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  Chase, The The Exercise In Futility
Year: 1966
Director: Arthur Penn
Stars: Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, E.G. Marshall, Angie Dickinson, Janice Rule, Miriam Hopkins, Martha Hyer, Richard Bradford, Robert Duvall, James Fox, Diana Hyland, Henry Hull, Jocelyn Brando, Paul Williams, Clifton James, Bruce Cabot
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford) has escaped from a Texas prison and with a fellow inmate is heading back to his home town to see his wife Anna (Jane Fonda). However, although he would never kill anyone, his comrade is less moral and when they stop a car with a view to stealing it, the other escapee smashes the driver's head in with a rock and takes off, leaving Bubber behind to fend for himself and inadvertently take the blame for the crime. Meanwhile, back in town, the oil and cattle baron who owns it, Val Rogers (E.G. Marshall) is holding a party for his sixtieth - but most are worried about Bubber...

The Chase came out about the same time as another notorious flop, Hurry Sundown, and they both claimed to be searing melodrama that blew the lid off Deep South society, only to find that nobody in the public was really interested if they weren't In The Heat of the Night. Suffering terrible reviews and meagre box office returns, both went on to become cult movies after a fashion, but where the Otto Preminger effort has more of a campy reputation, The Chase was awarded a reassessment of its qualities. Was this justified? It was obviously trying to say something very important about the community, even about humanity, but you could understand when going back to it why it was considered elephantine and that dreaded word, pretentious.

Those early scenes are especially deadly, leading you to believe you're in for over two hours of bombastic finger wagging about how the noble and the corrupt are all dragging each other down into the misery of modern life, with not one redeeming character except for the local sheriff, Calder. He was played by Marlon Brando, not one of his favourite roles but a pretty decent fit for an actor who enjoyed playing the martyr onscreen, except that here there was a twist to his sacrifices in the name of justice and doing what was morally right. Everyone else is painted in shades of grey, even his wife Ruby (Angie Dickinson) wants him to back down when the stakes are raised over the ensuing evening.

If the opening stages are hard to chew on, then things did improve if you were prepared to persevere, but you had to get the characters to their parties first and ply them with drink. Rogers has a son who is living off daddy's millions, Jake (James Fox trying out his Southern drawl), and he is conducting an affair with Bubber's wife, so when word gets out that the man has fled incarceration, both he and Anna are nervous about what his reaction will be. As is Robert Duvall's Edwin, who works for Rogers and feels guilt for landing Bubber with his criminal reputation, one of a few plot threads that don't really contribute much; this could quite comfortably have lost half an hour and emerged a sleeker movie.

It was drawn from the play and novel by respected dramatist Horton Foote, who had recently won an Oscar for his To Kill a Mockingbird screenplay, but in spite of similar concerns of racism and social hypocrisy woven into the tale here, people didn't take to it in the same way. That could have been because also included was a theme of Calder as a Christlike figure, enduring the abuse of the citizens when he tries to rescue Bubber in the film's most memorable scene, where he is subjected to an extended beating from some drunken hooligans. But unlike what we're told about the Biblical Christ, this stand-in is a failure, and all that he goes through to save the sinners is futile, not something that makes for satisfying entertainment. It all draws to a close as the townsfolk work themselves up into a frenzy and descend upon Bubber's hiding place, and if it all gets too portentous for its own good, at least the tension it has been building is genuine. Music by John Barry, his first for a Hollywood movie.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Arthur Penn  (1922 - 2010)

American theatre and film director whose depiction of the rebellious character in movies found its most celebrated example in Bonnie and Clyde, which was hugely important in ushering in a new style of Hollywood film, not to mention new styles in Hollywood violence. Before that he had helmed psychological Billy the Kid story The Left Handed Gun, the much acclaimed The Miracle Worker, and Warren Beatty-starring experimental flop Mickey One, which nevertheless led to the both of them making the gangster movie that was so influential.

After that, Penn moved back and forth from film to theatre, with album adaptation Alice's Restaurant, revisionist Westerns Little Big Man and The Missouri Breaks, and cult thriller Night Moves among the films that sustained his following. Others included Marlon Brando melodrama The Chase, Four Friends, gothic thriller Dead of Winter, and Penn and Teller Get Killed.

 
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