.

McQueen is primarily a deep-frozen presence, although he handles a variety of guns with impressive familiarity. As a screen personality, MacGraw is abrasive. As a talent, she is embarrassing. Supposedly a scruffy Texas tart. MacGraw appears with a complete designer wardrobe and a set of Seven Sister mannerisms.

Peckinpah seems perfectly aware of all this, but instead of trying to do some thing about it, he puts her down — lit erally. She and McQueen stow away in a garbage truck and come spilling out in a gush of trash onto the town dump. Peckinpah's chuckling is almost audible.

- Time, January 8, 1973

Another bank heist, and the wholesome, clean-cut robber pair take forever to make it across the Mexican border with their loot. The audience hoots her line readings and applauds when he smacks her around; maybe this audience participation helps to explain the film's success. Sam Peckinpah directed in imitation of Sam Peckinpah; it's a mechanical job, embellished with a vicious, erotic subplot involving Al Lettieri and Sally Struthers.

- Pauline Kael

An evident precursor to The Driver (Walter Hill scripted both, this one from Jim Thompson's novel). The major strength of The Getaway rests solidly on McQueen's central role, a cold tense core of pragmatic violence. Hounded by furies (two mobs, police, a hostile landscape), he responds with a lethal control, blasting his way through shootouts that teeter on madness to the loot, the girl, and Peckinpah's mythic land of Mexico. Survival, purification, and the attainment of grace are achieved only by an extreme commitment to the Peckinpah existential ideal of action - a man is what he does. Peckinpah's own control of the escalating frenzy is masterly; this is one of his coldest films, but a great thriller.

- Time Out

It's too bad they didn't really film Jim Thompson's novel, which remains one of the most astonishing pieces of pulp fiction ever written, yet Sam Peckinpah does a professional job with this much-watered-down version (1972). It becomes a conventional chase picture with Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw as an outlaw couple fleeing for the Mexican border after a bank job; Al Lettieri is the sadistic, double-crossed partner on their trail.

- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader

It is the fate of films from under-recognised areas, such as the action film, to suffer the arbitrary stock market fluctuations which broker reputations, as well as a progressively hazy blurring of distinctions and accomplishments generally. The Getaway is a typical and instructive case (the unique novelty of the film is that it was duplicated with a different cast in 1994 with very few changes or additions to Walter Hill's 1972 script or to the directing, casting, and structuring strategies of the original). When The Getaway was released, Sam Peckinpah was a high-profile auteur on the basis of Ride the High Country (1962), The Wild Bunch (1969) and Straw Dogs (1971); he was at the centre of a violence-in-films controversy pushed along by his considerable self-promotion efforts as a “Hollywood maverick”; and he was a currently-practising action specialist taken seriously by the film intelligentsia. He was probably overvalued as a director, undervalued as a writer. His films popularised the use of slow-motion in action sequences and he has come now to stand as the sign for that large area of post-war Hollywood cinema marked not only by his own accomplishments, but also the rather larger ones of Anthony Mann, Don Siegel, Robert Aldrich, Budd Boetticher and Sam Fuller.

Seen now, The Getaway is more interesting as one of the early prototypes of the modern US action film, following from the headwaters (Dirty Harry, 1971): clean-lined, built for speed, self-effacing but an intricately worked object nonetheless. It was a product of Hollywood's then-booming independent sector, in this case a production company controlled by the film's star. This hints at one of the problems the project holds for Peckinpah: Steve McQueen is too obdurate and self-contained an actor to fit easily into Peckinpah's preferred ensemble method – although even in this Scandinavian-furniture, streamlined concept film, the director manages to stuff members of his baroque stock company into the cracks (providing Peckinpah's cherished redneck comedy are Slim Pickens, Bo Hopkins, Dub Taylor and Roy Jensen). Although too early for a Walter Murch-style “Sound Design” credit, the soundtrack work is complex and sophisticated: beyond jazz veteran Quincy Jones' score lies elaborate use of sound-as-music as well as sharp punctuation – observe the interplay and progression of images and sounds in the opening sequence, one of the most impressive passages in the film. Whenever possible, events are presented kinetically, that is, for maximum visceral effect (The Getaway is not a reflective film; it doesn't have time to be).

Another site of interest is the script. Adapted from one of Jim Thompson's novels, screenwriter Hill discards most of the novel's interesting but difficult aspects – the psychological portrait of the hero, Doc; the quirky, complicated deployment of characterising details; the imperceptible slide into a surreal world of symbols; and a ghastly black humour ending. With what remains, he fashions a concept-film script exactly as spare as that of Reservoir Dogs (1992) – situation: a bank job gone wrong; imperative: the central couple need to escape the pursuing assassins; complicating problem: Doc's reactions to Carol's necessary infidelity. An extremely mean antagonist is provided (Al Lettieri here, reprised in Mr Majestyk [1974]; Michael Madsen in the 1994 reconstruction). With a minimum of characters, Hill works out a geometry of parallel actions and scenes as the central section of the film, particularly effective when Lettieri and his hostage/lover Sally Struthers cartoon the jealousy/adultery theme complicating Doc and Carol's life.

Hill's script is dedicated to Raoul Walsh for appropriate reasons, not least of which is Doc's request, upon being released from prison, to be taken to a park (see Humphrey Bogart's Roy Earle in Walsh's High Sierra, 1941). What it surprisingly does not do is provide the usually plentiful epigrammatic lines of dialogue which make most Peckinpah movies endlessly quotable and which are, perhaps, the most basic element of his style (it does manage to include the usual misogyny, particularly abetted here by Sally Struthers' performance). The script looks forward as well as backward: the opening sequence with its themes of imprisonment versus freedom and its use of animals is a striking forerunner to the opening sequence of Hill's 48HRS (1982). The elaborate and elegant final shoot-out in the El Paso hotel has nothing to do with the way action sequences are sculpted in other Peckinpah films, and everything to do with the speciality item Hill developed them into in his own directing.

An interesting point of intersection then, a crepuscular Peckinpah with a nascent Hill, a traditional story and genre with the beginnings of the contemporary “concept” approach. Except for some romantic imagery required by star egos, a trip through a cold, hard-hearted world which makes its characters do extraordinary things with their suspect virtuosities in order to buy a chance at a happy ending.

- Rick Thompson, Senses of Cinema

We usually think of excess when we think of Peckinpah, most readily from the trademark slow-motion violence of 1969'sThe Wild Bunch. We don't often think of his nuts-and-bolts filmmaking. Yet despite the gunplay and occasional slow-mo in The Getaway, the movie is ample evidence that he could really tell a story in more traditional ways, too. The crisp opening detailing the grinding monotony of Doc McCoy's prison stint, the cross-cutting among all the elements of the heist and a tense sequence in which McQueen scours a train for a con man who bamboozled Carol out of their bag of ill-gotten money are all textbook examples of visual storytelling. Peckinpah and McQueen had just come off of the flop Junior Bonner together (another fine collaboration), while McQueen laid a more high-profile egg before that with Le Mans, so the emphasis here was to make a crowd-pleaser, and they definitely succeeded.

Balancing the crime story is the romance between Doc and Carol. Their relationship has to survive the fact that she slept with a member of the parole board (Johnson) in order to get Doc out of jail, as well as overcome the stress of being outlaws on the run. This part of the story doesn't date as well as the brisk action. McGraw's performance has always been flat, but her star power gave it a big boost when the movie was new (this was her first film after the pop culture phenomenon that was Love Story). She's beautiful, and we don't doubt Doc's affection for Carol for a moment (indeed, McQueen and McGraw each divorced their spouses to be married after falling in love during the shoot). But, 30+ years later, McGraw comes off as awfully dainty for the rough-and-tumble role. Typically for a Peckinpah movie, the stars bump into all sorts of colorful supporting players during the story, many, like Johnson, familiar faces in the director's movies. These include Dub Taylor, Slim Pickens, Bo Hopkins and Richard Bright.

- Paul Sherman, Turner Classic Movies

The violence in The Getaway is largely mechanical and dehumanized; it operates without the emotional pain and trauma that are its familiar accompaniments elsewhere. Furthermore, as Robin Wood notes, in that film Peckinpah cannot seem to detach himself from the brutish Rudy Butler (Al Lettieri), a professional killer pursing Doc McCoy, and the elaborate tortures he inflicts upon a veterinarian whom he has kidnapped. (Wood finds the humorous approach to the latter character's suicide, and Butler's response to it, to be "in all Peckinpah's work to date the moment that is hardest to forgive.")

- Stephen Prince, Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies. Published by University of Texas Press, 1998. Page 121

Peckinpah uses a number motifs to bring out subsidiary themes. Heavy machinery is often a focus, especially in a threatening manner: the opening credits in prison include numerous closeups of heavy, pounding machinery, and one of the most threatening segments of the picture involves a harrowing encounter with a garbage truck. This emphasis on machines as an enemy to happiness and freedom is intertwined with extended references to the question of whether life is a game. While McQueen insists that this is nothing but a game, Carol is more grounded and takes the position that life is something more. It's surprisingly philosophical in its approach to an action drama, but then Peckinpah always manages to surprise.

- Mark Zimmer, Digitally Obsessed


The following passages are taken from Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage by Garner Simmons. Published by Hal Leonard Corporation, 1998:

"The Getaway was my first attempt at satire, badly done... To many people took it too seriously. Five times in that picture I have people saying, 'It's just a game.' I was dealing with a little bit of High Sierra there and a couple of other things. It was a good story, and I thought I had a good ending. It made my comment."

