Steve McQueen as Carter “Doc” McCoy, Texas bank robber and parolee
Texas, Spring 1972
Film: The Getaway
Release Date: December 13, 1972
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Men’s Costumer: Kent James
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
If nothing else, I hope that this blog has served the purpose of further informing the world as to just how cool Steve McQueen is. If life should throw enough lemons at you that you decide your only way to succeed is to rob a bank, at least do it in style and follow Steve’s example.
McQueen plays Carter “Doc” McCoy, a paroled bank robber who teams up with his wife Carol (Ali MacGraw) and a few cronies to take down a Texas bank and line the pockets of a crooked political boss. The film is an excellent piece of ’70s action drama, full of twists, double-crosses, and Sam Peckinpah’s trademark violence.
It marked a shift in MacGraw’s image after the sappy success of 1970’s Love Story, as she learned how to fire a gun and drive a car for the role. She and McQueen developed an instant attraction while working together, and their on-set affair led to her very messy and very public divorce from prolific and colorful producer Robert Evans.
As MacGraw recalled: “[Steve] was recently separated and free, and I was scared of my overwhelming attraction to him.”
The Getaway was based off of a 1958 novel by pulp writer Jim Thompson, author of The Killer Inside Me and, one of my all-time favorites, Pop. 1280. However, as much as I love Thompson’s work, I far prefer the filmed version of The Getaway. Much of that probably has to do with McQueen’s performance for, even though he would be the last person to call himself a great actor, he just exudes a cool attitude throughout.
The film was remade shot-for-shot and updated (very poorly) in 1994 with Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger, James Woods, and Michael Madsen in the roles originated by Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw, Ben Johnson, and Al Lettieri, respectively.
NB: This was originally posted on November 8, 2012, the day before the 32nd anniversary of Steve McQueen’s death. It was revised and re-posted on March 24, 2016, which would’ve been McQueen’s 86th birthday.
What’d He Wear?
Like many of the outfits profiled on this site, Doc’s wardrobe has to be multi-functional and adaptable. Although the core remains the same – shirt, tie, and trousers – the outerwear changes based on his context.
McQueen’s look of a black suit and tie with a light-colored shirt would later be adopted as the “uniform” of the criminals in Reservoir Dogs… no surprise as Quentin Tarantino has a reputation for “borrowing” from older films.
Doc wears the same black wool suit throughout The Getaway. Although it’s a three-piece suit, he only wears the vest during the early scenes after he is released from prison. Having served four years of a prison sentence, it’s assumed that this is the suit Doc was wearing when he was arrested around 1967 or 1968.
Doc’s single-breasted suit jacket has notch lapels that roll to the top of a two-button front. The shoulders are slightly padded with roped sleeveheads, and the back is ventless. The suit jacket has a welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, and spaced 3-button cuffs.
Doc wears the suit’s matching vest – or waistcoat – when released from prison, during his meeting with Jack Benyon, and while casing the targeted bank. The single-breasted vest is all black, including the back lining. There are six buttons down the front to the notched bottom and four pockets with narrow welts.
The only pants that Doc wears in The Getaway (other than his prison uniform) are the black wool trousers of his three-piece suit. These flat front trousers have a low rise, belt loops, and straight legs down to the cuffed bottoms. There is an on-seam pocket on each side, and both of the jetted back pockets close through a button.
The belt that Doc wears with his trousers is thick black leather with black stitching along the top and bottom. It closes in the front with a squared steel single-claw buckle. Although many sartorialists advice against belts with three-piece suits, Doc puts practicality before style; the low rise of his trousers also help avoid the possible lumping seen when men sport a belt under their vest.
Despite Doc’s disregard for the belt/vest rule, he does adhere to the traditional sartorial custom of matching his belt to his shoes, although anything other than black would probably look silly for either item. He wears black calf leather 5-eyelet cap-toe oxfords with black socks.
Shirts and Ties
Doc’s primary shirt, worn after his prison release and during the bank robbery, is light gray lightweight cotton. The shirt has a large spread collar and buttons up a front placket. The square cuffs close with a button. There is no front pocket and no darts on the back or sides. Although the collar points are long, they are nowhere near the “disco” length 5″ collars that permeated the era’s fashions.
The only tie that Doc wears through the bulk of the film (both days of the getaway in addition to his prison release) is solid black, tied into a four-in-hand knot.
Another shirt, which Doc wore during his lunch with Benyon and for the second day of the getaway, is white with thin gray stripes. This shirt is styled similarly to the other, with a large collar, front placket, squared button cuffs, and no pockets or darts.
