Thursday, September 7, 2023

All-Star Cast Can’t Save ‘The Chase’ 1966

Robert Redford as "Bubber" Jackson, the object of 1966's "The Chase."

The Chase was a slog of a southern melodrama that teemed with great talent, but was still a great big flop when it was released in 1966.

First a Horton Foote play and later a novel, the film version of The Chase came with a screenplay by playwright Lillian Hellman. Sounds so distinguished, right? You wouldn’t know judging from the amateurish results. Perhaps it was because neither Foote’s play nor novel was successful and Hellman hadn’t written a screenplay in two decades. Producer Sam Spiegel, after his successful epic Lawrence of Arabia, apparently desired a southern epic, Tennessee Williams slathered with some Edward Albee scathing social commentary. This was at odds with Foote's slice of life style and Hellman's biting political agenda. 

Marlon Brando is Sheriff Calder, who the small town disrespects, in "The Chase."

The center of the drama is around a bad boy loser, “Bubber” Jackson, who escapes from prison just before he's supposed to get out. This impetuous move is made worse when his escape partner kills a guy during their carjacking. Once again, Bubber's holding the bag.

James Fox is Jake Rogers, who's in love with best friend Bubber's wife, Anna,
played by Jane Fonda, in 1966's "The Chase."

The locals of a small town in Tarl County, Texas are alternately excited, angry, or scared that Bubber is heading their way. It all climaxes over a Friday night where everyone's emotions boil over, southern style. With a sheriff that nobody respects, the town meltdown feels like High Noon meets Twin Peaks.

Angie Dickinson, center, plays Brando's wife Ruby. E.G. Marshall, left, is Val Rogers,
 the town's rich man in 1966's "The Chase."

Hellman disavowed the final script and her criticism was apt, but her imprint still seems to be in the mix. Like many mid-60s movies that seemed to have one foot stuck in the ‘50s, this all feels very back lot, glossy, and overdramatic. The foot that’s in the ‘60s is very obvious in its “frankness.” Whoever really wrote the final script seemed to lift some juicy stuff from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Speaking of which, why on earth did Redford turned down Nick to play Bubber!

Robert Redford chose "The Chase" & "This Property is Condemned" over
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" as his 1966 films.

As often the case with these big budget bombs, the allure of some legendary talents got other big names to sign on: The combo of Brando as star, playwrights Foote and Hellman, Sam Spiegel producing, enticed many to come on board.

The Chase’s four leads do well despite the dreary script: Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, and Angie Dickinson are all solid and natural. Brando’s performing could be quite variable from the '60s on, but as Sheriff Calder he underplayed and is believable as a good man in a mean small town. Fonda is good as the town bad girl, Anna, estranged wife of Bubber. Dickinson, playing a normal woman instead of her usual man trap, is straightforward as Brando's wife, Ruby. And Robert Redford, often remote as an actor, is intense as Bubber.

Another telltale sign that 1966's "The Chase" was stuck in Hollywood's earlier era:
 Even though Jane Fonda's playing poor white trash, her hair and makeup are fab.

I laughed when I read that Brando chose to gain weight to play the southern sheriff who’s in a rut. Considering Marlon’s physique immediately before and after, I’d compare the tale with Elizabeth Taylor being ordered to gain weight for Virginia Woolf . Despite that and claims that he became bored during shooting, his performance is consistent and controlled, without Marlon’s excessive mannerisms.

Marlon Brando as the sheriff & Miriam Hopkins as the convict's mother in
"The Chase." Director Arthur Penn had to tread lightly with both--surprise!

The Chase should have taught Jane Fonda a lesson to let the script be the deciding factor in her film career. But Fonda hadn’t learned from an earlier southern camp classic Walk on the Wild Side, nor did this keep her from rushing to Hurry Sundown shortly after The Chase. The difference is Jane's actually good in the latter two movies, instead of being amateurishly hammy in Wild Side.

Jane Fonda looking just great in the junkyard scene of  1966's "The Chase."
Much later, a friend told Jane her hair should have gotten its own credit!