- Sam Peckinpah, quoted p. 157

"Sam and Steve got into a big argument over that first love scene in The Getaway. Steve wanted to rape Ali. That's the way he saw it. This guy's been in prison for five years, and he just comes home and really takes what he feels is rightfully his. He couldn't understand what Same wanted him to do. He thought it was phony. But Sam insisted and again it played perfectly. Really one of the most sensitive love scenes on film, I think.

Then for the scene which follows - I think it's supposed to be the next morning - Steve had written seven pages of dialogue, you know, explaining the whole thing. Well, Sam got him into that cooking thing where he's got eggs and catsup and all this stuff in a frying pan on the stove. And Steve was just really in his element. He loved it. He's very good with props. Then when Ali comes down they embrace, and I think they maybe have a couple of dozen words between them total, and that was it.

"So after they saw the dailies, Sam said to Steve, 'And that was what you wrote seven pages of dialogue to explain?' And Steve laughed and said, 'Well, you know better than to listen to me, Sam.'"

- Cinematographer Lucien Ballard, p. 158

"Sam and Ali got along great. Sam was wonderful with her. He loves to holler and scream. It's his way of letting go of the things that have been building up inside of him. But Sam also has this tremendously gentle side, and that's the side he showed to Ali. And she really performed magnificently."

- Producer David Foster, quoted p. 162

"After we had completed The Getaway and I looked at what I'd done in it, I hated my own performance. I like the picture, but I despised my own work. I really couldn't look at it... I adore Sam as a director. He is really a marvelous man, a sexy man. He really knows how to get through to a woman when he wants [her] to do something in front of the cameras. It is very difficult to be objective about my own work in the picture, but I would love to work again for Sam Peckinpah."

- Ali McGraw, quoted p. 162

It was during the filming of The Getaway that Sam Peckinpah married for the fifth time, this time to Joie Gould, the English secretary he had been living with off and on since making Straw Dogs. It was done, Peckinpah recalled, as an act of contrition. "We had gotten into an argument, and I slapped her with my open hand. I really felt bad about it. So in a moment of remorse I agreed to marry her - in Mexico where I knew that I could get a one-day divorce. That's what I thought. Well I was wrong. When things fell apart it took me a year to get the divorce and it cost me my shirt, my pants, and my embroidered jock strap! But some you win and some you louse. So she took all the money I got on Getaway and took a trip around the world at my expense. We were not exactly what you might call star-crossed lovers."

Following their disastrous entanglement, Peckinpah would swear off the state of matrimony as being both costly and dangerous. To prevent his romantic nature from taking advantage of his better judgment, the director decidd to place a clause in each of his film contracts that would stipulate that should he marry during the course of making a given picture, he would forfeit all of the money due him from the project. (p. 163)


I never thought of myself as any kind of hardcore Sam Peckinpah fan before. That’s probably partly due to the piecemeal way I’ve been catching up with his filmography—randomly watching this movie or that one, one every couple of years, as likely to choose The Osterman Weekend as I am Straw Dogs. So it’s taken me a long time to figure out that Peckinpah has never once disappointed me. I even thoughtThe Osterman Weekend was pretty terrific. Now, granted, I haven’t seen anything from that streak of movies he made during the years of his mid-’70s decline—Cross of Iron, The Killer Elite, Convoy—but if they've got even a fraction of the spark that animates The Getaway, Peckinpah's place in my personal pantheon of great American directors is assured. (Yeah, yeah, I know: stop the presses! Sam Peckinpah is awesome! Cut me some slack—I was slow to catch onto him, okay?)

Has there ever been a director of “guys’ movies” with a more poetic eye than Peckinpah? The Getaway has one of the most fascinatingly edited opening 10 minutes I’ve ever seen in an action movie—images of the numbing routine of prison life, of Steve McQueen being turned down yet again for early parole, fantasies of lying in his bunk and feeling the caress of his wife’s hand on his shoulder, all shown out of sequential order, tumbling around in such a way that the fantasy mingles with the reality, all set to the numbing, repetitive sound of the mechanical loom McQueen operates in the prison workroom.

And then, when McQueen does get paroled, there’s another great sequence when he and Ali MacGraw drive to a picnic area set up beside a lake—Peckinpah shows you McQueen and MacGraw diving into the water, so happy to be together again that they don’t even bother taking their clothes off. It’s filmed so dreamily that you think it’s just another one of McQueen’s fantasies—until you see McQueen pull MacGraw to the side of the water, whereupon Peckinpah jump-cuts to the two of them arriving home, their clothes still soaking wet. It’s such a sexy, adult sequence—it’s like a bit from Don’t Look Nowgot dropped accidentally into the middle of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. What are the chances that a modern action picture would ever try for a mood this oblique? Unless Steven Soderbergh were directing it, almost nil.

I loved every nasty, violent moment of The Getaway, and it may be the most misogynist movie I’ve ever gotten this much enjoyment out of. There’s an amazing subplot, for instance, involving Al Lettieri, who plays a fellow bank robber that McQueen shot and left for dead, and who spends the rest of the film on his trail, determined to snatch the cash for himself. He forces a veterinarian to tend to his wounds at gunpoint, and then takes the guy and his wife hostage. Amazingly, the wife (Sally Struthers!) has apparently been dreaming her entire life for a brutal thug to whisk her away from her boring existence, and she volunteers to become Lettieri’s accomplice and lover the very first chance she gets. (The Quincy Jones music that plays under this scene is wonderfully sleazy.) Her behaviour is so appallingly slutty that it’s hilarious—even the scenes where Lettieri ties up her husband and forces him to watch them have sex are played for comedy.

The flipside of this scene is a moment that takes place between McQueen and MacGraw by the side of their car on the side of a highway. She’s just shot the criminal who’s set up the bank robbery (who’s also the guy on the parole board that she slept with earlier), and McQueen still can’t believe she’d do something that stupid. So he slaps her. And he slaps her again. And then he slaps her a couple more times. It’s a really ugly, vicious scene—one that feels absolutely right for the character, but which makes you recoil from him in a way that again I doubt any modern Hollywood studio (or male star) would have the stomach for.

But the movie’s misogyny is inextricable from its themes—the screenplay is all about these parallel stories of a “good” unfaithful wife and a “bad” unfaithful wife. Which may be why the only bum note is the happy ending, with Slim Pickens giving McQueen and MacGraw his benediction for a blissful life in Mexico. It’s quite a departure from the insane, cannibalistic final chapter in Jim Thompson’s original novel, but the problem isn’t that Peckinpah is unfaithful to his source (which probably would have been unfilmable anyway); it’s that after two hours of emotional violence every bit as bloody as the shootouts, the idea of any married couple living happily ever after seems highly dubious.

- Paul Marwychak, The Moviegoer

It’s not very popular to assert the opinion that The Getaway is your favorite Sam Peckinpah film. As just a casual Peckinpah admirer, I might be able to get away with it, but I know I’m skating on thin ice among the faithful. I can only imagine the dismissive reaction I’d have if someone called Sabrina their favorite Billy Wilder movie. It could be generational. Peckinpah’s films now feel very much like the product of a bygone era. They’ve influenced countless filmmakers, but show almost zero modernity in comparison to what’s come along this decade. His patience is not particularly in style nowadays. Yet, that laconic quality is part of why I appreciate The Getaway so much. The film takes its time from start to finish. It’s an action movie with very little action.

As far as movie stars who understood subtlety in the ’60s and ’70s, the discussion begins and ends with Steve McQueen. The idea of him overacting is inconceivable. Detractors might view this as an emptiness, but I’d beg to differ. While the method style of acting gained notoriety for overdoing emotions to the point of fake realism, McQueen didn’t choose this particular path. His style was far more contemplative. A look from McQueen could eliminate half a page of dialogue. I’d love to have seen what Jean-Pierre Melville would have done with him. Instead, we know what Peckinpah was able to achieve while working with the actor both here and on Junior Bonner, two of McQueen’s four or five best films. In The Getaway, he’s Doc McCoy, who suffers the remedial prison life until his wife (Ali MacGraw) pays a porn-like visit to a man with bureaucratic pull named Benyon (Ben Johnson).

His sequence on the train in this film is probably my favorite, where a small-time con man thinks he’s lucked into the fat case of money only to have Doc track him down and administer a beating to the point of unconsciousness. McQueen says maybe a line or two (”when you work on a lock, don’t leave any scratches”) and demonstrates what it means to be a screen icon. The black suit with thin black tie helps, but none of his peers (even Paul Newman, who was McQueen’s unofficial rival and a better actor) could have so convincingly pulled it off with so few lines. This is the beauty of The Getaway for me. Peckinpah trusts McQueen (who also had final cut) enough to allow him to hardly say anything throughout the entire picture. It’s a movie with a minimum of dialogue, and little action, but played out with surprising coherence, never leaving the viewer uninterested.