During lunch with Benyon, he wears a tie that appears to be dark olive wool with thin navy stripes crossing down from left-to-right.
Only once does Doc wear a plain white dress shirt, when he’s casing the bank, worn with a navy and bronze striped silk tie with its wide stripes crossing diagonally down in the right-to-left direction.
Doc never wears an undershirt.
The Bank Job
A benefit of Doc’s adaptable wardrobe means that he can shift from warmly casual in a raincoat and sweater during the bank robbery itself to a more businesslike look of a suit and tie for the getaway in mere seconds.
Over his dress shirt, Doc wears a dark midnight blue wool jumper with a tall crew neck that covers most of his shirt collar. The cuffs and waistband are ribbed. Although such a bulky sweater may not be a practical choice for an action-packed day under the Texas heat, it hides Doc’s shirt and tie underneath to give him an edge when he changes during his escape.
Although his treacherous gang member Rudy derides the concept (at least openly), Doc straps on an olive drab bulletproof vest over his sweater. According to him, the garment “can stop an M2 army rifle at 50 yards”, but luckily he never needs to test the concept for himself.
On top of everything, Doc wears a khaki knee-length raincoat that much resembles the coat that Steve McQueen wore with his suit and iconic shooting jacket in Bullitt. The single-breasted jacket has five buttons down the front, concealed by a fly. It is a very simple, minimalist coat with only two slanted hand pockets on the outside. The cuffs have a single half-strap tab that closes with a single button. The back has a single long vent.
When taking off the jacket following his brief face-off against Rudy, the coat’s blue and red check lining can be spotted as well as a white logo patch on the inside left panel.
The final part of Doc’s disguise, a black ski mask that completely covers his head, save for two eye holes, is worn only for the bank robbery.
The no-frills, practical thief is not one for accessories. Although Doc McCoy is indeed married (hence most of the plot), no wedding band is present. His only jewelry is a gold Gruen Precision watch on his right wrist. The gold-cased wristwatch has a silver dial and is worn on a gold bracelet.
When approaching a roadblock, Doc digs into his pocket and pulls out a pair of thin folding sunglasses with gold frames and amber lenses. Evidently, the policemen were looking for three well-armed men in overcoats and, upon finding only a well-dressed couple, lets them go.
Carol doesn’t wear many accessories either, aside from a Caravelle watch and a gold Cartier “Love” bracelet that had actually been a gift to Ali MacGraw from her then-husband, Robert Evans.
An Unused Jacket
Luckily for fans, a plethora of production stills and behind-the-scenes photos from The Getaway exist on the internet. One series of photos finds Doc and Carol in their hotel room after recovering their money from the train station con. Shortened to a quick vignette in the final movie where a Hasselhoff-shirted Doc holds his .45 on Carol while asking if Benyon got to her, one shot shows a very irritated-looking Doc holding a loudly checked plaid jacket on a hanger.
The expression on his face provides all the context the scene needs. According to the screenplay, Doc – the more wanted of the duo – remained behind in the hotel room while Carol went out for clothes. According to the screenplay:
INT. BEDROOM - MORNING CAROL COMES IN. SHE IS WEARING A NEW SUIT, SANDALS It looks great... She tosses a package on the bed. Doc looks at her outfit and opens his. They are too flashy. DOC Thanks. (as Carol starts to speak) You look great, just great... They could pick you up for soliciting in ten minutes. CAROL That would be the first time. DOC (angry) When are you going to learn?
This explains why Doc continues wearing the same suit throughout the movie, despite telling Carol the night before: “Then you go out, buy yourself some other clothes… And pick up some for me.”
Go Big or Go Home
Although the character of “Doc” McCoy was developed by Jim Thompson for his bleakly surreal crime novel, the cinematic Doc has Steve McQueen’s distinctive and cool personal style all over him, from the way the walks and talks to the way he drinks and even puts on sunglasses.
Doc embodies a barebones style of confident toughness that transcends the superficial ingredients on the surface – simple black suit and tie, classic Colt Government .45, straight whiskey, and a Ford sedan – that are all just tools for our criminal protagonist. He’s a throwback to the “glory days” of bank robbery during the Great Depression when John Dillinger and “Pretty Boy” Floyd made headlines while charming their rural audiences and evading the increasingly authoritative federal government. (It’s a coincidence that Steve McQueen shares his March 24th birthday with Clyde Barrow… but it is perhaps somewhat telling.)
Doc is naturally wary of the fate of that most famous of bank robbers…
Rudy Butler: That’s a walk-in bank. You don’t have to be Dillinger for this one.
Doc McCoy: Dillinger got killed.
