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Chase, The (Blu-ray Review)

30 May, 2016 By: Mike Clark

Kino Lorber
$19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated
Stars Robert Cummings, Michele Morgan, Steve Cochran, Peter Lorre.

Even more than other long-deteriorated noir-ish releases recently restored thanks to yeoman efforts by passionate individuals, foundations and UCLA’s Film and Television Archive, this highly watchable weird-y only existed in really wretched prints if you go by the ones I’ve seen (think: death knell-ish Alpha Video, for starters). Paraphrasing his voiceover commentary here, filmmaker Guy Maddin notes that viewing The Chase via a wheezy copy actually had a way of adding to the story’s ambience of disorientation, and I think I know what he means. To me, the experience was somewhat akin to the mixed rewards of baseball radio broadcasts in those pre-satellite days when those wavering in-and-out signals provided a little long-distance romance.

Yet nostalgia or not, a rendering that’s viewable is obviously much preferable to one that isn’t — especially since we can now get a sense of how exciting (and occasionally even lustrous) The Chase’s camerawork is. This artist in question would be Franz Planer (back when he was still going as “Frank F.”) of Letter From an Unknown Woman, Champion, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (coming in June on a cross-your-fingers Mill Creek Blu-ray), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Big Country. One also has to wonder if Planer eventually became Audrey Hepburn’s cinematographer of choice in that he also shot Roman Holiday, The Nun’s Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Children’s Hour, the last three in relatively short order before his 1963 death.

In terms of The Chase, note that we’re talking about the one from 1946 and not ’66 (the latter one being the Arthur Penn let’s-all-hate-Texas cult item in which local lawman Marlon Brando, in the penultimate scene, pretty well pummels Steve Ihnat’s internal organs into lasagna). This earlier version is much, much different, with Arthur Ripley directing screenwriter Philip Yordan’s take on a Cornell Woolrich novel. This is the same Arthur Ripley who capped only a few big-screen directorial assignments with (speaking of cult movies) 1958’s Thunder Road, the moonshine chase pic that a) turned Robert Mitchum into a Capitol Records jukebox artist; and b) still had enough regional box office clout for alcoholics and fanciers of fast wheels to be playing drive-ins in my vicinity all the way into 1971. One gets the impression that Ripley had little interest in making any old run-of-the-mill movie just to get a screen credit, and the word a lot of people use to describe The Chase is “dreamy.” As for what kind of dreams … well, historian Eddie Muller (the man to see for all things noir) says right on the Blu-ray box here that this is the closest to a David Lynch film made during the classical Hollywood era. So keep in mind here that the character Robert Cummings is playing — while probably no less stable than most of the film’s supporting characters – is a emotionally pummeled recent war vet whose perceptions of reality are not necessarily ones we can take to the bank.

So broke in the opening scene that he can’t even afford breakfast until catching a fluke-ish break, Cummings hires on as chauffeur to a really despicable Miami hood (Steve Cochran) — the kind of guy who doesn’t just have Peter Lorre as an assistant but a dog of Cujo’s temperament in the wine cellar along with the Napoleon brandy. Cochran’s trophy wife is played by Michele Morgan and thus has cheekbones to kill for — something he appears willing to do, even though she can’t stand living with him. This was back in the pre-Castro days when someone might opt for a weekend or even new lifetime in a glitzier-than-today Havana with all the ease of walking into a Woolworth’s (there’s even a Fox musical called Weekend in Havana with Carmen Miranda, whose appearance would certainly alter the tone of The Chase). No noir schemer like Out of the Past’s Jane Greer but a true-blue individual really fearing for her life, Morgan entices Cummings into splitting the States by passenger ship and at what sounds today like bargain rates. At this point, the story goings-on turn mighty strange — not that the souped-up Cochran car we’ve previously seen (it would be at home in some early James Bond movie) is anyone’s idea of normality.

Seymour Nebenzal (think both versions of M) produced, and there were budgetary limitations. Sometimes even in the same scene, the project goes from looking cheap to surprisingly lavish, though one Cuban nightspot sequence is so nicely packed and choreographed that it rewards a viewing with the sound off. Of course, if you do this, you might miss parts of Maddin’s commentary — an unusual one in that it’s laid back and sometimes distinguished by long pauses, yet also passionate about this movie and all the other movies it helps to have seen to make the right filmic associations that thus maximize full appreciation. Maddin knows the source novel and talks about the film’s many alterations, as well as the memorable way in which Cochran’s off-screen life came to an end about a week after I graduated from high school. Speaking of Cochran, I wish the controllers of 1956’s Come Next Spring could work on its faded Trucolor and bring it out; Martin Scorsese and I are far from the only ones who’ve always been taken by what was probably Republic Pictures’ best family release ever.

The Chase is another movie that shows how malleable Cummings could be as an actor, despite Pauline Kael’s knock on him; he was Robert in his dramas, Bob in his comedies, and this one definitely isn’t “Bob” material. Distributor Kino, as it often does, has also gone to a few extra wells, throwing in two radio broadcasts of the original Woolrich source (The Black Path of Fear), one of them with Cary Grant.

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