His sequence on the train in this film is probably my favorite, where a small-time con man thinks he’s lucked into the fat case of money only to have Doc track him down and administer a beating to the point of unconsciousness. McQueen says maybe a line or two (”when you work on a lock, don’t leave any scratches”) and demonstrates what it means to be a screen icon. The black suit with thin black tie helps, but none of his peers (even Paul Newman, who was McQueen’s unofficial rival and a better actor) could have so convincingly pulled it off with so few lines. This is the beauty of The Getaway for me. Peckinpah trusts McQueen (who also had final cut) enough to allow him to hardly say anything throughout the entire picture. It’s a movie with a minimum of dialogue, and little action, but played out with surprising coherence, never leaving the viewer uninterested.

- clydefro

THE GETAWAY looks surprisingly good for a film that was disowned by its director. During the production Peckinpah and McQueen had more than serious creative differences with the actor having the upper hand, receiving the backing of studio heads and making sure that the final cut would be his and not Peckinpah's. Because of that, many of those who think of Peckinpah as a great director often have a low opinion of THE GETAWAY. This opinion is unjustified because Peckinpah's talent nevertheless managed to survive McQueen's intervention. Perhaps this film is bellow the highest standards of Peckinpah, but it looks like a masterpiece compared with the most of action films made today. The reason for that could be found in the realism that is present throughout the film - in authentic Texan locations, characters and motivations that resonate with people we might meet on the street, and in the action that is spectacular yet not beyond the realms of real life. From the first haunting shots that show the depressive monotony of incarceration, the audience is thrown to the world that doesn't look like a Hollywood fantasy. In this world heroes are often damaged or morally questionable, marriages aren't the fairytales in which people live happily ever after, and the crime is often in the form of petty thefts or small-time cons. Peckinpah nevertheless manages to turn this simple and prosaic reality into something truly exciting. One of the finest examples is the scene in a train, which uses rather simple yet unexpected plot development to create suspense of Hitchockian proportions.

- Dragan Antulov, All-Reviews.com

Like any old-time Western--a genre Peckinpah enjoyed updating and reinventing--"The Getaway" ends in a big shoot-out, so there's no questioning that this is an action movie. Still, you'll find a good deal of character interaction along the way, some of it fun, some of it illuminating, some of it tedious. Make no mistake, though: This is a Peckinpah picture, so expect the violence to be more realistic than in most previous Hollywood movies. Today, we take blood and guts for granted in action and adventure movies, but it was directors like Peckinpah who began the trend toward greater realism. He practically started the sights of blood-soaked bodies, slow-motion deaths, and the like. Nevertheless, the violence is not excessive, especially by recent standards; indeed, one might say it is almost quaint by comparison to some of our more contemporary films.

- John J. Puccio, DVD Town.com

Yes, The Getaway has a healthy dollop of McQueen coolness. And yes, it has the traditional drawn-bow tension and pacing of a Peckinpah film. But in the end, it's just a '70s outlaws-on-the-run potboiler; a poor man's Bonnie and Clyde. That doesn't make it a bad film; it's actually a good potboiler. But it does stand out in both the McQueen and Peckinpah canons as a primarily commercial, and not artistic, venture. It's neither artist's finest moment, but there's certainly no reason for them to be embarrassed by the film.

Unsurprisingly, the weak link in the film is Ali MacGraw. MacGraw is certainly a lovely woman, and she appears (at least in the rare interviews she gives) to be both intelligent and personable. But she was thrust into the limelight mainly because she was pretty and Robert Evans's girlfriend, not because she was an elite actor suited to be matched with talents like McQueen. McQueen ate her alive in The Getaway, completely overwhelming her (probably deliberately, knowing his personality) on the screen. And off it, too—by the end of the shoot, she and McQueen had abandoned their respective spouses for each other; their tempestuous marriage lasted five years. Frankly, that developing attraction is the best thing about her performance here. She clearly cares about Doc because she really cares about Doc. But her best and most real moment came when she wasn't acting—the infamous "slap" scene.

When Doc pulls over to the side of the road, gets out, and confronts Carol about her role in Benyon's double cross, Doc slaps her hard. A few times. The story behind the story here—something that, ironically, isn't discussed in this film's commentary track, but is discussed in the definitive The Essence of Cool documentary included as an extra with Bullitt—is that there was no movie trickery at work in the scene; McQueen really did hit MacGraw, and pretty hard to boot. Not only that, he told Peckinpah he was going to do it, and the two of them agreed that she shouldn't be told in advance. So Carol's response to Doc's actions are totally realistic—because MacGraw was reallybeing smacked around by Steve McQueen, and didn't know it was coming, and just responded as anyone would do in that situation.

Because of the magnitude of the tabloid fodder that the McQueen-MacGraw romance generated, it's easy to forget that this was not only a Sam Peckinpah film, but the second film he had done with McQueen. The first wasJunior Bonner, a sad, elegiac film about the death of the traditional American West, as seen through the character of a broken, over-the-hill rodeo rider. It was nothing like Peckinpah's "normal" films—nobody died, there weren't gallons of bright-red blood spraying around, and nobody had a slow-motion gun battle. Although Junior Bonner was a fine film, it flopped miserably at the box office—primarily because it was marketed as a McQueen action film. The two apparently enjoyed working together, though, and when McQueen (through his production company, Solar) approached Peckinpah about directing an adaptation of Jim Thompson's (The GriftersAfter Dark, My Sweet) novel, Peckinpah jumped. The Getaway had more action than Junior Bonner—but it still was no Wild Bunch or Straw Dogs. Was this a blatantly commercial venture? Did McQueen and Peckinpah view this film as a way to recoup some of the cost of the more personal and intimate Bonner? We'll never really know—but it was the most commercially successful film in Peckinpah's career, and arguably the most "mainstream" film he made. I guess sometimes you make a film for the love of the craft, and sometimes you make a film to pay your mortgage.

- David Ryan, DVD Verdict

As for [Peckinpah's] reliance upon blood, and the blood appearing real (although in today's sense, it looks very soupy and ketchupy, but I can only imagine back then), only helps reinforce his destructive qualities and render you helpless in regards to what's occurring on screen. Peckinpah's characters don't necessarily thrive off of what they have to do, they're just people making use of situations that were never meant to have rosy outcomes. These are people who use violence as not a means to an end, but rather, as a means of escape, as a means of restoring harmony to their narrative developments. Peckinpah does appear to relish these moments, shooting them in a very balletic style, allowing for the associated horror on screen to be juxtaposed with the very beautiful qualities told through his filmmaking. It works spectacularly, and while not at his particular best here (The Wild Bunch), he's still breaking boundaries not quite explored before with such panache.

- Newell Todd, Chud

Peckinpah’s skill is immediately in evidence with the opening, a lengthy montage which flicks backwards and forwards in time to give us a vivid impression of the monotony and aching frustration of prison life. Combined with brief flashbacks of Doc and Carol’s lovemaking, this vibrantly establishes the relationship between the central characters which Carol’s deal with Benyon – which involved sex as well as the robbery – puts in jeopardy. Throughout the film, Peckinpah’s style is crisp and straight to the point, driving the story forward with a raging momentum. His slight self-indulgence in the use of slow-motion is easy to forgive when placed in such a focused context. Sam also uses ellipsis to great effect, often giving the bare minimum of explanation and relying on us to fill in the gaps. It’s never directly stated, for example, that Carol slept with Benyon in order to get Doc out of prison. But it’s obvious in the unspoken looks between Doc and Carol, in Benyon’s self-satisfied manner, in Doc’s confused anger at his wife and his own post-prison impotence. Incidentally, it’s in this sideline of the story that we see Peckinpah’s own puzzlement and fury at women being reflected and it’s surely no accident that Doc’s slapping of his wife is so sudden and brutal. Yet the irony is that Carol is often as much of an active force in the film as her husband – it’s she who makes the deal and she who shoots Benyon for his assumption that she would happily kill her husband for her own safety. Although Ali McGraw’s blank-faced performance tends to mask this a little, Carol is a tough and intelligent woman and it’s not hard to see that this is one of the key factors keeping her and Doc together.

The relationship between Carol and Doc is pure Peckinpah, both in its vicious twists and turns and its ultimate fairy-tale ending. Sam was just as much of a romantic as he was a misanthrope and his feelings towards women were finely pitched between adoration and disgust. This also comes out in the subplot where the injured Butler forces a timid veterinarian to tend to his wounds and then decides to seduce his wife. The wife, played by the TV actress Sally Struthers, is deliberately and crudely sketched as the living embodiment of a sexist joke and I see her as the summation of Peckinpah’s negative feelings about women as unfaithful whores who want it rough because that’s the only thing they understand. If this were the whole of Peckinpah’s view of women then the labelling of him as a misogynist might have something to it but there’s also the tender, admiring side which comes out in complicated characters like Ida Lupino’s Ma Bonner in Junior Bonner and Isela Vega’s tough-as-nails heroine in Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia. Indeed, Sam is often at his best when the two attitudes collide as in the character of Carol in this movie, in Straw Dogs and, most interestingly, in The Ballad of Cable Hogue. Having accepted that the Struthers character is an unashamedly sexist creation then it’s easier to appreciate some of Sam’s black humour such as the brilliant food fight in the car and the fact that what Butler actually wants is to humiliate the husband far more than he wants to screw the wife.

