Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
This fascinating soap opera of hatred and lawlessness seems determined to punish the state of
Texas for the crime of killing John F. Kennedy. Pauline Kael was right when she said that
Lillian Hellman's screenplay portrayed the bloodthirsty redneck Texans as demonic alien
creatures. The story winds itself into a tense and violent thriller .... but boy, is it a
rigged deck or what?
Marlon Brando heads a terrific cast in what became Arthur Penn's biggest boxoffice disappointment,
just prior to his bases-loaded home run Bonnie & Clyde. Other production departments are
top-notch, and this DVD will be the first opportunity many viewers have of seeing the film in
its impressive Panavision dimensions.
A small Texas town goes insane when news arrives that local bad boy Bubber Reeves
(Robert Redford) has escaped from prison and is heading home. His wife Anna (Jane Fonda) has taken
up with their childhood friend Jake Rogers (James Fox), son of the local land baron Val Rogers (E.G.
Marshall). One of Rogers' bank VPs, Edwin Stewart (Robert Duvall), fears Bubber is headed back to
settle an old score. It's a Saturday night, drunken parties are in full swing and there's no
stopping the racist, lawless, gun-toting locals determined to 'protect' the town from Bubber. Only
the lone sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) exhibits any restraint. Most of his constituency
think he's the bought dog of Val Rogers.
You can tell it's a Marlon Brando picture - it all seems prearranged to insure that he's given one
heck of a scene where the evil Texans beat the %! out of him. The impromptu crucifixion-by-beating
scene has been a Brando standard ever since On the Waterfront, and The Chase delivers
a lulu. Uninhibited by the modern MPAA's animosity toward red blood, Brando leaks hemoglobin all
over the place. Blood was never sexier.
That's just one highlight in a story determined to sell the notion that America is Evil. From the
bottom up and the top down, the citizens of this ugly place are an encyclopedia of sin. The
local businessmen prepare a wild night for the dentists' convention. The Rogers clan packs
off their unhappy migrant workers with cheap used televisions instead of expected pay. Val Rogers'
lavish barbecue soaks the ugly rich for millions for a new college carrying his name. Val is beside
himself with anxiety because his unhappy son Jake's marriage is a sham put on for appearances'
Uninvited, Rogers' bank employees hold their own drunken Saturday night bash. Bored businessmen
Richard Bradford, Clifton James
(David and Lisa, Live and Let
Die) and Steve Ihnat pack guns and lust after the teenage girls at the party next door.
Mascara runs down the face of drunken housewife Martha Hyer - her husband's carrying on with somebody
else's wife right in front of her. Nobody even tries to conceal the rampant adultery.
Meanwhile, Jane Fonda waits for her rich boyfriend over in the bad part of town, while an
obnoxious real estate salesman and his wife (Henry Hull and Jocelyn Brando) provide a nosy Greek
chorus to all the commandment-breaking that's going on.
Sheriff Brando puts on his best Saturday mumble and faces up bravely to the general scorn, even
when baited by slut housewife Janice Rule (in a rare socko performance):
Janice Rule: "Hiya Sheriff. Wanna join our party? All you need is a pistol, and you
surely got one."
Marlon Brando: "With so many pistols around here already, it don't look like you'd have room
The main conflict for Brando's Sheriff Calder is trying to hold onto his dignity while serving
as Val Rogers'
appointed sheriff. The resentment grows when Calder and his wife Ruby (Angie Dickinson, in
fine form) are invited to the swank party. Calder keeps telling himself that
he's just a man with a job trying to earn back the farm he lost (shades of The Grapes of
Wrath) and doesn't want any special favors. But like Marshall Kane in
High Noon, he becomes one man alone
against the entire community. Bubber Reeves, actually desperate and harmless, is taken as a
threat by everyone. When push comes to shove, the upstanding citizens are the ones
who attack the Sheriff and beat information out of a defenseless black man in his holding cell
(Joel Fluellen). The rest of the townspeople gawk idly as Calder collapses on his own
jailhouse steps while his wife begs for help. Penn isolates their wanton faces.
The symbolism comes on thick and fast in an automobile junkyard, the last outpost of the American
Dream. The town's three parties converge there in a mix of posse, lynch mob and midnight picnic.
