An overwrought reaction to the assassination of JFK, Arthur Penn's The Chase (1966) is a lumbering, Lone Star epic that paints in the broadest of strokes. Adapted from Horton Foote's novel and play by the ultra-political Lillian Hellman, the film is set in a small town that serves as a toxic microcosm for the state of Texas a lawless land of racists, millionaires, and working class thugs, where good folks fall prey to injustice. Bubba Reeves (Robert Redford) is one such decent person who's suffered all his life for the sins of his ignoble neighbors, taking the blame for their misdeeds and ending up in the slammer as a result. The film's other main paragon of virtue is Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando), who's charged with babysitting this town of gun-toting imbeciles while eliciting their scorn by, as they see it, cozying up to oilman Val Rogers (E.G. Marshall). The spark that brings this cauldron of racial and class resentment to a boil is Bubba's escape from the penitentiary. Though he means to run for Mexico, all roads lead inextricably to his hometown, where some, like the cowardly Edwin Stewart (Robert Duvall), anxiously await Bubba's return, believing that he's hot to settle the score with those who previously took advantage of him. While most are ready to capture, or worse, murder Bubba, he still has allies; namely, his wife Anna (Jane Fonda), who still wants to help her husband even though she's fallen out of love with him in favor of Val Rogers' son Jake (James Fox). Everything comes to a head on the night of the elder Rogers' birthday party. The boozed-up citizens of the town suddenly turn vigilante, believing that Calder is secretly plotting to help Bubba evade capture, though he's really only trying to bring him in with the least amount of fanfare possible. As expected, all hell eventually breaks loose, leaving the overwhelmed Calder to essentially face down an entire town run riot. As a melodrama, The Chase suffers from lethargic pacing, particularly in the outset, as Hellman's script lays on the exposition thick and artlessly. The biggest mistake is in her decision to open up Foote's stage play by adding in action sequences featuring Redford that do nothing to further the plot. Shaving off these scenes would free the picture of some of its bloat, though there'd still be plenty of other flaws to contend with. Chief amongst these is Brando's awful performance as Calder. Mired in a slump that began with Mutiny on the Bounty and would continue until his excellent turn in Gillo Pontecorvo's Burn, Brando mumbles his way through the film. He's obviously bored with the character, which is little more than another go-round with Terry Malloy-esque martyrdom. He does come to life occasionally in his scenes with Angie Dickenson, who plays his upstanding wife, but he's a far cry from the actor we know him to be. Also at odds with this confused material is Penn, who seems to be keeping himself interested by experimenting with ostentatious camera angles. Having been fired off his previous film, The Train, it's amazing that he ever worked again after this debacle (though, thankfully for the medium, he did with the following year's Bonnie and Clyde). The only person who makes this movie watchable is Marshall, who manages to imbue his oil baron with a complex mixture of vanity and self-loathing. Then again, he's the only actor working with something more than base caricature. It's hard to tell whether the heavy-handedness is the fault of Foote or Hellman, as both are fine writers with a weakness for clumsily integrated metaphor. Whoever's to blame, this is no one's finest hour, and only worth watching for those fascinated with Hollywood train wrecks (or Paul Williams fanatics, as he turns up as the nerdy son of Duvall's character). Columbia TriStar presents The Chase in a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with relatively clean Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Extras include trailers for a trio of other Sony DVD releases. Keep-case.
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