Indeed, one of the things which defines much of Peckinpah’s work in this period is his use of a stock company of technicians and actors whom he happened to find agreeable. He wasn’t able to use many of them on Straw Dogs - hence the appearance in his filmography of John Coquillion who later took over regular DP duties – but they’re all here bar one. Lucien Ballard is the cinematographer, doing a superb job with the extensive location shooting in Texas. Robert L. Wolfe is the editor, working alongside Roger Spottiswoode, and they produce some stunning stuff, particularly in that opening montage, the famous garbage truck scene and the climactic hotel shoot-out. Indeed, the action in The Getaway is superbly achieved throughout – although there’s less of it than you might expect and it’s never allowed to overtake the careful plotting and character development which Walter Hill’s screenplay takes such pains to achieve. In many respects, it’s very close to the original novel but it’s less cynical and the ending is completely different. Thompson’s ending is darkly brilliant as Doc and Carol find themselves in a living hell but I tend to agree with most other writers that this wouldn’t have worked in this kind of film. Thompson’s central couple are mean-spirited and opportunistic while Peckinpah’s are likeable and have their own sense of honour. I suspect the new happy ending was a commercial decision but I think it’s the right one. Peckinpah certainly wasn’t averse to downbeat endings per se, however, as a look at Pat Garrett and Alfredo Garcia will confirm.

- Mike Sutton, DVD Times

Other reviews:

- Rusty White, EInsiders.com

- Mark A. Rivera, Genre Online


The Getaway appears slightly more detailed than the simultaneously released Bullitt on Blu-ray from Warner and both are probably exact duplicates of their HD-DVD editions.  The image quality shows some grit and minor grain. It probably looked quite similar to this theatrically over 35 years ago.  This is only single-layered and one of the earlier classic brought to hi-def disc. Colors seem brighter and truer than SD could relate although it can tend to look blocky at times. Skin tones seem quite warm - contrast exhibits healthy, rich black levels. Daylight scenes are more impressive but nothing is overly dark. This Blu-ray has a nice realistic feel with the only black-mark being the stock footage used in the film which comes across quite poorly.  By modern standards this is fairly tame visually but as a representation of the original - I doubt much more could be done. This Blu-ray probably looks like the film The Getaway and it advances beyond the last DVD editions in several key areas - notably detail and colors.

Audio :

No boost going on here - its a mono track pushing mostly through the center channel. I like the authenticity but fans who indulge for their Surround systems will be left empty handed with The Getaway. Quincy Jones does a great score switching moods and encapsulating strong emotions with his deft arrangements. The closing harmonica theme music seems absolutely perfect and sounds crisp enough without range or depth.

Extras :

The supplements appear to duplicate the SE DVD with the fine Redman led commentary. The 'Virtual' Reel One Commentary by Steve McQueen, Ali McGraw and Sam Peckinpah is s nice nostalgic SD touch for about 10 minutes. There is an SD featurette on Jerry Fielding and The Getaway Reel 4 Bank Robbery Sequence with alternate Jerry Fielding Score in HD. As an audio-only bonus - we get the Alternate Jerry Fielding Score and a trailer gallery of Sam Peckinpah Films. Overall the commentary is the king and very much worth indulging in.


I loved revisiting this film in 1080P and got a lot more out of it noticing plenty of Peckinpah 'socially soured' touches. As an action/thriller this holds up just as well today and the chemistry of McQueen/McGraw is perfectly implemented into the story. This is infinitely superior to its Basinger/Baldwin remake and a great film to have on Blu-ray in my opinion. I doubt we're going to see it looking any better and I recommend!

- Gary Tooze, DVD Beaver

Video: Warner made a similar misprint of The Getaway's packaging as it did with Bullitt, swapping the two films' aspect ratios. Despite what the flipside of the case claims, The Getawayis presented at its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and it looks fantastic in high-definition. Admittedly, its early moments in particular seem excessively dark, and the palette is dingy and heavy on browns, something that may be intended to reflect its dusty western setting. The image is crisp and smooth, richly detailed and light on the film grain I would've expected from a movie of this vintage. It's a marked improvement over the simultaneously-released HD DVD of Bullitt in that respect, and aside from potentially being a touch too dark, there really aren't any flaws of note -- the authoring seems adept, there are no nicks or specks in the source, and it's devoid of the telltale signs of excessive noise reduction. Very nicely done.

Audio: The Dolby Digital Plus audio sounds strikingly like a 35 year old mono track -- and that's exactly what it is -- but even if The Getaway isn't the most aurally impressive release, it's still reasonably robust. There's no thundering bass, of course, and the audio is obviously routed through a single speaker rather than dishing out a multichannel assault, but the film's dialogue is rendered cleanly and clearly, and Quincy Jones' score has an understated but decent presence. Nothing remarkable but no real complaints.

Monaural tracks are also offered in Spanish and French alongside subtitles in all three languages.

Extras: Although McQueen and Peckinpah are no longer with us and MacGraw doesn't seem keen on participating in DVD extras, Warner has compiled a virtual commentary with the three of them for the first ten minutes of the film, culling soundbites from vintage interviews. They each get a fair amount of time to themselves, discussing what drew them to the story and commenting on the lead characters, such as how universal and easily relatable Doc and Carol are even if they are bank robbers. They also each have their own angle to discuss: McQueen revealing that his Doc McCoy is a Bogart tribute and how he immersed himself in a maximum security prison alongside hardened criminals, MacGraw on her inexperience as an actress and her preference for working with strong directors, and Peckinpah on his response to the material and his thoughts on the movie some years later. It's too short to offer much insight but is fairly interesting nonetheless. Unlike a traditional commentary, the audio doesn't play over the movie itself, instead placing a timecoded version of the first reel of the film on the left of the screen while stills of MacGraw, McQueen, and Peckinpah appear on the right.

There is a proper audio commentary for the entirety of the film, moderated by Nick Redman and featuring three authors on Peckinpah and his films: Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle. They naturally devote little time to the behind the scenes comments that typically litter commentaries, instead relating The Getaway to the rest of Peckinpah's body of work, pointing out familiar themes and how the deliberate pace of the movie would never make it past studio marketeers today. This sort of emphasis on critical analysis isn't really my usual bag, but it's a welcomed change of pace from a traditional audio commentary.

Though not directly addressed as such, one topic briefly touched upon in the commentary is what Steve McQueen hoped to get out of the score by bringing in Quincy Jones. The score for The Getaway had originally been composed by frequent Peckinpah collaborator Jerry Fielding, and the remaining extras revolve largely around his involvement with the film.

In fact, Warner has gone to the impressive lengths of reinserting Fielding's music back into the film with an isolated score. Fielding's compositions are bouncy and somewhat country-flavored, placing particular emphasis on the snare drum, while Jones' has a more traditional funk flavor, heavy on bass and accompanied by strings and a guitarist mashing a wah pedal. It's surprisingly difficult to find all that many scenes to compare and contrast the two scores -- it's often the case that one track has music and the other is silent.

The late Jerry Fielding is also the focus of a half-hour featurette. Although it's named "Main Title 1M1: Jerry Fielding, Sam Peckinpah and The Getaway", that's somewhat misleading asThe Getaway is only touched upon for a few short minutes. This wonderful featurette pairs Camille Fielding, the composer's widow, with Peckinpah assistant Katy Haber as the two of them reminisce about these deeply creative men. Fielding introduces her husband's work by speaking about his early life and how he broke through the blacklist, and the remainder of featurette focuses almost entirely on the composer's tumultuous relationship with Peckinpah, even showing the text of a memo Peckinpah sent Fielding about his "overscored, pretentious" music for The Wild Bunch while screening dailies in a Mexican laundromat. The discussion about The Getaway includes notes about how unusually pleasant the experience was putting this film and its score together and how shattered Fielding was that McQueen replaced his score with one by Quincy Jones, so much so that it had lasting repercussions on the family cat. This featurette offers a sweet, charming look at these two men and is very much worth setting aside the time to watch.

- Adam Tyner, DVD Talk

Other reviews:

- Peter M. Bracke, Hi-Def Digest



Quotes found on the TSPDT profile page for Peckinpah:

"His preoccupation with the omnipresence of violence and the ambivalence of morality made for complex characters, never sure of their identity or their moral standing. But there was nothing ambiguous about Peckinpah's own view of man as an ignoble beast, though many questioned his insistence that the gratuitous gore in his films was in truth an expression of the director's quest for a better world." - (The MacMillan International Film Encyclopedia, 1994)

"American director who has made some of the most exciting gun duels and action scenes ever put on screen. Nor was it all blood and thunder: the human spirit was never better celebrated than in some of Peckinpah's early work. Unfortunately, after The Wild Bunch, things did not develop quite as one would have hoped." - David Quinlan (Quinlan's Illustrated Guide to Film Directors, 1999)

"The more that emerges on Peckinpah the man, the clearer it is that he was in brazen pursuit of his own fantasies - and expecting others to pay for it. A very dangerous man, because he could be so damn good. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid makes Clint Eastwood look like a carpetbagger." - David Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2002)

"The dying of the American West has been the subject of his best efforts (Ride the High Country, 62; The Wild Bunch, 69; The Ballad of Cable Hogue, 70). Lately, however, he's taken to projects containing mindless violence, limp plots, and surface characters (Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, 75; The Killer Elite, 75)." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)

"I want to be able to make westerns like Akira Kurosawa makes westerns." - Sam Peckinpah

On the 29th December 1984, the day after Sam Peckinpah died at the age of 59, a small obituary appeared in The New York Times. It claimed that Peckinpah, "best known for his westerns and graphic use of violence. attained notoriety for such films as The Wild Bunch, a brutal picture that was by several thousand red gallons the most graphically violent Western ever made and one of the most violent movies of all time." (2) With the release of The Wild Bunch (1969), Peckinpah became known as "Bloody Sam". In 1971, Straw Dogs hit the screen and the cult of notoriety was cemented: Peckinpah became a marketable, yet controversial director. Much sought after, he gave contentious interviews to a variety of newspapers and magazines including GamePlayboyFilms and Filmmaking and Take One, while also writing letters to newspaper editors justifying his work and slamming his detractors. (3) Under the microscope of feminist film theory his sometimes aberrant treatment of the representation of women and his "excessive" use of violence was noted and condemned. The critical uptake of the notion of Peckinpah as the "master of violence" and the momentum of the debates that ensued affected not only the discussion of his so-called "violent films" but also the reception of his more "gentle" ones. Peckinpah made numerous television serials and three films before The Wild Bunch, none of which was heralded as brutal, or violent. After The Wild Bunch, he made The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), and after Straw Dogs he made Junior Bonner (1972). Both The Ballad of Cable Hogue and Junior Bonner are about individuals who are running out of time and space-but they are also full of the affirmation of life.

