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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Chase (1946) (Blu-ray)
The Chase (1946) (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // May 24, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 13, 2016 | E-mail the Author
The Chase opens without uttering a word. A down-on-his-luck Navy vet still reeling from his days overseas stares longingly through a diner window. Looking, alas, is all that Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings) can afford. After getting that eyeful, he glances down to discover a wallet overflowing with cash. Though he does treat himself afterwards to a hearty meal, Scott resists the temptation to pocket another dime, choosing instead to deliver the wallet and its ample remaining contents to its rightful owner. Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran) is grateful. It's not as if Roman needs the money, holed up in a sprawling mansion in Miami as he is. Still, he's charmed enough by Scott's honesty and plight to offer him a job as a chauffeur. That Scott barely bats an eye when Roman plays backseat driver -- he has a separate set of gas and brake pedals -- careening towards a freight train at such dizzying speeds that the odometer can't measure them only endears his new toy to him that much more.

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Scott's no fool, wholly aware that Roman and his flunky Gino (Peter Lorre) aren't the most upstanding of citizens. He's smart enough not to ask any questions, quietly taking them wherever he's instructed to go. Scott is often tasked to drive Roman's wife Lorna (Michèle Morgan) around as well, and she's particularly fond of an isolated oceanside dock. One evening, she asks Scott to take her somewhere else -- a place not exactly accessible by car. Lorna is desperate to escape from Eddie's clutches, hoping to find something resembling sanctuary a couple hundred miles south in Cuba. She's all too aware that she'd never make it there herself in one piece, but with Scott as an accomplice, then...perhaps. Compelled more by her predicament than by the thousand dollars he's offered, Scott agrees to shepherd her there. Roman knows something is afoot and makes Scott sweat in the hours that follow, but he and Lorna still manage to make good their escape.

Luxury. Sex. Romance. Havana. By the time Scott and Lorna set foot on Cuban soil, the two of them are madly in love. It's in the middle of one passionate embrace that Lorna collapses in her lover's arms, with a stiletto blade embedded deep within her back. Of course the authorities consider Scott to be the chief and only suspect. They've only just arrived, and there's not another soul on the island who knows the first thing about the late Mrs. Roman. Every avenue that Scott can think of to clear his name -- the shopkeeper who sold him a similar but decidedly different knife than the murder weapon, a photographer who may have captured the actual killer in the act -- proves to be a dead end. There surely must be someone...somewhere...some way to reveal the truth?

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There's so much more that I'm aching to say about the premise of The Chase, but I can't. Suffice it to say that this film takes a narrative risk that few others would dare. The entirety of its third act could never have been seen coming. Far more about the film is remarkable than that, though. The shadowy imagery benefits immeasurably from the seasoned eye of cinematographer Franz Planer, who'd go on to be nominated for five Academy Awards. The Chase is marvelously cast, from the wholly entrancing Michèle Morgan to a hopelessly embittered Peter Lorre to Steve Cochran as a cruel, unwaveringly confident criminal only content on the razor's edge. Screenwriter Philip Yordan (The Man from Laramie) delivers one endlessly quotable line of dialogue after another. For instance, when Scott asks if the grand stuffed inside Lorna's envelope once belonged to her husband, she dryly responds that "they don't ask you that when you spend it." The Chase shatters quite a few of the expected film noir conventions, as Scott remains an uncorrupted hero (albeit one ravaged by his days at war), while the pain so visible in Lorna's eyes and her gentle nature set her apart from the archetypal femme fatale. Its elusive, dreamlike pace is worlds removed from a potboiler detective novel. I remain in awe of how deftly it blends bliss and paranoia. Its skillful approach to suspense can make something as routine as a downward glance at a power outlet hopelessly unnerving. Once the plot is well underway, its hero and villain share surprisingly few scenes together, even as its climax draws near. Some viewers may scoff that the film doesn't culminate in the traditional sort of confrontation. They may perceive its narrative shift as an unearned cheat. To my mind, those aren't missteps; they're an integral part of what makes The Chase so adventurous, so distinctive, and such a rewarding discovery on Blu-ray. Recommended.


