“The Chase” (1966)

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Co-stars: Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, E.G. Marshall, Angie Dickinson, Robert Duvall, James Fox

Character: Sheriff Calder

In The Chase, Brando stars as the sheriff of a small Texas town, and an honorable man the townspeople think is the puppet of a rich oil tycoon. The film spans a Saturday night of local debauchery, as Sheriff Calder tries to locate the escaped convict Bubber Reeves (played by Robert Redford), a notorious hoodlum who is accused of murder. Bubber is shown at the beginning of the film to have not killed the man, and the film follows his elaborate escape across the Texas land. Sheriff Calder comes across as tired and disinterested in his job, and it is found out that he was a farmer who had lost his land, and Val Rogers, the aforementioned oil tycoon, had set him up with the sheriff job. He attempts to be fair and keep law and order in the town, but the citizens are immoral and show him no respect, and Rogers expects special privileges and information be give to him.

The director spends the first hour of the film establishing characters, moods, and morality of the town. At the halfway point, I was still unsure what the film was about, aside from reading a synopsis online. A lot of time is spent mythologizing Bubber Reeve, and we’re never quite told what he was in jail for in the first place, although it seems he is just a petty thief who fails at actually thieving. We also spend a lot of time with the wide supporting cast, showing the townspeople to be caught between the free love of the ’60’s and the old prejudices of the South.  In the second hour, the action picks up, with the male locals drunk and looking for violence. They target a black man, but when Calder intervenes, he is targeted. In fact, this film is best known for the violent, bloody beating of Sheriff Calder at the hands of drunken vigilantes.

The film had a fantastic all star cast, lead by Brando only in name really, as the wide ensemble got plenty of individual screen time. Everyone carried their own weight in the film, and the future legends were all on their A-game, not allowing Brando to completely blast them out of the water. The film suffers through technicalities. It runs far too long, the ending is more of a slap than an uppercut, and the fictionalized Texas is a confusing place that doesn’t seem to really exist. It is not the performances that are weak, but the script, editing, and direction (although the director spoke out against the control taken from him by the producer, who oversaw the script re-writes and editing which stripped the film of all Brando’s best moments and improvisations). The main thing about the town and citizens is that they’re all caricatured stereotypes, people who don’t exist except for in the imagination of an angry liberal (or in the scriptwriter’s case, angry Stalinist). After reflecting on the film, it could have been an incredibly exciting classic, had it been in the hands of a greater director and the characters had been given a little more moral ambiguity. It is the same thing that pulled that pulled down Brando’s previous film, The Fugitive Kind. The film also suffers from the Technicolor, which makes the unrealistic town all the more unrealistic. It is these shortcomings that caused the film to flop and critics to pan it. I like to imagine what the film could have been, in the hands of someone like Roman Polanski.

All in all, Brando’s performance is very good, of what is shown in the film. It’s a bit better overall than other films of his in recent years at this point in his career, and it’s a tragedy that many of his improvisations and inspired moments ended up on the cutting room floor. Thumb up.

Quotes: Damon “Well now, Sheriff, it’s nice to know that you’re out here on patrol. ”
Sheriff Calder “No, no, I’m not on patrol. Just lookin’ for an ice cream cone, that’s all.”

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1 Response to ““The Chase” (1966)”

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