The Wild Bunch
The Wild Bunch

In working through the criticism that has evolved around Peckinpah's 14 films, what becomes evident is the concentration on specific moments in this working history. The personal mythology surrounding Peckinpah is inscribed in much of the writing generated by these films. A drunk, a coke addict, a sentimental romantic, possibly schizophrenic, a little man with a big chip on his shoulders-Peckinpah is said to be many things. Yet it is obvious from the large body of critical literature, which includes reviews, articles and numerous books, both critical and biographical, that Peckinpah is not a "neglected" filmmaker; rather, there is an unwillingness to deal with the paradoxical nature of his films. In an allusion to Pauline Kael, the 1995 Peckinpah retrospective held by the Film Society of the Lincoln Centre was entitled: "Blood of a Poet". (4) In this short phrase Kael captures something elemental about Peckinpah's films, something that is often ignored-that the intensity, resonance and vitality of these films' aesthetic expressiveness, be it violent or utopian, takes us into the realm of the poetic.

Charting the path of Peckinpah's critical and personal reputation is something like taking a roller coaster ride. From the late '60s through to the '70s, Peckinpah was both celebrated and condemned as the cinematic poet of violence. After this brief period, although occasionally producing films that express the strength of his artistic vision, he went into an erratic artistic and physical decline. By the end of the '70s, he disappeared into obscurity; yet after his death, he slowly began to re-emerge as an influential presence who left us with a disparate but rich cinematic oeuvre. In 1993, the BBC produced Sam Peckinpah: Man of Iron (Paul Joyce, 1992), a feature-length documentary dealing with his personal life and films. Retrospectives have also been staged at the Cinémathèque Français in Paris, at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and at London's National Film Theatre, while Film Comment and Sight and Sound have published reappraisals of his work. Major publications in the last ten years include David Weddle's 1994 insightful biography, Paul Seydor's 1997 "Reconsideration" of his 1980 text Peckinpah: The Western Films (1980) and two collections of essays on The Wild Bunch(5) Michael Bliss' Justified Lives: Morality & Narrative in the Films of Sam Peckinpah, which was published in 1993, is one of the few texts that deals with all of Peckinpah's films; while Stephen Prince's Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies explores Peckinpah's work in the context of changes within the industry and the social milieu in which this filmmaker was working. Some of the most insightful and thoughtful work on Peckinpah's films has been produced by theorists and critics such as Bliss, Terence Butler, Jim Kitses, Mark Crispin Miller and Paul Seydor who address Peckinpah's films within the context of an American literary tradition and the western genre. Bliss and Seydor have picked up where Jim Kitses started, claiming Peckinpah as the son of an American cultural tradition that includes Cooper, Emerson, Hemingway, Faulkner and Mailer. Both these writers address his films in the context of the western, discussing his tarnished approach to the original ideal. These major reappraisals, the re-release of The Wild Bunch and the retrospectives have all helped to re-ignite interest in Peckinpah's legacy as both a mercurial personality and an important director whose influence is acknowledged by many contemporary filmmakers, including Kathryn Bigelow, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and John Woo.

- Gabrielle Murray, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

The first point that must be made, here in the 21st century, is that Peckinpah's films are not terribly violent. That's how he made his reputation: as "Bloody Sam", the man who never met a bucket of theatrical blood he wasn't willing to splash around, and who always made certain you knew when the blood was about to flow, by means of slow motion. Still, by today's standards, the better part of the Peckinpah canon is not terribly violent - not when judged against today's rivers of gore. There are, in Peckinpah, no fountaining bodies, no bits of brain tissue splattered about. Anything released in the last 20 years is quite a bit more repellent. Seen any of those Saw movies?

And the very last thing Peckinpah shot? Right before his death? Julian Lennon's music videos for Vallotte and Too Late for Goodbyes. Did he need the money? Did he like playing the underdog? Was there something moving about musical advertisements for the son of a famous victim of violence? However you answer these questions, there's something starkly beautiful about Valotte. Julian Lennon, his features and his voice so unsettlingly reminiscent of his late father's, sits alone at the piano in a recording studio, as the camera seems to hover, as if from hereafter itself, at the uppermost corner of the ceiling above the performance.

There's nothing flashy or cheap about the video (in an era when cheap was the order of the day), and everything about it feels understated, even graceful. But whose heavenly ken is depicted therein? From the top of that ghostly staircase? John Lennon's point of view, lamenting a son he insufficiently came to know? Peckinpah's, who knew his time was short and that his vision, as realised, was incomplete? Maybe Valotte was a sort of funeral oratory, too - one, as in David Warner's speech from Cable Hogue, in which the orator was unable to lie.

- Rick Moody, The Guardian

Sam Peckinpah on Facebook


Stories of Steve McQueen's troubled childhood and roustabout adolescence never squared with the fastidiousness of his screen persona, the aristocracy of his best roles. McQueen did not need to act snobbery and elitism; his whole being vibrated with a sense of natural superiority. Only once, in The Thomas Crown Affair, did he play the wealthy and powerful man he was in real life, and then the role fitted him as perfectly as his tailoring.

Repressed loners in search of standards were McQueen's speciality. His wintry blue eyes, neat movements, and clipped unemotional voice told you everything you needed to know about life on the road, in the trenches, in prison, or on the trail. He did not mind being unsympathetic; audiences knew he was a cut above those around him, and identified with his locked-tongue loneliness, his private obsession—something Peckinpah explored (and exploited) to great effect in The Getaway.

The best McQueens are in the 1960s. His ambitious young professional gambler in The Cincinnati Kid, psychopathic World War II G.I. in Hell Is for Heroes, World War II pilot in The War Lover, itinerant jazz musician in Love with the Proper Stranger, and rootless wanderer in Baby the Rain Must Fall all flirt with villainy, particularly in their callous attitude toward the women who love these driven men. His Frank Bullitt in Bullitt is no better, but when, in the final enigmatic scene, he returns to his apartment after the bloody airport shootout, sees his mistress sleeping, and impassively washes his hands before joining her, the line between hero and clod is decisively drawn.

John Baxter, updated by John McCarty, Film Reference.com

948 (90). Assault on Precinct 13 (1976, John Carpenter)

Screened December 31 2008 on Image DVD in New York NY

TSPDT #727 IMDb Wiki

John Carpenter's second feature is often cited as an object lesson in tight, tense low-budget action filmmaking where not a single frame is wasted in conveying suspense and drama. The irony is that the majority of the scenes run longer than is necessary, lingering on deliberate silences or stage movements; the first half of the film is padded with wordless interludes taking in locations or gazing at people driving to those locations. In interviews Carpenter has admitted to extending shots and scenes in order to fill up a feature running length with a limited budget and fairly simple story, but whether by design or necessity, the laid-back exposition generates an seductive air of fateful, impending doom.

Viewers may not notice the slow editing pace due to Carpenter's irresistibly cheesy but astoundingly effective synth score that pumps tension through a simple five note melody or a hanging chord. The slowness allows for characterizations both cinematic (police lieutenant Austin Stoker's eyes taking in his surroundings, conveying an attentiveness that will serve his character well later) and dramatic (death row convict Darwin Joston's Hawksian, jocular manner of sizing one person up after another with repeated requests for a smoke). Carpenter's use of expansive 'Scope frames would seem antithetical to shoestring filming, but they match the horizontal flatness of the Southern California setting, an urban wasteland conveying frontier desolation in which a ragtag police outfit finds itself utterly isolated.  While the near-senseless seige of the police station by a seemingly suicidal army of gangsters is the film's extended climactic setpiece, the film's most disturbing moment is an earlier inciting incident, the notorious ice cream truck massacre, a uniquely random act of horrific violence in broad suburban daylight that charges the subsequent nighttime siege with paranoid dread over unlimited possibilites of mayhem.

Unfortunately, the second half feels more conventional, relying on flash editing and walls of noise to provide easy scares in the dark, offset by the pornographic video game pleasure of turkey shooting zombie-like mauraders. Carpenter's innovation here is an ultraviolent intensification of the George Romero heroes-in-a-tincan setup that itself has been co-opted by any number of claustrophobic action thrillers since. Nonetheless, Carpenter remembers the power of anticipatory quiet in between rounds of bloodbaths, as the dwindling number of defenders regard each other with surprisingly touching gazes, a humanist admiration earned through cold, hard survivalist professionalism.