Redford, who doesn’t interact with the other stars till the climax of the film, actually shows subtle emotion as Bubber, whereas he often played it cool to come off like an anti-hero. And while playing Marlon Brando’s loyal wife wasn’t really the role of a lifetime, Angie Dickinson wanted to work with Brando and play a serious role.

It's not easy wearing this shade of green! Angie Dickinson as the sheriff's wife,
wearing a dress that the town's rich man bought her, in 1966's "The Chase."

Then there's the supporting cast. Robert Duvall is empathetic and underplays as the bespectacled wimp Edwin to Janice Rule's brazen, slutty wife Emily. They are a Texas-style twosome ala Virginia Woolf’s George and Martha. Janice Rule, who boozily taunts him with another man, comes off more like Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest than Martha! Martha Hyer is basically a middle-aged Honey from Virginia Woolf, and is utterly amateurish as the wife who can’t handle her booze or hubby. Richard Bradford makes a great villain, as her creep husband Damon Fuller. E.G. Marshall as rich guy Val Rogers and James Fox as his married son Jake, who’s in love with Fonda’s Anna, are solid in clichĂ© roles.

Was Tobey Maguire inspired by Robert Duvall's dazed expressions in "The Chase?"
Janice Rule, as Duvall's trampy wife, is having an affair with town bad boy,
Richard Bradford, in 1966's "The Chase."

Miriam Hopkins really slices the ham thick as Bubber's guilt-ridden mother, but she's still effective in putting this over-baked drama over. Henry Hull, memorably awful as Gary Cooper’s mentor in The Fountainhead, is just as hammy here, as the town’s one-man Greek chorus, commenting on one and all as he takes an evening stroll. Jocelyn Brando is aged up to play his wife, but unfortunately she was just 45 to Hull’s 75, so it doesn’t work at all.

Despite a 30 year age difference, Jocelyn Brando played Henry Hull's wife in 1966's "The Chase." She would have been younger if she had been cast as Redford's mother!

There are not one but three parties depicted on the fateful night: a big birthday party for Marshall's big daddy; the trashy locals swinging bash; and the teens rockin' out next door. A measure of The Chase’s over the top dramatics is how ineptly these parties are depicted. The rich Val Rogers “colorful” party is filled with suck ups straight out of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The swingers’ soiree is like Virginia Woolf, but with guns. And the kids' rockin and rollin' looks like Peanuts' characters dancing like nobody's watching! Most hilarious of all is that a precocious teen is played by future munchkin singer/songwriter Paul Williams—remember him? Here, Paul looks like a bespectacled Chucky doll! Oh, and there’s a raucous dental convention in town—heck, everyone but the Hell’s Angels are here partying down.

Future singer/songwriter Paul Williams is center of the young crowd in "The Chase."

The Texan characters are nearly all trashy or rednecks. The allusion to the Kennedy assassination is clumsily made with a Jack Ruby-style act in the finale. Producer Sam Spiegel wanted to make an important statement film about the American dream going up in flames. Hellman specifically wanted to make Texas the target as an indictment on America, symbolized by the recent JFK assassination. Foote was brought back into the fold to beef up Hellman’s script, bewildered by how his intimate work was now blown out of proportion.

Janice Rule as the adulterous wife who comes between unhappy couple Martha Hyer
 & Richard Bradford in 1966's "The Chase."

The Chase, whatever the message is striving for, is quite muddled. That all Americans are violent and racist? That the capitalist system is rotten and had seeped down to all levels of the economic caste system? The case for the ills of US society is presented about as convincingly as the operatically absurd The Fountainhead. The big problem with making The Chase was too many egos using the film as a soapbox, with non-Hollywood director Arthur Penn not putting his foot down, like fellow neophyte Mike Nichols did on controversial Virginia Woolf.

Siblings Jocelyn and Marlon Brando on the set of 1966's "The Chase."

Arthur Penn, whose career had been pretty classy, but mostly on stage, had laid a few artsy bombs, like Mickey One. Penn claimed the cutting of the film by Spiegel was the culprit for The Chase’s failure. Well, that still leaves Arthur Penn to blame for the horrible acting by half the cast, accepting an overworked script without a fight, not insisting on location filming, and tip-toeing around difficult actors like Brando and Miriam Hopkins.

