The Chase is an early Arthur Penn film, made before he became one of the first major players in the New Hollywood movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s also a transitional film, because it deals with the heavy subject matter of the time in a kind of western/noir setting. In addition that that, it stars the key actor of the generation before Marlon Brando, and upcoming actors who would help define the next 16 years, such as Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.
Redford was barely known at the point, but you can obviously tell that he was bound to be a star. He bursts out of the screen, just like the role he plays of Bubber Reeves, who bursts out of his prison cell. Brando plays Sheriff Calder of Reeves’ small hometown, where he is expected to return. He believes he is innocent, but when his jailbreak buddy kills a man for his car and clothes, all hell breaks loose. Calder has to face off the vigilante townsfolk and the wealthy banker who has powerful influence, and find a way to arrest Reeves before anything happens to him.
The film boasts an extraordinary cast, with Brando and Redford being the stand-outs. However, Jane Fonda as Reeves’ adulterous wife gives one of the strongest performances. James Fox, who most audiences will recognize from cult British films such as The Servant and Performance, plays Reeves’ best friend, who is having the affair his wife. Angie Dickinson, Robert Duvall also appear, as does cult singer/musician and occasional actor Paul Williams. Williams took a small role, thinking at the time that it would push his acting career forward. It didn’t.
Arthur Penn, being the good liberal that he was, added tons of subtext about race relations. The film came out in 1966, after all, at the height of the civil rights movement. It’s also about mob mentality and corruption within small-town America: the Brando character is believed to be in the pocket of the man who got him appointed, but he is actually the innocent. It also deals with sexual tension and adultery within a small town, which was also a bit topical for the time.
The Chase is based on a novel by Horton Foote, who was kind of a low-rent Tennessee Williams. He is probably better known for writing the screenplay for the much-loved adaptation of To Kill The Mockingbird, which was Robert Duvall’s debut film. Foote and Duvall would remain life-long friends, and I would assume Duvall was probably cast partly due to Foote’s recommendation, as he also had recommended him for the role of Boo Radley.
Penn wasn’t happy with the end result, but it’s actually just as good as his any of the films he made during the same period. The performances are great as well, as is the score by maestro John Berry. It’s a thoughtful, interesting film which deserves a real evaluation and hopefully this release would do that.
One of the biggest draws amongst the special features is Richard Ayoade interviewing James Fox, who actually directed him in his underrated dystopian black comedy The Double. Archival outtakes of an Arthur Penn interview for a documentary on Marlon Brando focusing on The Chase are an incredible find. Penn’s son Matthew talks about the film and its relation to his father’s work. The audio commentary with film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman from the Twilight Time disc has also been ported over. The release is rounded off by a Super-8 version, trailers, stills gallery and a booklet with new and old writing on the film.