|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 cliché 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."