Rudy Butler: Not in a bank.
In both Thompson’s novel and Walter Hill’s screenplay, Doc is certainly written as the proverbial three-time loser, but McQueen’s style and – dare I say – swagger make his Doc McCoy deserving of the film’s rewarding and far more optimistic ending.
The getaway itself is punctuated by Quincy Jones’ funky score with Toots Thielemans’ harmonica playing off of a series of vocals straight out of a Martin Denny track, a polarizing score that some say ill-served the movie after Jerry Fielding’s more raw score (still available on Amazon) was rejected in Jones’ favor. However, one cool diegetic track is used as Doc and Carol trick their way through a roadblock.
When I first heard “(Just an) Old Fashioned Love Song” come on Doc’s radio, I was surprised by the Dixieland-style arrangement and assumed that it was recorded just for the film, as it surely wasn’t the Three Dog Night track that the ignorant 1989-born me had grown up hearing on the local oldies station. It wasn’t until a year later that my mind was blown when I discovered that Paul Williams – who I knew only as the small actor in The Cheap Detective – was the original composer of the song, and it was his performance that was used in The Getaway!
Paul Williams originally offered his composition to The Carpenters to record (Richard passed, despite the duo’s success with the Williams-penned “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days & Mondays”) before he handed it over to Three Dog Night, who rolled out their recording in November 1971 as a single from their album Harmony. The track was released on Williams’ album of the same name, also in 1971 and just a year before The Getaway was filmed.
Though not as common as other pop music trends, there was a somewhat vaudevillian influence on music of the late ’60s and early ’70s that permeating into tracks of bands from The Beatles (“Honey Pie” and “When I’m Sixty-Four”) to Diana Ross (“Last Time I Saw Him”) and Mama Cass (“Lady Love”). Three Dog Night’s version is much more a modern product of the times, while Williams’ appropriately calls back to the “old fashioned” days with its tin pan alley orchestration… and kazoo solo, making it an “old fashioned” love song in every sense of the word.
What to Imbibe
“Drinks… whiskey. Whiskey, whiskey, whiskey…” is Doc’s request for his first dinner upon receiving his freedom from the Texas prison system. Carol very kindly brings him the McCoy family’s entire whiskey stock, which includes J&B Rare blended Scotch, Cutty Sark blended Scotch (Carol’s drink of choice, as we see at the train station), and Wild Turkey 101 proof Bourbon. It’s the latter that Doc chooses for his inaugural shot, and Wild Turkey is also later revealed to be the drink of choice for the corrupt and sleazy Jack Benyon (Ben Johnson, who was spot-on as always).
Wild Turkey’s roots are just as rugged as one would expect. Thomas McCarthy was an executive at a distillery near Lawrenceburg, Kentucky when he brought some warehouse samples on a wild turkey hunting trip in 1940. The next year, his friends requested that he bring back “some of that wild turkey whiskey”, and voila! Wild Turkey enjoys a reputation to this day as the preferred whiskey for tough guys both in film (Rambo) and real life (Hunter S. Thompson). Its venerability could be due to its master distiller, Jimmy Russell, who continues to serve as the longest-tenured active master distiller in the world (as of March 2016).
Of course, when he needs to keep his head during the getaway itself, a bottle of Coke provides all the satisfaction he needs.
How to Get the Look
The unused portion of the screenplay reveals that Doc understands the importance of an understated wardrobe for a vocation like his, a concept understood by cinematic career criminals ranging from Humphrey Bogart in High Sierra to the thieves in Reservoir Dogs. Although many men don’t recommend black suits for business, it’s easy to assume that their business is much different from Doc McCoy’s.
- Black wool suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped straight hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Single-breasted 6-button vest with four welt pockets and notched bottom
- Flat front trousers with belt loops, straight on-seam side pockets, jetted rear pockets (with buttons), and turn-ups/cuffed bottoms
- Light gray lightweight cotton dress shirt with large spread collar, front placket, and squared button cuffs
- Black necktie
- Black thick leather belt with square steel single-claw buckle
- Black calf leather 5-eyelet cap-toe oxfords
- Black dress socks
- Gruen Precision wristwatch with a round gold case, silver dial, and gold bracelet
- Folding sunglasses with thin gold frames and amber-tinted lenses
Once he takes the bank, McCoy dons a few extra necessary items…
- Khaki knee-length 5-button raincoat with a long single vent, open hip pockets, and blue & red check lining
- Olive drab bulletproof vest with side straps
- Midnight blue wool crew neck sweater with ribbed neck, cuffs, and waistband
- Black ski mask
Walter Hill, who was surprisingly involved in the production for a fledgling screenwriter, recalled of Steve McQueen: “You can see Steve’s military training in his films. He was so brisk and confident in the way he handled the guns.”