Producer Sam Spiegel toots his own horn in this ad for 1966's "The Chase."
Luckily for mere director Arthur Penn, he directed "Bonnie & Clyde" the next year!

Producer Sam Spiegel really played up his resume while presenting The Chase as his film. And what Hollywood type wouldn’t brag, with these producer credits: The African Queen; On the Waterfront; The Bridge on the River Kwai; Suddenly, Last Summer; and Lawrence of Arabia. Three won Best Picture Oscars. However, when you think of any of these films, do you think of Spiegel, like you would a Selznick? While he wanted Carte Blanche instead of collaboration, what Spiegel did inflamed the other talents’ egos, along with his own. Too many chefs stirred the pot, resulting in an overcooked film.

The Chase is worth watching once for the talent involved. But the difference between this and the following year’s Hurry Sundown is that the latter is watchable trash and The Chase is a dull, muddled message film.

Once again, Marlon Brando gets a beatdown on film, and he was all for it,
in 1966's "The Chase."

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Lana & Burton Romancing ‘The Rains of Ranchipur’ 1955

"The Rains of Ranchipur." Charismatic Richard Burton & femme fatale Lana Turner
 give each other the eye while her husband Michael Rennie seems oblivious...
 This scenario seems familiar! 

Burton would replay this scenario for real in 1962!

What happens when you mix soap suds with man-made or mother nature’s calamities? The result is Hollywood “disaster” movies, always a movie staple. The genre hit their peak in the 1970s when Irwin Allen set up beloved stars in the most basic scenarios, only to be knocked down like bowling pins.

The Rains of Ranchipur is a ‘50s example, with stars who suffer emotional and physical turmoil. A rich couple travel to India to buy a race horse. The wife is wealthy and does as she pleases, while the husband suffers stoically, and spends her money. At their host’s party, one look at an Indian doctor and the wife gets a fever! Theirs and some supporting characters’ plots plod along until the titled torrents wash some sense right into their brains. If this had been an Irwin Allen flick, a few of the supporting cast would have washed away. While not setting the silver screen ablaze, Lana Turner, Richard Burton, and Fred MacMurray do well enough in their roles in The Rains of Ranchipur. Lana gives an old-style movie star performance, Richard surprisingly underplays, and Fred offers up a veteran star going through his paces.

Michael Rennie's Lord looks on as Lady Lana Turner greets old pal Fred MacMurray.
 Eugenie Leontovich looks skeptical as the Maharani in "The Rains of Ranchipur."

While The Rains of Ranchipur has been compared unfavorably to the 1939 version, The Rains Came, the former is no great shakes, either. Both are escapist entertainment done adequately. The original has Myrna Loy, Tyrone Power, and George Brent, at the height of their freshness. And new star Power at least looked exotic as the Indian doctor. The ’39 version made nearly three times as much at the box office as the ’55 version; the latter was only a moderate hit.

Cool poster for a lukewarm movie, 1955's "The Rains of Ranchipur."

There have been quotes attributed to Richard Burton regarding Lana Turner's acting abilities. Well, Turner wasn't Davis or Stanwyck, but she knew how to give a movie star performance when faced with lesser material. So did Joan Crawford and later, Elizabeth Taylor—it must have been in the MGM Handbook! Turner's rich playgirl is pure dime store romance, but she plays the stereotype quite entertainingly. Lana Turner was 34 here. Though Lana’s prematurely past her youthful freshness, it's still nice to see her glamour before it became shellacked in Imitation of Life.

Mid-stardom, Lana Turner is presented ravishingly, 1955's "The Rains of Ranchipur."

Yet in all the promo pics, Lana Turner looks ghostly!

As for Burton, he admitted over the years that he was not the best physical actor and relied much on his great voice. Fair enough. Still, he looks like a soldier standing at attention; sitting, he slumps in a not very leading man-like posture. Of course, the world's most famous Welshman looks absurd in a turban and brown face as Dr. Safti. Yet, Richard is striking to look at in his handsome youth, with blue-green eyes even more piercing with the makeup. It's been noted that as brown-faced Burton has more scenes with golden Lana, his skin tones become lighter. Love is strange, as the song goes! Richard doesn't over-act, as he could later do, but he is very minimal, which might be the right way to play this role, when so unconvincingly cast as another nationality.