The illusion of a dangerous Bubber Reeves incites a storm of emotions and sexual energy - a
teenage girl dares her boyfriend to prove his love by retrieving his ring from a fire, and the
local brat kid (Paul Williams - that Paul Williams, I think) composes a song for Bubber
on the spot. The burning garbage and car wrecks scream an all-too obvious message: Society is
boiling in its own consumer evils.
At this point it all clicks. Foote and Hellman are plumbing the same waters as Billy Wilder's
story about collective depravity Ace in the Hole. There are also resemblances to
Try and Get Me!, the socially-conscious noir that concludes with a horrifying lynching.
Not only does Robert Redford resemble a Kennedy, but there's an appalling ending scene (Spoiler!
Next Paragraph! I warned you!) ...
... an appalling ending scene where a man is shot in a faithful recreation of the Lee Harvey Oswald
mob hit. The handcuffed victim is helpless, and the result is as bloody as all get-out. In '65-'66
movie violence was accelerating to express the madness in the American culture (wars, riots,
assassinations). The Chase is probably too quick in its judgment, indicting the nation and
the South in particular as lawless scum not worthy of their own flag. Few Americans recognized
Foote and Hellman's small-town sewer as an accurate representation.
The movie is rigged like a funnel - it allows only one emotional reading of all scenes. The frustration
over Sheriff Calder's situation boils so hot, that in screenings I attended cheers erupted when he
finally pays back a few of his attackers. Brando has to be restrained from killing someone. Our
emotions are so keyed up over the injustice, we wish he'd start killing everybody. 1
(Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde '32) has a
turn as Bubber's grieving but hateful mother; loathsome Steve Ihnat is the worst of the white-collar
Of the main cast, Jane Fonda is very good in perhaps her first truly successful performance; I
never bought her as a comedienne. A young Robert Duvall gets a solid outing as Janice Rule's gutless
lapdog husband. Clifton James' racist jewelry salesman is a lot more nuanced than the redneck
Sheriff Pepper character he played in two James Bond movies and a Superman sequel.
The Panavision cinematography is dazzling and John Barry's nervous western score combines with it
to give The Chase a look and feel of its own. Audiences reacted negatively to the
movie's huge dose of negative vibes ... nobody except a guilty liberal likes being told they're
an evil racist, and I'm given to understand the film didn't do well. Righteous indictment or
irresponsible smear, the film is a top-rank Marlon Brando picture and a key representative of the
An assistant art director on the film worked on 1941 and told me how they modified the Warner
backlot to shoot the town square scene. It's the same square seen in hundreds of pictures and TV
shows, with Bye Bye Birdie coming to mind as a prime example.
Unbilled at the Rogers barbecue are Eduardo Cianelli, and W.C. Fields' old comedy nemesis Grady Sutton.
Columbia TriStar's DVD of The Chase is a fine enhanced widescreen transfer that makes the
old so-so laserdisc version look bleary and smeary. The bold soundtrack appears to be mono. There
aren't any extras except some promo trailers. Maybe Columbia will get with the added value concept
someday, but right now even an original trailer on one of their library titles is too much to ask. I
don't feel like complaining as long as they put DVDs out in such good transfers and appropriate
Their liner text is terrible, however. It doesn't for a moment "get" what the movie is about and
just plain misrepresents the plot. Angie Dickinson doesn't try to talk Brando out of bringing
Bubber in alive. Val Rogers doesn't want to cover up his son's affair, he just wants Jake to be safe.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Chase rates:
Movie: Very Good
Supplements: just promo trailers
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 13, 2004
1. I saw it first with a group of
mostly black Air Force airmen, who were on their feet shouting for Brando to start
killing people. The Chase also played well to the radicals at the UCLA film school. A hot-headed
Ethiopian exchange student (who hated "the man" and liked to brandish an unloaded gun in the
film department's tech office) identified with the Sheriff Calder character as a righteous
loner who "should have killed 'em all."
2. Steve Ihnat was a noted theater director as well; his movie reputation is
split between his Jack Ruby clone here and a fanatical serial killer in Don Siegel's superior Madigan
three years later. It would be good to see something where he played a nice character.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson