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CHASE, THE (director: Arthur Penn; screenwriters: from the play by Horton Foote/Lillian Hellman; cinematographer: Joseph La Shelle; editor: Gene Milford; music: John Barry; cast: Marlon Brando (Sheriff Calder), Jane Fonda (Anna Reeves), Robert Redford (Charlie ‘Bubber’ Reeves), E.G. Marshall (Val Rogers), Angie Dickinson (Ruby Calder), Janice Rule (Emily Stewart), Miriam Hopkins (Mrs. Reeves), Malcolm Atterbury (Mr. Reeves), Martha Hyer (Mary Fuller), Richard Bradford (Damon Fuller), Robert Duvall (Edwin Stewart), James Fox (Jason ‘Jake’ Rogers), Diana Hyland (Elizabeth Rogers), Henry Hull (Briggs), Jocelyn Brando (Mrs. Briggs), Katherine Walsh (Verna Dee), Clifton James (Lem), Steve Ihnat (Archie), Joel Fluellen (Lester Johnson), Clifton James (Lem), Nydia Westman (Mrs. Henderson), Paul Williams (Seymour), Bruce Cabot (Sol); Runtime: 133; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Spiegel; Columbia; 1966)
“A Texas-style Peyton Place that’s possibly more absurd.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A Texas-style Peyton Place that’s possibly more absurd. It’s lifted from Horton Foote’s novel/play and scripted by Lillian Hellman and attempted to be made into another Little Foxes. Liberal director Arthur Penn (“Penn & Teller Get Killed”/”The Left Handed Gun”/”Bonnie and Clyde”) keeps it neurotic, tawdry, shoddy and exploitative. It’s an essay on the evils in America that hones in on its greed, corrupting power, racism, sex and violence, and uses a small Texas town, Tarl, to make its case that we’re all sinners who can’t be saved. Also, the viewer can’t be spared from watching a brooding Marlon Brando as the masochistic sheriff who undergoes a savage beating by the ‘good ole boy’ businessmen turned thugs.

Charlie ‘Bubber’ Reeves (Robert Redford), with only a few months left on his prison sentence, breaks out with a violent older inmate. That inmate kills a traveling salesman to get his car. The innocent Bubber, a framed victim, is left on foot to continue his escape. He aims to return to his Texas hometown to seek justice and reveal some town secrets. His wife Anna (Jane Fonda) is with the married Jake Rogers (James Fox), their childhood friend. Jake’s the son of the local oil and cattle baron Val Rogers (E.G. Marshall), who is locked into a loveless marriage of convenience. Everyone in town is affected by Bubber’s return, and all react in fear. One of Rogers’ timid and vile bank VPs, Edwin Stewart (Robert Duvall), fears Bubber is headed back to settle an old score from a childhood incident. Val fears that Jake will be harmed by Bubber because he’s having an affair with his wife. Bubber’s clueless and loathsome parents (Miriam Hopkins & Malcolm Atterbury) fear that their boy, whom they consider wild but not bad, will be killed by the sheriff on orders from the influential Val Rogers. There’s also a convention going on that Saturday night and the whole town is drunk from partying. It’s only the stalwart Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) who stands alone against mob rule and tries to bring back Bubber to jail without any harm. And, it’s only Calder’s loyal wife Ruby (Angie Dickinson) who stands by his side.

But the drunken gun-toting locals, who think Calder is Val’s bought man, bring on a firework display, an outburst of racism and a chaotic mob scene that leads to a tragic outcome as they hunt down Bubber in the woods. None of it was convincing, as these fine actors were left spouting empty lines and all the melodramatics were contrived. It’s hard to believe with all the talent and money invested in this enterprise, that it went so wrong. The attempt to bring into play the current civil rights struggle, the sexual revolution, the Lee Harvey Oswald execution in front of the jailhouse and America’s hypocritical moral stance seemed forced and clumsily tacked on.

Other supporting actors of interest are Henry Hull in his final film role as the greedy bigoted real-estate man Briggs, and Jocelyn Brando, sister of Marlon, as Brigg’s wife. Bruce Cabot plays the cafe owner and detested stepfather of Jane Fonda. Bored businessmen Richard Bradford, Clifton James and Steve Ihnat pack guns and when not acting violent are lusting after the local teenage girls. Janice Rule is the amoral hot wife of Duvall who wants more out of life. All the characters seemed like either Hollywood cardboard types or befuddled refugees from Brando’s New York “method acting.” All the action-packed hysterics gave me the jitters, but didn’t convince me I was seeing anything but “trashy art.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”