Richard Burton's brilliant Hindu doctor also has brilliant blue-green eyes!

Michael Rennie has the unenviable role as cuckold husband Albert to Turner’s adventuress wife.  Rennie’s stone face made him perfect as the visitor from outer space, but playing opposite one of the flashiest stars in MGM’s galaxy is a thankless task.

Fred MacMurray as Tom Ransome, a brilliant man who drinks too much in "The Rains of Ranchipur." Fred's expression reminds me of Benedict Cumberbatch here.

Fred MacMurray, as Lana's long-time friend Tom Ransome, is the rich drinking man. Fred's solid, but still on the stodgy side, and a bit on autopilot. His love interest is Joan Caulfield as Fern, who is supposed to be college age, while Fred was in his mid-40s. Joan was actually 33, a year younger than woman of the world Lana! Caulfield aims to go beyond the typical second lead ingĂ©nue role and is slightly overbearing. Here, Joan’s perky interactions with world-weary Fred are just a bit too precious.

Eugenie Leontovich has a field day as the willful Maharani, who spars with Lana
 Turner's playgirl over Richard Burton's brilliant doc, in "The Rains of Ranchipur."

Russian actress Eugenie Leontovich, who plays Burton's mother-figure as the Maharani, is another light-eyed Indian. And she has a field day overplaying the Indian grande dame, which is saying something, since the role was originally played by Maria Ouspenskaya. Movie fans may recall Leontovich as the wheelchair-bound woman in William Castle’s cult classic, Homicidal.

The characters of "The Rains of Ranchipur" work together during the titled disaster.

As for Lana, though her character has married Michael Rennie's for the title, she's the money bags. So that explains how Lana is a "Lady," but how the heck did a Lana end up playing a character named "Edwina?!"  I smiled every time she was addressed as "Lady Edwina."

Lana's Lady Edwina is shocked when Doc Burton's mind wasn't on HER
while tending to the survivors of "The Rains of Ranchipur."

Aside from Burton's disparaging quotes about Lana, Turner has protested perhaps a bit too much that she found Richard unappealing as a man and star. Joan Collins would make the same claims shortly after, with The Sea Wife. As neither woman was particularly discriminating when it came to men, I maintain a healthy skepticism toward their stances. It's amusing that Burton and Turner, two of Hollywood's biggest players, claimed to not get personal off the set. And it’s very amusing that Burton plays a character that has been chaste!

Turner's Lady Edwina redeems herself in a final reel from "The Rains of Ranchipur."

Fox's Travilla did not do Lana Turner’s wardrobe, and Lana brought her MGM style crew with her to Fox, including designer Helen Rose. Perhaps Travilla got his revenge on her later with the gaudy get ups of The Big Cube!

Jean Negulesco directs competently, if not with his usual sophisticated style. The 1950s was flooded with studio remakes of their golden oldies, and The Rains of Ranchipur was a by the numbers rehash. The location shooting was in Pakistan, but did any of the stars actually go there?

The chemistry between Lana & Richard doesn't set the Cinemascope screen on fire,
but they have their moments, in 1955's "The Rains of Ranchipur."

The Rains of Ranchipur is a mildly entertaining movie for some lazy time in your favorite chair, for movie stars and studio style.

After Lana Turner’s comeback in The Bad in the Beautiful, it was back to doing junk like The Rains of Ranchipur. Here’s one of Turner’s best, my take here:

My fave scene: after surviving illness & floods, Lana's first order of business is
putting her makeup back on, in "The Rains of Ranchipur."

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

10 Takeaways: Olivia de Havilland, 'The Dark Mirror' 1946


Olivia de Havilland as twin sisters Ruth & Terry Collins, one good & one bad, natch!
 From 1946's "The Dark Mirror."