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Hopelessly violent but exceedingly well made police thriller (1976), short on motivation but long on paranoia. The second film by John Carpenter, it has wit, flair, and movement, even though the hommages to Howard Hawks get a little heavy at times.

- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader

"Assault on Precinct 13" is a much more complex film than Mr. Carpenter's "Halloween," though it's not really about anything more complicated than a scare down the spine. A lot of its eerie power comes from the kind of unexplained, almost supernatural events one expects to find in a horror movie but not in a melodrama of this sort.

The title tells the story, which is about a small group of people — a police officer, a couple of prisoners and several civilians — who find themselves besieged in a precinct station on the edge of a desolate Los Angeles slum. What makes the film so effective is that the attackers seem to be as motiveless, and relentless, as the zombies who stalk through "Dawn of the Dead."

If the movie is really about anything at all, it's about methods of urban warfare and defense. Mr. Carpenter is an extremely resourceful director whose ability to construct films entirely out of action and movement suggests that he may one day be a director to rank with Don Siegel.

- Vincent Canby, The New York Times, August 18, 1979

Before making the original Halloween into one of the most profitable independent films of all time, John Carpenter directed this riveting low-budget thriller from 1976, in which a nearly abandoned police station is held under siege by a heavily armed gang called Street Thunder. Inside the station, cut off from contact and isolated, cops and convicts who were headed for death row must now join forces or die. That's the basic plot, but it's what Carpenter does with it that's remarkable. Drawing specific inspiration from the classic Howard Hawks Western Rio Bravo (which included a similar siege on disadvantaged heroes), Carpenter used his simple setting for a tense, tightly constructed series of action sequences, emphasizing low-key character development and escalating tension. Few who've seen the film can forget the "ice cream cone" scene in which a young girl is caught up in the action by patronizing a seemingly harmless ice cream truck. It's here, and in other equally memorable scenes, that Carpenter demonstrates his singular knack for injecting terror into the mundane details of daily life, propelling this potent thriller to cult favorite status and long-standing critical acclaim.

-Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com

He went from being one of the masters of horror (''Halloween,'' ''The Thing'') to putting out loads of horrifyingly bad movies (''John Carpenter's Vampires'' and ''Ghosts of Mars''). But before director John Carpenter turned his attention almost completely to scary fare, he directed Assault On Precinct 13, a tight, tense thriller in which cops and cons join forces in an abandoned police station to fight off a mob of revenge-minded gang members. Sure, the acting (from never-really-heard-from-agains like Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston) is suspect, and certain plot points -- such as the fact that the so-called assault actually takes place at Precinct 9, not 13 -- range from confusing to nonsensical. Still, Carpenter's eerie score and Douglas Knapp's stylish cinematography give this low-budget shoot-out all the weight of an urban ''Rio Bravo'' (although it should be noted no one here is named Stumpy or Feathers). And trust me, you'll never look at an ice cream truck the same way again.

- Dalton Ross, Entertainment Weekly

Kent Jones of Film Comment has referred to horror maven John Carpenter as the last genre filmmaker working in America (indeed, while everyone else seems to move with the digital tide, Carpenter remains a resilient "analog man"). Joseph Kaufman, executive producer of Carpenter's thoroughly-modern western Assault on Precinct 13, wrote in a 1994 essay: "People have noticed that both Rio Bravo and Assault on Precinct 13 take place in besieged and isolated police stations, and that moral codes of behavior are important in the two films." Kaufman is careful to point out that Assault on Precinct 13 isn't a literal imitation of Howard Hawks's film, but there's no mistaking the modern racial and sexual politics encoded in the distinctly western elements of Carpenter's lean, mean, genre-defying masterpiece.

Less subtle though arguably more successful than Romero's Night of the Living Dead, the film evokes an ever-shifting political pecking order when a cultural cross-section of society trapped inside a Los Angeles police station wages war against a violent street gang named Street Thunder... Carpenter acknowledges that his protagonists are equally responsible for the choices they make. As a troubled black youth, Bishop walked out of the ghetto on his own, but thanks in part to the guidance of his father. Conversely, white prisoner Napoleon Wilson (the late Darwin Joston) turned to violence on his own, but no thanks to negative encouragement (a priest once told him: "You have something to do with death"). But what is the audience to make of Bishop fearfully observing a white officer as he loads his rifle, or the black prisoner, Wells (Tony Burton), who shoots his silencer at Street Thunder only to realize after one of the film's many mini-battles that his gun wasn't loaded? Carpenter's doesn't allow his characters to play any sort of blame games, and despite any lingering hang-ups they may have with each other's color, the director acknowledges that our problems with race are obscuring larger issues dealing with misguided authority and rampant political deception.

Because Assault on Precinct 13 is among one of the most remarkably composed films of all time, it's easy to look at Carpenter's rigorous framing techniques as their own acts of political resistance. The film's tight medium-shots position the characters in constant defiance of each other: blacks against whites, women against men, prisoners against officers. When Wells announces that he will attempt to escape Precinct 13 (he humorously calls his plan "Save Ass"), Bishop suggests a fairer approach. After a speedy lesson in trust and human decency, Wells and Wilson engage in a quickie game of Potatoes that positions Wells as the group's potential gateway out of the police station. Despite the tragic but inevitable human losses, no one group comes out on top because only their capacity for kindness reigns supreme in Carpenter's democratic kingdom.

- Ed Gonzalez, Slant

Carpenter had little time or money to meander off the point, so it possesses an expositional leanness that would not stand the loss of a single scene. Still, and as Carpenter observes more than once on this DVD’s commentary track, the film’s pace is slow; he takes almost a third of its 90 minute running time to set up his main characters and their relationships. Then, though he lets all hell break loose for the remainder of the picture, the action sequences maintain a deliberate, provocative spareness. For instance, the gang members use silencers on their weapons, and the repetitious thuds of their gunfire is more unnerving than the customary loud cracks of rapid fire weapons.

The cocky, expert shooter Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Justin), may be a convicted killer, but he does not lack for humanity or the desire to help others in peril. His repeated request for a cigarette appears to be his own way of assessing how fairly another person will treat him. And Leigh (Laurie Zimmer), the secretary, reminds one of the kind of unconscious insouciance that Hawks’ women possessed, for she takes care of her own needs even as she looks out for others, combining a sense of independence without losing of the needs of the group.

While Carpenter did recognize that the audience for low-budget cinema values aggressive action above all else, he made an effort not to allow violence to occur without a clear cause. While the plot contains a disturbing execution that sets out how amoral the protagonists’ assailants are, Carpenter rarely otherwise chooses to overplay savagery. Even if the three central characters take up arms out of necessity, not ideology or sadism, Carpenter refuses to reduce their violence to a sideshow of blood squibs or special effects pyrotechnics.

- David Sanjek, Pop Matters

Assault On Precinct 13 is one of the best low-budget action movies ever made and a model of good B-Movie filmmaking. It’s short, lean and agonisingly suspenseful, paying homage to its influences without ripping them off wholesale. Although it was only the second film directed by John Carpenter, it remains one of his most effective and it stands out as the movie where he began collecting together a reliable team of collaborators who stayed with him for the next few years, the period during which he made most of his classic films.

Carpenter’s use of real locations is masterful – the use of Venice Police Station as a location and the surrounding district of California, some kind of urban wasteland. The sense of sun-drenched day turning into seemingly endless night is beautifully evoked – the skies are often gorgeous – and this is something which links a number of Carpenter films, ranging from Halloween to Prince of Darkness. Indeed, the latter film is almost a remake of Assault on Precinct 13 with added supernatural bunkum. Also well in evidence is Carpenter’s ability to use the possibilities of the Panavision frame. This was his first film in 2.35:1 and his exploration of the far sides of the frame is one of the things which makes him a contemporary director as opposed to the directors who influenced him, most of whom hated having to use anything wider than 1.85:1 – and Ford and Hawks weren’t overly keen on anything wider than Academy ratio.

This attention to character is something which denotes all of Carpenter’s best work and even his least interesting films are often good in this respect – the oddball group of vampire hunters led by James Woods in Vampires for example. Again, this is a lesson learned from Howard Hawks and the three leading characters in the film are very much in the Hawksian tradition. Wilson, witty and reflective, is far from the usual stereotype of a killer bound for death row and becomes something of an anti-hero. Leigh, the secretary – presumably named in tribute to the screenwriter of The Big Sleep, El Dorado and Rio Lobo, Leigh Brackett – is a classic Hawksian woman, resourceful and fiercely independent. Lt. Bishop is humourous, wry, honourable and tough – not at all unlike a Wayne hero in one of Hawks’ westerns (among whom John T. Chance stands out, and Carpenter’s little tribute to this character is the editor credit).

Of course, Bishop is also black, and the fact that this is rarely an issue, with the exception of a joke he makes when Leigh offers him coffee, reminds the viewer of Night Of The Living Dead. Nor is this the only reminder, since the sequences in which the scarily numerous and anonymous thugs attempt to storm the police station through the doors and windows are highly endebted to the similar sequences in Romero’s film. There’s a certain amount of Hitchcock’s The Birds in these scenes too. You’ll also spot more than a touch of Straw Dogs, particularly in the plot line of a collection of brutal thugs wanting to get at a man who they perceive to owe them his life. I also have to point out the presence of Henry Brandon as the desk sergeant - Brandon played Scar in another of Carpenter's favourite films, The Searchers.