The omnipresent handgun handled by McQueen in The Getaway is a Colt M1911 Government, the civilian market commercial version of the venerable .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol that served the U.S. military for nearly eight decades. However, The Getaway is notable as being one of several films that had to use a “stand-in” for the M1911.
.45-caliber blank ammunition was once notoriously unreliable amongst film armorers. Unfortunately for them, the .45 ACP M1911 is one of the most popular firearms in history. Imagine movies ranging from World War II epics to Mafia action flicks without the M1911. Often, in the early days of movies, if a M1911 was onscreen, it was rarely seen being fired. This lasted until 1966, when The Sand Pebbles (another Steve McQueen film) was produced. For The Sand Pebbles, the filmmakers discovered that the Star Model B, a Spanish semi-automatic, was a very similar clone of the 1911 series of pistols. Even better for the armorers, it was chambered in 9×19 mm Parabellum, which was a much more reliable ammunition for blanks on film sets. The only major cosmetic differences between the pistols were an external extractor on the right side of the Model B’s frame and a lack of grip safety on the Model B. Soon, the Star Model B became a cinema sweetheart, starring in The Wild Bunch in 1969 and Dillinger in 1973 all the way up through more recent movies such as 1987’s The Untouchables and Pulp Fiction in 1994.
With firearms enthusiasts such as Sam Peckinpah, Walter Hill, and Steve McQueen on set, there was hardly a chance that the Model B would be allowed to stand in throughout the whole film in the iconic 1911’s place. So they came up with a compromise; anytime Steve was just carrying the gun, it would be a 1911. If he needed to fire it in a shot, it would be replaced with the Model B.
After realizing he’s tipped off a shop owner in a small Texas town, Doc knows he and Carol will have little time to get out of town. Although his .45 is plenty of firepower, he’d rather intimidate the small-town cops rather than get into a potentially fatal gunfight. He ducks into a sporting goods shop, where he circumvents the era’s gun control laws.
Doc McCoy: I want a shotgun, 12-gauge pump… and let me have a pack of those double-ought bucks.
Shopkeeper: What are you going to do, knock a wall down?
Close enough. Although the unsplit proceeds of his bank robbery would more than cover the cost, Doc can’t afford the time it would take to fill out the paperwork, so he lets his .45 end the transaction, coolly asking the shopkeeper: “You know what this is, don’t you, mister?”
The shotgun that Doc “buys”, then uses to great effect through the film’s finale, is a High Standard K-1200 Riot Standard, as identified on IMFDb with a photo of the actual shotgun used in the production!
As Doc requested, it is indeed a pump-action shotgun that carries five 12 gauge shells in its under-barrel tubular magazine. Doc keeps his Remington double-ought buckshot shells in his coat pocket, reloading when necessary.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Punch it, baby!
This being a movie about a getaway, there may be some interest as to the cars used during the actual getaway itself. In case you’re curious:
- The van that Carol drives during the robbery itself is a gray 1965 Ford Econoline with “CRAFTS Carpet Service” stenciled on the sides.
- Doc and Carol’s primary car, which they also use during the robbery, is a blue 1963 Ford Galaxie 500 “Town Sedan” that is abandoned after Rudy’s gunfight with Doc.
- Rudy and Jackson drive a white 1965 Buick LeSabre four-door pillarless hardtop sedan during the actual bank robbery. This car is abandoned after Rudy’s gunfight with Doc.
- Doc and Carol pick up a white 1968 Ford Country Squire four-door station wagon with faux wooden paneling along the sides after the gunfight with Rudy. This car is abandoned in the train station parking garage.
- Doc and Carol drive a blue 1969 Chevrolet Impala four-door sedan while making their shotgun getaway after shooting up the police car. This car is abandoned so that the fugitives can catch a bus out of town.
- Carol buys a silver 1968 Mercury Monterey four-door sedan when picking up Doc. After a policeman spots “that goddamn gray Merc!” and a gunfight erupts, Doc and Carol are forced to abandon their new car for an unexpected ride in a garbage truck…
- Doc and Carol buy a two-tone 1955 Chevrolet 3100 pickup truck from Slim Pickens’ character when escaping into Mexico during the finale. The final cost? $30,000.
When I told my friend that I was revising this post for Steve McQueen’s March 24th birthday, she registered that “of course he’s an Aries!” and cited that his “cocky bastard” persona may have been a mechanism for hiding a more tender and insecure side.