Marlon Brando! Jane Fonda! Robert Redford! Angie Dickinson! Robert Duvall! E.G. Marshall!
And that’s just the top of the marquee. There’s also Oscar nominees Miriam Hopkins (Becky Sharp) and Martha Hyer (Some Came Running), Singing cowboy Monty Hale, Hollywood’s very first werewolf (Henry Hull, Werewolf of London) and the stud that rescued Fay Wray from the original King Kong (Bruce Gordon) on the bill.
On the other side of the camera: Director Arthur Penn (The Miracle Worker, Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man). Producer Sam Spiegel (On the Waterfront, Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia). A score by John Barry (a five time Oscar winner, but most famous for that James Bond theme–you know the one) and a screenplay by Lillian Hellman (The Little Foxes, Watch on the Rhine), based on an original play by Horton Foote (Tender Mercies, The Trip to Bountiful).
For name-dropping movie buffs, The Chase represents something of a perfect storm. For movie viewers, The Chase represents nearly two and a half hours of star-studded, big-budgeted pomp and circumstance with very little payoff.
Here’s what: Terrell, Texas sheriff Calder (Brando) gets a Saturday morning call from Hearst at the State Farm, alerting him that two prisoners have busted out–one of them being local ne’er-do well Bubber Reeves (Redford). Calder would like to keep that development on the down-lo while keeping an eye out–in the unlikely event ol’ Bubber decides to revisit his old haunts–but there appears to be no keeping of secrets in this small town.
Soon enough, we get the lay of the land: Calder rates zero respect from the people he’s sworn to protect, who consider him the lap-dog of oil-banking-agricultural mogul–effectively, the town’s owner–Val Rogers (Marshall). Val’s attack dog comes in the form of son Jake (James Fox, Performance). It’s Jake that berates the riggers for under-producing and Jake that gleefully dismisses the Mexican migrant workers at the season’s end after shorting them on pay. It’s also well-known that what little free time Jake has he spends in the company of Bubber’s wife Anna (Fonda), rather than with his trophy wife, the beautiful-but-despised Elizabeth (Diana Hyland, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble).
Val’s throwing himself a lavish birthday party this evening and all the local swells are invited, which leaves out milquetoast Bank vice president Edwin Stuart (Duvall). Edwin knows how these things go and thus, quietly accepts such indignities, but the same can’t be said for his sizzling hot wife Emily (Janice Rule, Bell, Book and Candle), who decides to throw a competing party at their home, giving herself the chance to renew an intimate acquaintance with Damon Fuller (Richard Bradford, Man in a Suitcase), Edwin’s coworker. Terrell has what seems to be a city-wide (if unofficial) open marriage policy and what with this being Texas, everybody seems to own at least two guns.
Booze flows and as the party-goers get tighter, their inhibitions loosen up. During the film’s climax there’s a riot on to match the burning of Atlanta scene from Gone With The Wind. So why doesn’t The Chase work?
On their audio commentary track, film historians Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo (in the company of screenwriter Lem Dobbs, Haywire) posit that The Chase was a film before its time and given its shades of corporate tyranny, firearm fetishism and “post racism” racism, the onscreen events make more of an impact today than they did upon release in 1966. The trio definitely has something there, but their defense of the film’s original critical and box office failure works only up to a point.
Director Penn famously condemned the final product, complaining that after shooting commenced, producer Spiegel took the film out of his hands and subsequently edited it without Penn’s participation, resulting in it’s “rhythms” being off. I say: Bingo! What does all this rhythm business mean? I’ll admit it sounds nebulous–especially if you’ve no knowledge of the film editing process and how it affects a film’s outcome–but the proof is in the pudding: despite a story that continues to get bigger and more spectacular as it progresses (and you can’t blame the cast; there’s not a bad performance to be found), The Chase never quite gets off the ground, lumbering along until the credits roll and the dedicated viewer breathes a sigh of relief at being free to go.
Twilight Time brings out The Chase (Blu-ray) in a fine 1080p/2.35:1 transfer that emphasizes its cinematic spectacle. As Redman says, the technicolor reproduction here is “drop dead gorgeous.” For its part, the DTS-HD Master Audio track brings forth every salty comment and sweet detonation, including an improvised ditty by (then teenage) cast member Paul Williams, the singer-songwriter who’d go onto pen the Oscar-winning lyrics for “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born),” sung by Barbra Streisand and the Oscar-nominated lyrics for “The Rainbow Connection,” sung by Kermit the Frog. Optional English SDH subtitles are available.
Aside from the aforementioned audio commentary track, there’s an optional Isolated Score track, a handsomely illustrated booklet with yet another fine Julie Kirgo essay and the film’s original theatrical trailer.
Honestly, I’m torn over delivering a verdict on The Chase, which on one hand boasts an enormous wealth of talent and is enigmatic enough in its flawed presentation to merit the interest of film geeks–like myself–that love to dissect such promising failures (or “could’ve been masterpieces,” if you want to be generous) while on the other hand comes up short and over-long simultaneously.
Too many cooks in the soup.