The Chase is one of those movies that people always seem to ruefully shake their heads after referencing. A big bloated misfire of a movie, the type of Studebaker that they just don’t make any more. With a reputation like that how can you not want to see it?
The Chase tells the story of Bubba, a convict (played by an impossibly young Robert Redford) who breaks hisself out of jail and goes for the home place. His partner kills a man, steals his car, and leaves Redford framed for the job. This is a real problem, since the son of the local rich man has been having an affair with Redford’s wife and now the good townsfolk think he’s coming back for some southern fried vengeance. As things tend to do in bored southern small towns in films of the sixties, the townsfolk form together to get a bit of preemptive justice in the mix. Only Marlon Brando as the town’s outmatched sheriff stands between Redford and an untimely end.
While this could be the stuff of a fairly crackling eighty minute film by the likes of Sam Fuller, at a bloated runtime of near two and a half hours, The Chase has to be one of the most inert films I have ever seen. Ponderous and slow it’s one of those unfortunate movies wherein you are fairly sure you have seen an allegory, but damned if you know for what.
The cast is game enough, Marlon Brando is in full mumblecore mode, and strain as Penn’s camera does it cannot quite hide the fact that he has had plenty of access to pies lately. But he does not radiate out and out disdain for the project the way he would later in life. The film also features Angie Dickinson and there’s never anything wrong with that. Jane Fonda, Robert Duvall and Robert Redford round out the “Oh they’re in this?” contingent. All do fine work, particularly Duvall as an emasculated husband who looks like he wandered out of an Edward Albee play, though if ever there has been an actor who looked less like a “Bubba” than Robert Redford I have not seen them.
Penn gives the film a great deal of atmosphere. From the sunbaked sweaty streets of the small town, to the nearly expressionistic sets of Bubba’s hiding spot, to the provincial opulence of the manor. But the film simply goes on for far too long bogged down in too many subplots.
The real problem with the film, like all of Arthur Penn’s films of the period is that they’re films out of time. There’s plenty of Penn’s New Wave tendancies and ambitions on display here, if not so nakedly as in Mickey One (though certain parts, I’m thinking specifically of the massive junkyard set, and the riot that breaks out there would look right at home in that odd duck of a film). Penn simply had the misfortune to make a movie that straddles the line dividing Home From The Hill and A Band Apart and is extremely unlikely to satisfy fans of either school of filmmaking.