The Chase (1966) Arthur Penn

The only numbers I have found were a net loss of $3 million in 1966 money.

The Chase is about what happens in a small town when they hear a local boy/prisoner Bubber (Robert Redford) escape from prison.  Yeah, the character’s name is supposed to be Bubba, but because Marlon Brando kept saying Bubber they just made it his name.  Anyway, apparently the whole town is scared about this Bubber character.  Why?  It’s never mentioned.  Some characters say he is a psycho while others say he was the fall guy and is misunderstood.  Anyway, the town explodes in racial and societal issues due to this escape.  You may think a movie called “The Chase” would be action packed but it’s a dull mess.

The writers try to add depth by putting in a lot of characterization but they go way overboard with way too many characters.  Let me try to remember every single subplot and side plot going on.  Sheriff Calder has a reputation of having his job paid for by the local big boss Val Rogers.  Val has some personal stake in why Bubber is released and goes on a personal manhunt.  Val also has a son whom he wants to marry to one girl but is in love with another woman.  Val’s son wants to break away from his father and start a life with a woman at the local bar.  The woman at the bar loves Val’s son but had a sordid past with Bubber.  Meanwhile there is party going across town of people who work for Val’s bank.  Edwin (Robert Duvall) is scared because he let Bubber take the fall for a crime as a kid and Edwin is spineless.  Ewin’s wife is a whore who sleeps with everyone in town.  One of the people she sleeps with is a smarmy douche at the same bank.  He for some reason is scared of Bubber.  This man’s wife is going through troubles because her husband is having an affair.  Meanwhile, Bubber’s parents feel guilty because they feel he is in this jam because of how they raised him and want to get money to him.

And believe me when I say there are another good 5 subplots that I don’t even remember.  Characterization is a good thing in a movie, but there are plain too many characters.  Just think if they devoted five minutes to all the various plot threads I listed here, including the obvious plot thread of Bubber and his friends; that is what pads out the running time.  There is no action or progression of plot when you are bogged down trying to give a life story to everyone in the goddamn town and what personal impact Bubber has on them.  Not to mention the fact if you only have five minutes devoted to 20 characters you really aren’t giving them much of a character which defeats what you are trying to do.  Instead we get a collection of one to two dimensional characters.  Val is the greedy industrialist, Edwin is spineless, Bubber is a patsy for the town’s sins, Damon is an impulsive dick, Elizabeth is the town bicycle, and on and on and on and on.  It bores me further when I can plot their actions for the whole movie within hearing their first two lines of dialog only to see them give some 5 minute diatribe about their life.

The movie tries to be some microcosm of the 60’s talking about civil rights, women’s rights, and class distinctions and I just don’t buy it.  I don’t buy that the escape of a white convict would have a town degenerate into a group of racists lynching random black people off the street.  Seriously, within a few hours of hearing his escape, these supposed peaceful townspeople are shouting “nigger” and wanting to kill random people.  You are talking to someone who made an entire commentary on Dogville (which many say is outlandish).  Now I understand in allegories the plot’s credulity can be stretched but in this case I don’t see the connection between the plot and the issues they are trying to raise.

Take the Ox-Bow Incident where the town had a horrible crime.  A posse formed which lost it’s sense of identity and became a mob and killed two innocent people.  I do not however, see the connection between an escape convict and the sexual revolution.  Do you?  I do not see how the connection between that and the townspeople essentially having a mini revolution against the rich in some class struggle.  I do not see how tension over the escape of a white prisoner could turn to random race crimes.  I can see random crimes occurring due to mob mentality, but I do not see it being propagated against a specific race of people.

The performances in this movie range from good to overacting of the most shameless kind.  Robert Redford has a total of five minutes screen time in this movie.  I know this movie is about his escape, but we see him on screen for only a few minutes.  The only real notable performance is from Brando.  It’s strange to really describe his character.  At all times he is so nonchalant and cool he never lets on about anything.  Take for instance a scene where the mini mob asks Calder sarcastically if he is patrolling for Bubber and he mutters “No, no…just looking for an ice cream cone.”  Another guy says basically “Our taxes are paying your salary, so what are you going to do if something happens to me?” and Calder replies “I’ll give you a refund.”  His is the only character with any depth and he is the only character we care about.  But at times it feels like Brando is sleepwalking and can only work up emotions for the big scenes where he delivers some monologue or gets beat up like On the Waterfront.

All these problems stem from the production.  The original play (which was also crap apparently) was just a kind of High Noon-ish type play about the Sheriff hearing about a convict escaping and promising to do harm on him.  Spiegel then wanted to make the movie about something and turned the movie into a statement from everything to the Watts Riots to the JFK assassination (Bubber’s death is the same as Lee Harvey Oswalt).  The script was re-written so many times and the shoot was so long that Brando went long past the point of giving a shit and just went through the motions of getting a paycheck.

The Chase actually has a decent IMDb viewer rating with many people defending this movie (probably most likely due to the fact it has Brando in the film).  Maybe it is because they probably saw it for free on tv they are a little more generous with their ratings.  I found this to be dull, overwritten, overacted, and (dare I say) pretentious movie.  This is a bad movie; plain and simple.

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