The Chase (1966)

Arthur Penn directs Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in this lurid drama where a small town tears itself apart after a wayward hometown boy escapes the penitentiary and goes on the run.

A strange, histrionic film that actually won me over the more it jumped it’s own rails. It is an adaptation of a stage play but so expansive you could never guess. The ensemble is massive and Penn does a good job of marshalling all the faces so none get lost in the crowd. The on-the-run aspects with Redford are cinematic and compelling. The scenes of Brando snarkily policing a town swiftly disintegrating into pandemonium start in good, tart humour. He’s a pretty cool customer until the mob overwhelms him. The early satirical interactions between the various social stratas mix soap opera with an Altman-esque freewheeling energy. It is sultry (Fonda and Angie Dickinson are in it for God’s sake… And they are the good girls!) and it is subversive. Then in the last act all hell breaks loose. Things turn incredibly bleak – paranoia turns to drinking, turns to swinging, turns to racism, turns to lynching, turns to apocalyptic destruction, turns to two decent men being martyred. The Chase goes from being a broad political comedy to maybe the most nihilistic Hollywood product ever released. If you are a fan of Falling Down or Do The Right Thing then you’ll find lots to chew over here.

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