I saw this movie a week or two ago and I was really worried that this article might be too late. The politics in this film doesn’t fit like a puzzle piece in the events this week. Nonetheless, how timely is it with riots going on to write about a movie with riots going on?
This movie’s so ambitious and powerful I don’t know where to start. It’s a hidden highlight of the careers of the film’s actors like Brando, Fonda and Redford. It’s also one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, but then again I change my mind about that a lot.
“The Chase,” directed by Arthur Penn by and is a Lillian Hellman adaptation from a Horton Foote novel. It centres on small town Texas, troubled by one of their own, Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford), who escapes from prison. I’ve read a lot of Lillian Hellman lately, who fills her stage mostly with a family or group of friends who exploit the unseen lower classes. However, the movie is just as much an Arthur Penn vehicle, shaping this film as a western in plain clothes, as American decadence while putting violence and the youth’s rebellion in the mix.
I understand that the film uses its first act for introductions, which some viewers see as a bit tedious, but it’s better for the film to answer those questions in the beginning instead of doing so for the rest of the movie. Bubber’s escape is a problem for the town’s citizens. Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) wants to keep Bubber safe from a mob, but his good intentions and clouded by Val Rogers’ (E.G. Marshall) bribing. Bubber’s wife, Anna (Jane Fonda, the best actress of New Hollywood, but we’ll talk about that later), wants to leave him for Val’s son Jake. Bubber’s mother (Miriam Hopkins) wants his son back and even considers selling it to her contemptuous neighbours. Edwin (Robert Duvall, subtle this time) becomes paranoid since he’s taken money that all has accused Bubber of stealing.
Unlike Hellman’s earlier plays, we finally get to see in Bubber, a lower class victim, as a fleshed out character. Robert Redford’s amazing as Bubber that I always wonder why I doubt his acting. He’s dangerous, troubled, trashy and childlike. The movie itself divides critics then and now and Sam Kashner called him miscast. However Redford’s good looks, distracting in half of his earlier films, helped his character. If he was less attractive and more gruff, the audience wouldn’t have sympathized with him. His mother is another face of the oppressed, yet she is just as flawed. Her blind maternal love makes her lash out at Calder and despite of the little truth she bellows to the town, she can’t see his true intentions.
Besides from being a ‘contemporary western,’ it’s also a part of the ‘lynching’ sub-genre, more popular in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. In 1966 this movie adds to the genres and making the mob’s methods more terrorizing. They already don’t respect Calder, branding him as paid help by the Rogers’s and they invade his privacy about the news of Bubber’s escape. Calder takes a three-minute gang beating in his own office and home. Learning that Bubber’s in the wharf, the town leaves their sexually and alcohol-charged parties and congregates with their guns and alcohol. Instead of other ‘lynching’ films when the mob is already marching in numbers, the film lets the audience watch the mob grow. A car and then another car and then the rest of them. These people aren’t as single-minded but just as dangerous, some just wanna kill Bubber, others make him as a strange sexual icon, the rest disapprove and cynical but don’t express outrage and watch the lynching happen.
The film, however, shows larger differences in the younger generations. There is Bubber, Anna, Jake in the wharf and technically Lester is part of their group though the latter gets thrown in jail. Class and race divide the four characters yet they still found a way to grow together and help each other. Redford and Fonda shows great chemistry and rawness as a couple, finding romance just before the end. Unfortunately the town separates them from each other. I felt dread when the teenagers started throwing Molotovs and burning tires and throwing them at Bubber’s direction, the visuals effectively horrifying in the big screen. Kids should know not to follow their parents bad behaviour but they do. The youth’s participation in this brutality shows Hellman and Penn’s stark worldviews and makes the town hopeless. And yes, for those things it makes this movie more shocking than Penn’s next film, “Bonnie and Clyde.”
1966 and to a lesser extent 1965 were crap yet some films release in those years seemed to have opened the floodgates for 1967 and New Hollywood. To understand the films of 1967, we have to look at some of the films a director did a year before. “The Chase” gave way to “Bonnie and Clyde.” Mike Nichols gave us “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” before giving us “The Graduate,” which should have won Best Picture that year. Stanley Kramer’s troubled idealism in “Ship of Fools” helps him and us into “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Richard Brooks shows the guns in “The Professionals” and eventually in “In Cold Blood” (To be honest, Richard Brooks is the Cezanne of New Hollywood in a way that he was pedantic until he discovered the rebellion of the 60’s).
And for every week era in Hollywood, foreign films step in to do the job. Godard followed the cool “Masculin Feminin” with the dangerous “Le Weekend.” Melville follows “Le Deuxieme Souffle” with the slick “Le Samourai.” Films released in 1966 include “The Battle of Algiers,” “Blow-Up,” “Aflie” and many more that I haven’t gotten into. 1967 is an all out party while 1965-6 is a tight rope walk, but I kinda wanna see the latter instead.