The Chase (1966)

Director: Arthur Penn - Cast: Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, E.G. Marshall, Angie Dickinson, Janice Rule, Robert Duvall

I had watched this movie only once, decades ago, and actually re-watched it because some people told me it was a failure. With a man like Arthur Penn in the directional chair and a stellar cast including Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Duvall, Angie Dickenson and Robert Redford, you don’t expect a movie to be a failure.

The screenplay for The Chase was based a novel (and a play) by Horton Foote, an author I'm not familar with. Reportedly screenwriter Lilian Hellman only used a couple of sparse elements from Foote’s original writings (1). Several directors had turned the offer down to direct the movie, among them Elia Kazan and Fred Zinneman (2). The original plot centered on a escaped convict seeking revenge on the sheriff who had brought him up; the movie is still about an escaped convict (Robert Redford) and a sheriff (Marlon Brando), but their relationship is decidedly different. Redford is falsely accused of murder (the murder is committed by a fellow inmate who escaped at the same time) and his return to his hometown causes a lot of agitation among the townspeople, who want to take the law into their own hands. The escapee and the sheriff are rather friends than foes in this version of the story. Instead of defending himself against a man who wants to kill him, the sheriff is defending a man who is in danger of being killed by others.

I must have seen The Chase in the Seventies and my memories of it were rather vague and dispersed. If somebody had asked me in which year the movie was made, I would have guessed it was from the late Fifties or early Sixties, when these type of dramas were en vogue. In reality it was made in 1966, only one year before Bonnie & Clyde, the ground-breaking movie that catapulted director Penn to the top and would eventually bring him everlasting fame. The Chase tries very hard to create a brooding Southern atmosphere of racism, debauchery and vigilantism (all sauced with pseudo-marxist ideas about class) but at best the drama feels like second rate William Faulkner or Eugene O’Neill, with too many characters all begging for our attention and over-explicative dialogue. It’s also way overlong, and when things finally pick up (in the last thirty minutes) it’s almost too late.

Brando is largely okay here; he’s still speaking his lines, not mumbling them like he would do in some of his later performances, and apparently he provided Penn with some useful ideas during the filming of the infamous beating up scene. Brando proposed to ‘play it slow’ and speed it up, just a little, afterwards. It’s one of the scenes that do work in this otherwise disappointing movie. Janice Rule is a good overheated drunken swab (very sexy indeed), but Jane Fonda and Robert Duvall play strickly clichéd characters (and Duvall is already showing some of his familiar acting tics); actually it’s Robert Redford who turns in the movie’s best, most controlled performance as the man on the run.


* (1) See:
* (2) Jeff Stafford, The Chase, on: Turner Classic Movies


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