- Mike Sutton, DVD Times

Carpenter strips the notion of what a Hawksian film entails down to its very essence for Assault On Precinct 13. His men are resourceful and no matter the danger that surrounds them, not only look like heroes but sound like them too. They may not be quite the match of the soldiers of The Thing From Another World for an ability to laugh in the face of certain death, although few could, but Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) is always ready with a, "Gotta smoke?" as the gunfire dies down. It becomes not only his refrain but also his way of assuring those around him that, for the moment at least, the danger has passed.

It's that sense of danger that becomes what is best and most memorable about Assault On Precinct 13. For all the dozens of gang members who are shot and killed by Stoker and his makeshift cops, not one of them says so much as a word. Instead, they are the urban nightmare that Walter Hill promised but never delivered. Heavily armed and as relentless as the creature in Carpenter's later The Thing or Michael Myers in Halloween, they just keep on coming, attacking several times, being forced back but always coming forward. For all those that Stoker shoots, a dozen more take their place with each glimpse outside of the station showing yet more gathering in the shadows. Even with a career that includes Halloween, The Thing and The Fog, Assault On Precinct 13 is one of the most unsettling of Carpenter's films, be it in the gang members sitting silently cradling their weapons before their killing spree begins, in their cold-blooded murder of a young girl or their circling of the police station. Carpenter makes their assaults simply terrifying.

It's not, though, as good a film as Rio Bravo but then few are. There's a warmth to Hawks' film that Carpenter's lacks. Similarly, Hawks finds the time for a great number of asides in his story, whereas Carpenter, having stripped his film to the bone, deviates not an inch from the Street Thunder gang preparing for the siege and the assault itself. So, a different film, then, but it remains a great one. And with time having been so kind to it, it remains as entertaining and thrilling a film now as it has ever been.

- Eamon McCusker, DVD Times

Carpenter's social commentary juices flow most strongly when he's deconstructing the genre's racial and gender roles, the Street Thunder gang being the great evil that forces our protagonists to join as one: black cop, white cop, black convict, white convict. Fate interplays, such as when death row convict Wells (Tony Burton) complains that he's always had bad luck, not moments before a bitter death. American society remains flawed in Carpenter's eye but the strive for justice is a victory all its own, the protagonists surviving only because of their ability to set aside their purported identities (male, female, etc.), remaining individuals as they unite as equals. Carpenter's almost mathematically structured framework itself defies any sense of bias, his characters on equal footing whether they remain in defiance of one another, or, in a climactic and revealing shot, stand side by side as a single force.

Because Carpenter's observations render Assault on Precinct 13 as one of the most transcendent of all action films, it's almost easy to glance over the razor sharp narrative precision and the efficiency of its lean, mean setpieces; absorbing the space of their locations, the camera itself feels like an occupant of the police station fortress, bullets ricocheting while gangsters attack not unlike the zombies from Night of the Living Dead. Carpenter is more subtle than Romero in his evocation of social conflict but his insight is as profound as that film's Vietnam-infused anger, the hopefully optimistic ying to Romero's learnedly pessimistic yang. Points for humor, however, go to Carpenter, who achieves—through the great performance that is Tony Burton's—what may be the most hilariously titled escape plan in movie history. Although there may be no greater isolated element than Carpenter's own soulful synth score, Assault on Precint 13's powerful exercise in democracy—which appropriately ends with our two male protagonists marching together up a flight of steps—is nothing short of one for the ages.

- Rob Humanick, The Projection Booth

The crime gang excepted (which is anonymous and expendable), no primary character in the film embodies his stereotype. The criminals exhibit trust and selflessness, the new policeman (the survivors’ hierarchal authority) is black, and the women are composed, always clothed, and never scream. It is responsible, dynamic characterization. Most every character is designed to contest traditional sexual and racial stereotyping. This ideology (or lack of stereotyping) dictates to some extent the film’s outcome: the survivors are reduced to an essential representation of the sexes, races, and opposing sides of law. (This racial and sexual acknowledgement also employed in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.) Success in their desire to live, in result, necessitates trust and collaboration between the party members, each of whom embodies traditionally segregated characterizations in ’70s film. As the body count escalates, notice the policeman’s face as it fills simultaneously with fear, desperation, and concern as he hands a loaded rifle to one of the convicts.

The suspense of this film relents only at the final minutes, once the smoke of gunfire clears to reveal the survivors without a bullet of ammunition between them. Survival is meaningless without a viewer’s sympathy — in Carpenter’s hands the latter trait is a transcendent element. Carpenter’s survivors are durable, and, as with those in this film, are not characterized by strength and determination inasmuch as they are by vulnerability and fear.

- Rumsey Taylor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You

Wringing tension from his water-tight premise, Carpenter goes on to deliver a template example of how to make the most out of your resources. Not a high-budget film by any stretch, Assault On Precinct 13 nonetheless uses its primary location in a wonderfully sinister way, with superb use of sound and light to ratchet up the tension at the right moments. Combined with shots of shadowy figures running around, and built on characters you end up giving a damn about (no matter how morally ambiguous they are), it’s a lean, exciting action thriller, and absolutely not the kind of film that anyone can make.

If you want proof of that, you can’t help but turn to the Ethan Hawke-headlined remake, which was released in 2005, and directed by Jean-Francois Richet. Remakes of Carpenter films are notoriously not very good, but Assault On Precinct 13 didn’t turn out too badly. That said, it lacked anywhere near the levels of tension and unease of its far cheaper predecessor, and it failed too to match the sheer feeling of claustrophobia of Carpenter’s original.

- Simon Brew, Den of Geek

Unfortunately, "Assault" is marked by one of the weaker scripts you're going to find this side of George Lucas, and the acting isn't much better. (What does it say when the most convincing line readings are given by Larry Burton as the convict Wells, an actor who is most famous as Apollo Creed's trainer from the "Rocky" movies? Nothing good, I assure you.) Napoleon Wells is played by Darwin Joston, and while everyone acts like Wells is the ultimate hard case, Joston completely fails to inject any of the rakish charm into Wells that the script labors so mightily to achieve. Austin Stoker plays the straight "white hat" lead as the top cop in the Precinct fairly well, but again he's handicapped by some incredibly wooden dialogue. Laurie Zimmer tries to inject some sultry sexuality into her role as Laurie, a secretary at the Precinct, but on a couple of moments you can actually see her looking at the floor to find her marks so she knows where to stand.

The gang members of "Street Thunder" are a mixed bag, as well. If you rate them against the gang members of "The Warriors," to choose another period piece about the gangs, or against any recent flick about gangs, they come across as almost comically impersonal and robotic (with the powerful exception of the ice cream cone scene, of course). But for 1976, "Street Thunder" was probably a pretty scary bunch. And if you view "Street Thunder" as a representation of the mindless evil prevalent in the disintegrating American society of the 1970's, they are pretty spooky as they just keep on coming in wave after wave. (But still, modern audiences may not be spooked by a gang where a couple of the members are clearly wearing pressed khakis.)

- Biohazard, The Deuce

Other reviews:

"The film is a great way to jump into the John Carpenter filmography -- it's sort of a Carpenter-land travel guide. " - Todd Doogan, The Digital Bits

"An inventive premise, lots of guns, heavy action, effective suspense, genuine laughs, a furious last half, and John Carpenter kicking B-Movie ass behind the camera while cracking skulls with his jiving score" - John Fallon, JoBlo.com

"If there was any indication of just how good a director John Carpenter was, Assault on Precinct 13 was a darn good sign." - Gordon Justesen, DVD Movie Central

"John Carpenter’s cult classic may be low budget, but more than 30 years on it remains brilliantly claustrophobic and eerily entertaining." - Maria Realf, Eye for Film

"Carpenter certainly knows how to play with his audience – he manages to supply the shocks that similar movies just can’t." - Wayne Southworth, The Spinning Image

"The growing tension of never knowing where the enemy is coming from makes for some great cinema, and the heavy gore adds to the proceedings." - Matt Paprocki, BlogCritics.com

"The film was quickly shot on little financing, and although certain scenes feel rushed and haphazardly put together, overall the film is brilliantly constructed and beautifully photographed in Carpenter’s patented 2.35:1 widescreen that always elevates seemingly mundane shots into iconic and grand statements, much like the classic westerns and horror films that continue to resonate today." - Richard X., Cinephile Magazine

"Although ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is only John Carpenter’s second film and predates HALLOWEEN, it remains an entertaining movie, whose western influences have helped make it a cult classic." - The Cinema Laser


Shot on a shoestring, the movie uses a patchwork of locations around Los Angeles, and the interiors were filmed at the Producers Studio, now Raleigh Studios.

The streets near the station are in Watts, Los Angeles’s often-troubled South Central area; the view across the street from the precinct is North Hollywood, but ‘Anderson Police Station, Division 14’ itself is the old Police and Fire Station of Venice, 685 North Venice Boulevard, on the northeast corner of Pisani Drive, Venice, which was the only art deco police station in Los Angeles, and is now the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), devoted to Los Angeles’s excellent tradition of multi-ethnic public art. Murals, that is.

