How The Chase set the topical, visceral tone for New Hollywood

The townsfolk are portrayed rather like a caricature. It was released in the middle of a tumultuous decade, and Lillian Hellman’s screenplay (adapted from Horton Foote’s novel and play of the same name) dives headfirst into a phalanx of hot-button social issues – racism, wealth disparity, the sexual revolution, guns – often using the supporting cast as a kind of Greek chorus. But the passage of time hasn’t dimmed the brilliant power of Brando’s performance, or the film’s seething atmosphere which still manages to burrow under your skin. The citizens of his unnamed Texas hometown, with only a few exceptions, are a rowdy, drunken mob who bay for his blood; after hopping the wrong train, Bubber finds himself heading straight for them. Then along came Bonnie and Clyde. “The passage of time hasn’t dimmed the brilliant power of Brando’s performance, or the film’s seething atmosphere.”

It was Brando who suggested to Penn how to shoot the beating Calder endures at the hands of the townsfolk. With the dust from the firestorm started by Bonnie and Clyde having long since settled, The Chase survives today as a fascinating throwback, a time capsule of an industry teetering on the brink of something new. The Chase is a big film, running at more than two hours and boasting a big-hitting cast. The furore around the film was so intense, it more or less wiped director Arthur Penn’s previous film from the public consciousness. It’s this constant tussle between the abstract and the real, between Old and New Hollywood, that makes The Chase noteworthy. Behind the scenes, The Chase was plagued by production issues. It’s melodramatic, overblown, sometimes downright hysterical. When it was eventually released the film performed poorly both critically and commercially. Published 30 Sep 2022

Share this Brando, however, makes him a captivating presence. After their escape, that prisoner kills a person and drives away in their car, leaving Bubber to take the fall and making him a fugitive twice over. Fiendish, almost zombie-like; you can’t reason with them, and they move in a big, homogenous pack. Things got so heated between Penn and legendary producer Sam Spiegel that the director was tricked out of the final edit. Suddenly, the nightmare feels very real. As the film progresses, their soullessness starts to feel nightmarish. Beyond Brando and Redford, it stars Miriam Hopkins as Bubber’s despairing mother, Jane Fonda as his anxious wife (the first of four features Fonda and Redford would star in together over the next 40 years), EG Marshall as the town’s obscenely wealthy overlord, and Robert Duvall as his most obsequious employee. The film was shot largely on studio sets, and there’s an artificiality to some of the supporting performances – a mannered quality to the dialogue – that seems to belong to an earlier era. His only hope for protection is the long-suffering Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando), who never believed he was guilty in the first place. He doesn’t hide his disdain at the citizens under his jurisdiction, or try to show them the error of their ways. But the violence, both the simmering promise and the brutal realisation of it, foretold where cinema was heading. Share this

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Chloe Walker
@chlopinions

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In 1967, Bonnie and Clyde lit the fuse for a Hollywood revolution, confounding the critical establishment, attracting droves of wide-eyed audiences who’d never seen anything like it, and altering the course of American cinema forever. But for all the adjectives that could be used to describe 1966’s The Chase, ‘forgettable’ is not one of them. He knows they are way beyond that. A palpable sense of exhaustion radiates off of Brando, just as potent as the character’s fundamental decency. How The Chase set the topical, visceral tone for New Hollywood

Though largely forgotten today, Arthur Penn’s 1966 crime thriller remains a fascinating precursor to a filmmaking revolution. The actors’ punches would make contact but be executed slowly, and the film would then be sped up. Trapped in this nightmare is Sheriff Calder, who in another actor’s hands could have been a tedious archetype, a grey wall of goodness facing off against a town of hedonistic villains. He’s never self-righteous. Indeed, the viscerality of the attack contrasts the cartoonish villainy displayed by the townsfolk earlier in the film. It’s a deceptively simple idea, but the scene – which unfolds over three agonising minutes – remains frighteningly effective. And yet that hysteria, though mocked in many contemporary reviews, which gives The Chase its queasy power. Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford), a wrongfully imprisoned convict, is tempted into a jail break by a fellow prisoner.

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