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Chase (1966): Limited Edition, The

Twilight Time // Unrated // October 18, 2016 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted November 2, 2016 | E-mail the Author

Arthur Penn's The Chase (1966) is kind of a mess...but it's an enticing mess with a great premise, which goes a long way in my book. Marketed as a sprawling, action-packed thrill ride with "rednecks, oil barons, reckless women, and restless men", all framed around a manhunt for escaped felon Charlie "Bubber" Reeves (Robert Redford, in one of his earliest roles), The Chase didn't deliver on all its promises and failed to make an impact at the box office. Critics at the time gave it mostly positive reviews...but in the public's eye, it was all but forgotten by the time Penn's game-changing Bonnie and Clyde arrived the following year.

Instead of the thrilling manhunt its trailer promises, The Chase offers a scathing examination of social unrest and paranoia deep in the heart of Texas, fueled by the sexual revolution and Kennedy's assassination just three years earlier. For the most part, its characters are either sympathetic liberals or outright deviants: farmer-turned-sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando), appointed by oil tycoon Val Rogers (E.G. Marshall), gets the best lines and the moral high ground; along with his wife Ruby (Angie Dickinson), he seems to be one of the only voices of reason in town. Calder wants to keep the peace by quietly bringing in "Bubber", who was (a) wrongfully convicted for theft, and (b) wrongfully accused of a murder murder after his escape. But the public has already found him guilty on both counts, convinced that he's returning to town to exact revenge on cuckolded Edwin Stewart (Robert Duvall), who was the real thief...or maybe Val's son Jake (James Fox), who's fallen for Bubber's wife Anna (Jane Fonda) in his absence. Turns out that Bubber was just aiming for Mexico and went the wrong way, and he's no more interested in revenge than sticking around.

It's not the only time that The Chase misdirects its characters or its audience, but only the latter is a complaint. Clearly not as focused as it needs to be, Arthur Penn's film is too concerned with the soap-opera aspect of its tiny town during the film's one-night window: a few extraneous sub-plots go on far too long, creating a vacuum that distracts from the film's better elements. At 135 minutes, this padded production could've easily been trimmed by 30 minutes or more. Otherwise, it's actually a pretty well-crafted production on paper: the performances are great---even when the characters aren't---and led by an all-star cast (Brando is particularly good, so consider this a hidden gem in a particularly uneven period in his acting career), Joseph LaShelle and Robert Surtees' cinematography serves the film well, Horton Foote's source play and novel provide an intriguing backdrop, and John Barry's score is one of the late composer's most underrated efforts. And despite the tacked-on coda (which the director reportedly hated, but was forced to add), The Chase manages to find its focus in the home stretch, punctuated by a reminder of Jack Ruby's fate.

Similar to films like Violent Saturday (also released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time), The Chase is an intriguing story hampered by a lot of set-up...but to its credit, the pedigree of its cast and crew elevates the flawed but fascinating production to modest heights. It's definitely a strong candidate for re-evaluation, celebrating its 50th birthday (!) in style with Twilight Time's new Blu-ray: serving up a top-tier A/V presentation and a few bonus features that include a candid, engaging new feature-length audio commentary, this is careful treatment of a film that deserves another shot from cautious fans and curious newcomers alike.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of The Chase is virtually flawless from start to finish; the source material has obviously been treated with great care, and the end result could very well pass for a much younger film. Image detail and textures are very strong, color reproduction looks great, and the frequent night scenes hold up just as well. Film grain is also noticeable (especially during close-ups), giving The Chase a very natural appearance that easily stands with the best catalog titles I've seen this year. Overall, I'd imagine this represents a giant leap over Columbia/Tri-Star's respectable 2004 DVD, as Sony's top-tier restoration efforts (overseen by Grover Crisp) make this Blu-ray an absolute joy to revisit.

DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.

The audio is presented in its original DTS-HD Master Audio mono format and defaults to a two-channel spread, with a moderate and a pleasing amount of depth on occasion. Dialogue and background effects are adequately balanced and don't fight for attention, but the relative absence of LFE and wide dynamic range gives most of the sparse action sequences a thin atmosphere that won't trick your ears into thinking The Chase is anything less than a 50 year-old production. Optional English subtitles are included.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The interface is plain but perfectly functional, with quick loading time and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. This one-disc release is packaged in a clear keepcase with attractive two-sided artwork and a nice Booklet featuring production stills, vintage promotional artwork, and the usual essay penned by Twilight Time regular Julie Kirgo.


Bonus Features

Not a lot, unfortunately, but what's here is top quality. The main attraction is an exclusive Audio Commentary with film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman. It's an enjoyable, candid session from start to finish (and one of the best I've heard in recent memory); topics include the film's flaws and successes, "a dog's breakfast", Tennessee Williams, Arthur Penn's other work, dialogue and small gestures, dreamlike non-realism, Robert Redford the fugitive, structural problems, Sony's restoration, nostalgia and myth-making, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Kennedy's assassination, racism and social unrest, violence in full color, Redford's more recent work, Jack Ruby, and more. Other than that, we also get the usual Isolated Score Track (especially welcome this time around, as John Barry's music is fantastic) and the film's deceptively action-packed Theatrical Trailer (3 minutes).

Final Thoughts

Flawed and fascinating, Arthur Penn's The Chase is a somewhat forgotten relic mistreated in its own time. But thanks to its engaging premise, terrific cinematography, all-star cast, and wonderful John Barry score, it's managed to stay above water during the last 50 years. Perhaps a bit too broadly painted for their own good, many of The Chase's characters and story elements show their age...but for better or worse, the rampant social unrest and paranoia feel more prescient than misguided. It's a mixed bag for sure, but one with more than enough meat to warrant a further look for fans of the cast and crew. Luckily, Twilight Time's Blu-ray makes the most of it, pairing a top-tier A/V presentation with a few modest but informative supplements---by far, the best of which is a candid new feature-length commentary. Firmly Recommended for long-time fans (apologists?) and curious newcomers.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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