For the first time, I just watched 1946's The Dark Mirror, though this kind of dark '40s melodrama is right up my noir alley. Sadly, the story of a murder, with twin sisters (Olivia de Havilland) as suspects, was just moderately entertaining, considering its possibilities. 

Typically subtle poster art for the era, 1946's "The Dark Mirror."

Here are my 10 takeaways on The Dark Mirror.

#1)  Olivia de Havilland's dual performances as twins Terry and Ruth are the best thing about this dark film. She gives subtle differences to the two sisters, who are seemingly close. While Olivia’s style was certainly an actress of her time, she was much more restrained than other movie divas that certainly would have gone too big—no names mentioned!

Lew Ayres as the doctor and Olivia de Havilland as one of the sisters, in 1946's
"The Dark Mirror." From this angle, Olivia looks a bit like Joan Crawford.

#2)  Nunnally Johnson’s screenplay is far from seamless. Johnson seemed to do better with comedy than drama, though he later scripted The Three Faces of Eve. Here, the cops are supposed to provide comic relief, headed by Thomas Mitchell. Well, that doesn't exactly inspire confidence in their abilities, when they're leering at the sisters, or comically trying to guess who is who! And did the psychiatrist, played by Lew Ayres, really have to fall in love with one of the sisters? It does bring out the jealous sibling's rage, but it seems umm… a bit unprofessional!

Psychiatrist Lew Ayres does the taste test to determine which twin is a killer
in 1946's "The Dark Mirror."

#3)  Robert Siodmak was famed for his tight, dramatic film noirs. The Dark Mirror runs at a lean 85 minutes. Perhaps that's why the film feels a bit cartoonish, since the story is given the bum’s rush, jumping through hoops. But frankly, there's not much of a story, and it's obvious who the bad twin is from the get-go, so perhaps less was more.

Are you a good twin, or a bad twin? Lew Ayres wonders about Olivia de Havilland,
in 1946's "The Dark Mirror."

#4)  The cinematography by Milton R. Krasner and score by Dimitri Tiomkin are top notch and help add to the mood and suspense.

#5)  I know it was a different era, but if I was 30 and lived with my twin, sharing a room with twin beds, wearing twin outfits, and sharing one job, I'd probably be homicidal, too!

Olivia de Havilland's twin sisters even dress in the same style nighties!
From 1946's "The Dark Mirror."

#6)  I thought Olivia's performance made the differences between the twins subtle enough that the wardrobe department didn't have to constantly identify the twins with monogrammed clothes and rapper-style bling that spelled their names.

"The Dark Mirror" makes sure you don't mix up the sisters by giving them big bling!

#7)  The cast, despite the one-dimensional script, makes the movie fun. Thomas Mitchell (Scarlett's father or George Bailey's uncle, take your pick) is always watchable, Lew Ayres is a strong but gentle presence, and an impossibly young Richard Long as a bellhop is handsome —I always got him mixed up with Gig Young, BTW!

#8)  Like more than a few film noirs, The Dark Mirror finale is an eye-roll.

The male authority figures have interesting ways of finding out the truth in 1946's
 "The Dark Mirror."

#9)  The Dark Mirror was a wave of mid-40s movies that first dealt with psychiatry. Two years later, De Havilland would star in The Snake Pit.

#10)  Fantasy casting, don't get me wrong, Olivia is terrific in The Dark Mirror. But what if they'd dropped the twin aspect and just cast real life sister Joan Fontaine? Their hatred would have been quite believable. And I'll let you decide who should have played the evil sister!

Mirror, mirror, on the wall... Olivia times two in 1946's "The Dark Mirror."

Interesting fact: Olivia's WB pal Bette Davis played twins, good and bad, the same year in A Stolen Life, much more subtly than decades-later Dead Ringer

The bottom line: If you like film noir and are not bothered by over the top plotting, The Dark Mirror is fun to watch. Most importantly, the film was another stepping stone in Olivia de Havilland's path to stronger roles.

Olivia and Bette Davis play good/bad sisters, In This Our Life. My look:

My Olivia de Havilland tribute:

Which twin is green with envy in 1946's "The Dark Mirror?"