Revisiting Bubber: Arthur Penn’s The Chase (1966)

December 14, 2016 | By

Chase_posterBack in 2011, I saw The Chase (1966) on the big screen at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, part of a retrospective whose subject I’ve long forgotten, but I caught the screening to see if a film I found long, frustrating, and uneven would work better, and to an extent, it did.

Its bulky length was still a problem, and John Barry’s score recycled the main theme whenever a ponderous scene needed some dramatic push, but you know, the film wasn’t so bad.

I love Nick Redman’s opening statement on Twilight Time’s commentary track, assessing this adaptation of Horton Foote’s play + novel as a great film and a terrible film, but I’m more in the middle: it’s a film whose makers thought it would be a definitive statement on racial tensions in America, but ended up being a cautionary example to future filmmakers on how to scale back metaphors and Big Moments and let the characters do the hard work, and reduce the character count as well.

The Chase has one of the greatest casts ever assembled, grabbing veterans and newcomers from various periods and acting styles, and I still find watching a scene between Method Marlon Brando and classically trained Miriam Hopkins fascinating because it’s two very different acting styles almost duking it out via two very high maintenance performers.

Brando could overindulge in character minutia and drag a scene away from its intended function (playing a scene drunk with a horse in The Nightcomers was a dumb idea), while Hopkins could be very high-pitched and rabid with gravitas, and yet they’re both fascinating to watch.

Lillian Hellman’s script has far too many characters – I rewrote chunks of my original review because parts made no sense, and I caught an erroneous character description – but like a steamy southern potboiler, everyone’s eyeing or sleeping with someone else’s better half. It can be a little tricky keeping tabs on who’s who because minor characters are away for extended periods, but there isn’t a lousy performance among the cast.

Twilight Time’s Blu is gorgeous – Sony’s HD transfer is a stunner – and the disc feature’s one of TT’s best commentaries ever. This is what studios lost when they abandoned the continuation of special editions to deep catalogue titles: assembling historians for prepared, candid, sometimes passionate discussions for a track to contextualize a classic, a dud, or in this case, a grandiose misfire.

There’s a vast, untapped knowledge base out there, and it’s unsurprising the best work in Special Features comes from indie labels. I guess it’s a sign of the times where studios focus on fortifying their libraries with fresh transfers in future-proofed 2K and 4K transfers, and indie labels license the transfers for their own custom special editions for specific markets.

It’s probably the best solution instead of studios sitting on classic films and doing nada, but then again, if we go back to the early days of the laserdisc, we have Criterion’s packed sets. Indie labels had to find a way to distinguish their product from prior releases and justify the higher price point for a superior format, but I miss the days when studios would bring out themed collections, actor and director sets, and other value-added special editions every fall.

Coming next: Sheldon Renan’s shockumentary The Killing of America (1981) from Severin.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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