Video
Having languished on borderline-unwatchable public domain VHS and DVD releases, The Chase was at last lavished with an extensive restoration in 2012. This herculean effort was based on numerous sources, among them the incomplete original camera negative, several incomplete dupe negatives spanning two continents, and even some 16mm material. Drawing from so many different elements, it follows that there is some unavoidable variance in quality, and its heights do fall short of the achingly gorgeous likes of The Big Sleep. At its best, though, The Chase can still be breathtaking:

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As greatly as the definition and detail on display here can vary, there's never any doubt as to whether or not The Chase boasts a proper high definition presentation, nor is the gulf between its most and least impressive moments ever jarring. The overwhelming majority of the film is respectably clean and clear, although when it rains, it pours; those few moments marred by nicks and speckling tend to be heavily damaged. The presentation can be rather soft, and the weight of its filmic texture from one shot to the next can be erratic as well. Its AVC encode also struggles mightily with that film grain at times. The example below -- leading up to one of the most critical moments of the film to boot -- is completely unacceptable:

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Despite its flaws, this presentation of The Chase will undoubtedly be a revelation to longtime admirers of the film. Guy Maddin frequently remarks in his audio commentary about how murky and underlit his introduction to The Chase was. Particularly in the sequences inside the curio shop, Maddin is repeatedly floored by how beautiful this presentation is by comparison (and he's similarly pleased that it's not too pristine). Though this Blu-ray disc is a long way from reference quality, what Kino Classics and the many people involved in The Chase's restoration have delivered here is still very much cause for celebration.

The Chase arrives on a single layer Blu-ray disc at its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1.


Audio
The audio for The Chase has been lovingly restored as well, and the results are presented here in uncompressed, 16-bit, two-channel mono. Though the fidelity isn't dazzling, exactly, this is still a terrific soundtrack, devoid of any intrusive background noise, pops, clicks, dropouts, or any other flaw of note. Every last line of dialogue is also consistently clean and readily discernable. Well done.

A commentary track aside, there are no other audio options.


Extras
  • Audio Commentary: Filmmaker Guy Maddin reflects on a noir he first discovered on a murky, VHS-sourced, bargain bin DVD. Though there's only so much in the way of behind-the-scenes anecdotes he's able to relate, his infectious enthusiasm and encyclopediac knowledge of film more than make up for it. He draws parallels to a great many other movies, compares and contrasts this adaptation with Cornell Woolrich's novel (including the reveal of what Roman's racket is, exactly), and delves deeply into the backgrounds of those involved on both sides of the camera. Maddin also speaks about some of what he feels makes The Chase so remarkable, including the seamless miniature work in its final moments, the bustling sequence at La Habana that belies the film's meager budget, and its remarkably economical approach to dialogue.

  • Radio Plays (56 min.): CBS Radio's Suspense twice broadcasted adaptations of "The Black Path of Fear": first in 1944 with Brian Donlevy -- the once and future Quatermass! -- in the lead and again in 1946 with Cary Grant. Both performances are presented on this Blu-ray disc, although be warned that the audio quality in the 1946 installment is challenging. Unlike The Chase, which bounds between Miami and Cuba, these plays are set entirely in Havana. Among the numerous other differences are the increased prominence of the woman in quarantine (here nicknamed Medianoche / Midnight), an elderly Chinese man running the curio shop, a critical witness remaining alive, a denouement in which Scott plays a more direct role, and a generally more conventional (though still not entirely linear) narrative.

  • Trailers: Rounding out the extras is a selection of noir trailers: A Bullet for Joey, He Ran All the Way, and Witness to Murder.

The Final Word
An underappreciated, wildly unconventional slice of noir relegated too long to substandard public domain releases has finally stormed onto Blu-ray. Its presentation, though imperfect, wholly eclipses any other home video release to date, and it's further appreciated that Kino Classics has gone to the effort of assembling a proper special edition. Enthusiastically Recommended.
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