- Patrick Naugle, DVD Verdict

- Movie-Locations.com

One of the most controversial sequences in the film concerns the shooting of an ice-cream seller and his customer, a little girl. They are shot in cold blood by a gang member (played with chilling detachment by Frank Doubleday), and the staging of the deaths beside an ice-cream van in broad daylight seems to undermine the aspects of society we all presume to be safe & protected, in a similar way to the siege on the police station later that day.This sequence upset the US censors so much that they demanded Carpenter remove the scene of the girl being shot or it would get an X certificate: his answer was to cut the scene in just the print to be sent back to the censors, and to leave it in every print that was to be distributed across America!

- Graham Hill, The John Carpenter Website


Listen to main theme via embedded video:

Like his contemporary, Brian De Palma, John Carpenter is a master at borrowing, reinterpreting, and occasionally stealing things from the best filmmakers of the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. It’s apparent in Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 both in his filmmaking (he edits the film under the pseudonym “John T. Chance,” the name of John Wayne’s character in Rio Bravo, a clear Western influence) and in his music (he describes the soundtrack as a fusion of the theme from Dirty Harry and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”). The Halloween soundtrack draws on The Exorcist’s piano theme in the same way.

The original film’s soundtrack is essentially just two pieces, repeated at different lengths throughout the movie. The first is little more than a reedy ticking noise, like a baseball card in a bicycle spoke. Whether it blends into the film by counting off precious seconds or just mimicking broken machinery varies from scene to scene. The second piece is a thick, hazy synthesizer riff that plugs lazily through the occasional relaxed sequences in the film. It’s as minimalist as anything, but the approach is less a matter of deliberate artistry and more a product of Carpenter’s short composing time (just a few days) and low budget (he was working with old vacuum tubes that produced an unusual tone).

- Erick Bierlitz, The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola

It’s curious how an accomplished composer can sweat blood creating an intricate, detailed and rich score for a huge orchestra without notice while another with less education and range can create a simple five note riff in his home studio and immediately have a popular hit on his hands. John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 proves that size doesn’t matter. It’s landing the musical hook that counts. If you have that, you have the audience. At only twenty-four minutes with synthesizer and two simple themes, and I mean simple, Carpenter creates massive impact with not a lot of material. His score is tense, atmospheric, and classic. The film, of course, depends on the careful mix of relentless pressure and respite, and the score serves it superbly. It’s a score that has gained cult status.

In the album notes, Carpenter quotes Herrmann, that master of repeated short phrases as a basis for suspense, as his inspiration. If there’s one thing that has served Carpenter well, it’s the awareness to look to his idols (Howard Hawkes as a director; Herrmann as a composer) to work out how the job is done. He reads his idols well, works them out correctly, and using the lessons they teach, he executes beautifully.

- Steven Woolston, Music from the Movies

The score isn't actually bad. Once Carpenter sinks you in slowly but surely into the film, the score mixes perfectly with everything else. The once-grating repetitive melody becomes akin to a heart beating profusely. You actually quite follow it --- you dread the score that dictates tension, and you treasure when it levitates to something easing. It's quite an effective score --- nothing fancy, nothing extravagant, just purely supportive of whatever else Carpenter is cooking up onscreen.

- Ogg, Lessons from the School of Inattention

As with most every John Carpenter film, Assault on Precinct 13 is complemented with a simplistic, minimalist score — it is his signature, exampled most famously by his three-note staccato for Halloween. Keep in mind that Carpenter is secondly a filmmaker, pursuing the profession after earning a degree in music. Directors customarily claim secondary credits, and Carpenter’s persists to be one of the more unique in “Director-Composer.”

For Carpenter, this has become a deteriorative element. His tactic in scoring is appropriate to suspense or horror and is attuned to the ’70s, favoring synthesizers and bass guitars. As with these instruments, Carpenter’s scoring has become an artifact of past decades.

- Rumsey Taylor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You

When "Assault" was made, synthesizers were not as common as they are today. In fact, the recording process was such that you had to record one track for each chord, or something along those lines. In other words, while now we would just use a keyboard, back then it was a long and arduous mixing process. With this information it makes the movie's musical score all the more impressive. For while it sounds like the base line for a bad 80's dance song, it is, in fact, pretty good considering what he had to work with.

- Jeremiah Sherman, ThreeGeek.com


Sharpness seemed solid. The movie remained nicely detailed and crisp at all times. Never did I discern any significant issues connected to softness or fuzziness. Jagged edges and moiré effects also created no concerns, though a smidgen of edge enhancement showed up at times. As one might expect, print flaws caused a mix of problems, though they remained fairly minor. I noticed occasional examples of specks and marks, and grain seemed heavier than normal sometimes. I also saw some examples of reel change markers. However, the movie came across as reasonably clean during much of the film.

Colors never excelled, but they rarely became a liability either. The film showed some hues that were a bit dense at times, and they also looked somewhat flat on other occasions. Still, they mostly appeared acceptably concise and natural. Black levels could seem slightly inky sometimes, but they usually were reasonably deep, and shadows followed suit. The low-light shots periodically seemed somewhat too thick, but most of them appeared quite easy to discern. Though no one will mistake Assault for a “reference level” image, it held up well after all these years.

I felt the same way about the monaural soundtrack of Assault on Precinct 13. Despite the lack of stereo or surround audio, the mix sounded quite good much of the time. Speech sounded natural and crisp, as those elements seemed above average for the era. Music also was nicely rich and dynamic. High-end came across as a little shrill, but the score presented good bass response. Effects occasionally demonstrated a little distortion, mostly due to gunshots. Otherwise those elements were fairly accurate and concise. In general, the track sounded a little thin, but when I factored in the movie’s age and budget, I felt that Assault provided a positive auditory experience.

In a negative move, Assault presents no form of text for those with hearing issues. The movie includes neither subtitles in any language nor closed-captioning. In this day and age, that seems absurd.

- Colin Jacobson, DVD Movie Guide


Q&A With John Carpenter (23m07s): The actual content of this Q&A is fine. Unfortunately, it's the presentation that lets it down. In this, Carpenter appears onstage beside Austin Stoker, filmed at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood in 2002. Much of Carpenter's answers do dwell on Assault On Precinct 13 but he does mention other films of his in passing. He also offers a very welcome glimpse at how he went about making his film, not only in his setting up the action (and actors) but in his use of Panavision and the problems that came with it and in the instruments that he used in scoring the movie. The problem, though, is that this was filmed from a position in the audience with a camcorder. It's in focus so long as it is zoomed in on Carpenter but, otherwise, tends to drift out of focus on wide shots. It also tends to drift around its subjects quite a bit and, at one point, gets switched off. Still, look past that and what Carpenter has to say and the questions he's asked are interesting.

Commentary: Carpenter is on his own for this track and while it's good enough, it's not a patch on those where he has someone to work off such as Kurt Russell (on The Thing). But Carpenter is still head and shoulders above many others when it comes to commentaries and while he does leave some gaps in his track, he also talks in detail about his step up to shooting this off this student film Dark Star, about the influence that Hawks had on the film and about the limitations of the production, such as why the cast don't just go upstairs to wait it out and how Carpenter tries to explain this with dialogue. Still an interesting track but it would have been very much better had it been a Carpenter and Stoker recording.

Production History (16m54s): This features pages of text explaining the production in between behind-the-scenes shots of the same, stills taken from the script and storyboards. The most interesting section of this feature is near the end where it shows news clippings from the UK, where it became much more of a success than it was in the US, and in Carpenter's reaction to how European audiences reacted to it so differently.

Finally, there are two Radio Spots (32s and 33s) and a very scratchy Original Theatrical Trailer (2m04s).

- Eamon McCusker, DVD Times


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John Carpenter Discussion Forum

John Carpenter is sometimes referred to as the “master of the horror film.” This is a reasonable title, bearing in mind that he has proved to be not only a director with a visually and thematically consistent body of work, but also a true visionary of the horror genre. Although usually misunderstood and under appreciated by audiences and film critics alike, John Carpenter has created some of the most intense, imaginative, influential and successful horror films in cinema history. Consider for example Halloween (1978), one of the most profitable independent films ever made. This one film spawned seven sequels, countless imitations, and ignited the slasher-film boom that flourished and dominated the horror film industry during the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the same time, it would be unfair to categorize John Carpenter as just a horror film director, as he has also created exceptional science fiction and action films. However, it is worth noticing that even if the majority of Carpenter's films belong to a fantastic genre, they all bear a strong influence from the western. Regardless of their subject matter, the films directed by John Carpenter are characterized by his mastery of the cinematographical craft, and by the showcasing of engaging narratives that convey a profound commentary on the many social, racial, gender and sexual anxieties of our modern world.

- Marco Lanzagorta, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Bio

With themes that range from a distrust of authority and absolutism, complete with the rebellious anti-hero as a lead (They Live, Escape From New York), to paying for the sins of the past… or the future (The Fog, Prince of Darkness), to simply the coming of the end of the world, Carpenter has covered a lot of ground over the course of his career. His “Apocalypse Trilogy” (The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness) represent a body of work that all deal with Armageddon resulting from supernatural or alien forces causing humans to turn on each other in some fashion, with grim, dark-hearted results. You’ll also find recurring actors — it’s clear that he’s had some successful working relationships, some of which even would go on to become close friendships, with his actors. Kurt Russell (hell, half the cast of Big Trouble in Little China), Jamie Lee Curtis, Keith David and Donald Pleasence have all had roles in multiple Carpenter films.

- Pajiba Guide to John Carpenter