Wednesday 12 September 2007

The Chase (1966) Arthur Penn

Talk about an all-star cast! Marlon Brando is the lead but we meet Robert Redford first. He's an escaped convict on the run called Bubber, but he's obviously not too bright. He only has a few months left on his sentence but he jeopardises his future by escaping, only the first of his dumb mistakes. We meet him trying to obtain transport, but rather than just knocking the driver on the head and stealing his car, Bubber's fellow convict kills the driver and runs off with the car leaving him alone and with blood literally on his hands. Then he jumps a train but ends up in a freezer car going the wrong way and so he ends up home, where everyone seems to have a good reason to dislike him.

His mother, played by Miriam Hopkins, she regrets ever having him and revels in her guilt, but she knows he's no murderer and she'll do what she must to help him. His wife Anna, played early in her career by Jane Fonda, doesn't want him back, though she's one of the few who don't see him as some sort of bogeyman. Jake Rogers, son of the town's industry leader Val Rogers, is afraid of him because he's been cheating on his own wife with Bubber's, and they obviously mean a lot to each other. He's James Fox and his father is played by E G Marshall, both powerful enemies.

Even Robert Duvall, playing a henpecked husband, is scared stiff of Bubber's return because he helped get him into trouble in the very first place, way back when they were kids together. Now he's Edwin Stewart, vice president for Val Rogers, and he's married to Emily, played superbly as a complete bitch by Janice Rule. Emily is cheating on Edwin with Damon Fuller, the other vice president and, it would seem, the town bully. Pretty much everyone seems to be cheating on everyone, which doesn't make for a happy town.

Sheriff Calder, no less a talent than Marlon Brando himself, finds himself stuck in the middle of it all. He wants to keep his town quiet and send Bubber back to the pen safe and sound, but the rest of the town don't. Calder has to keep Bubber from the townsfolk, and the drunken townsfolk from Bubber. They're the real story here to me: the chase is fine, the cheating is fine, the background stories are fine, but Bubber is just a MacGuffin and it's the town that engraves itself onto the memory.

These are not nice people, and they're even less nice when they have large quantities of alcohol inside them and guns in their pockets. They even stoop beyond the standard sixties racism to some despicable acts that are a little hard to watch, and the ending is as inevitable as it is completely dumb. It's embarrassingly real and carries a huge kick. In its way it turns this initially quiet and apparently decent Texas town exhibits as much backwoods inbred hick stupidity as a bucket full of Deliverance. Think Dogville as a modern comparison.

The cast are great, especially Brando, which surprised me as I'm still trying to understand his talent, and the direction seems as good. My only complaint is that TCM, for reasons unknown, chose to show this in a fullscreen print, instead of its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It's a bizarre aberration for them but a notably bad one.

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