CD: Chase, The (1966)

April 8, 2011 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: Sony Legacy/ Released: May 18, 2004

Tracks & Album Length: 16 tracks / (55:58)


Special Notes: n/a.


Composer: John Barry




John Barry was imported to the States by producer Sam Spiegel to score The Chase, a lurid drama about an escaped convict, and who’s imminent arrival literally makes the locals crack – not from fear of his arrival, but of their own criminally emotional behaviour and racism that’s been kept just barely under a veneer of respectability.

That’s partly what Barry’s theme espouses and captures, but he also sensed the film was long; the anti-hero of convict Bubber Reeves didn’t even reach the town until the 100 min. mark in a 135 min. film; and the film’s long midsection was very slow-going.

The title theme is sort of bluesy, but filtered through the Barry brain it naturally goes against the norm by nor being steeped in ethnic instrumentation (harmonica and banjo are as far as it gets); it’s a simple construction of rumbling percussion, stern brass, and slowly laid out chords over which the simple southern-fried theme is repeated.

It works within the film because aside from the “Main Title” sequence, Barry repeats it almost verbatim whenever Spiegel / director Arthur Penn intercut footage of a Bubber getting closer to town by train, land, or river. It’s a cheat to break up the dialogue and remind audiences ‘Bubber’s on the way and getting’ close’ but Barry did write a few threadbare variations, mostly to infer how the mere thought of Bubber coming home will unmask affairs unknown by fathers, and internal jealousies within the bank owned by the town’s wealthiest despot.

The finale is scored with a series of mournful variations, but the bulk of the film – namely the midsection – is mostly comprised of source cues and up-tempo theme variations. “Saturday Night Philosopher” is a party tune heard in the house of a cuckolded fool, and Barry’s teasing music recalls the stripper source in his first score, Beat Girl (1960) with thick bass and heavy organ improv reminiscent of his prior hit, The Knack… and How to Get It (1965).

There’s also a tender theme variation, “What Did I Do Wrong?” which captures the pain of Bubber’s mother who sits and deeply contemplates how she let down her boy, and set off bad behaviour that unlike the ‘bad seeds’ of other parents, landed him in jail time and time again. It’s a lovely introspective piece performed with oboe, chamber strings, and slight backing from harp and flute.

Stern drama dominates “The Beating” and Barry again opts for simple orchestrations that support and prolong the brutal beating Sheriff Calder receives. Cartoon orchestral stabs might have enhanced the punches, but Barry’s choice is to use unresolved chords, high register strings, and repeat the bass line from the title’s opening bars on piano, albeit in a scattered & sparse pattern, mimicking Calder’s struggle to defend himself as more cuts and blood blemish his once-virile physique.

If The Chase may have limited Barry’s scope of scoring choices – little action, too much dialogue – he at least got the chance to score what’s ostensibly an elaborate cinematic play, and figure out when to get in &  where to step back and let the actors do the work. He also did seemed to have fun writing the source cues, delving into pop-rock, blues (“Call that Dancin’?”), and slow jazz – music that quietly hinted at the towns’ sleazy secrets without banging audiences over their heads.

It’s also worth noting that whereas the specter of Henry Mancini’s easy listening jazz sometimes influenced other composer’s film scores in the mid-sixties, Barry stayed away, confident that his own sound – sustained chords on strings, brass symbolizing mounting menace, and sometimes scoring against onscreen action using a slow tempo – was spot on. “Look Around” kind of straddles the border into Manciniland, but Barry managed to maintain his own voice quite consistently through the years, within and outside of the Bond films.

Within the bloated film, Barry’s music works, and on CD, the occasional thematic repetitiveness is broken up by a source cue. Sony’s 2004 CD augments the LP’s original (and long) running time of 50 mins. with 2 extra cues, an alternate version of the “Main Title,” and a theme re-recording done by Barry for a 1988 compilation album.



© 2011 Mark R. Hasan


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DVD / Film:  Chase, The (1966)


External References:

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