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May 23, 2016

The Chase

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Arthur Ripley - 1946
Kino Classics BD Region A

It's appropriate that UCLA was one of the participants in the restoration of The Chase. Arthur Ripley was the school's first teacher in the famed film school, from 1957 through his death in 1961. There was a short break from academia to direct, at the request of Robert Mitchum, Ripley's best known film, Thunder Road. This was also the last film restored under the direction of UCLA Film & Television Archive preservationist Nancy Mysel, prior to her death in 2012.

We first see Robert Cummings as Chuck Scott, wearing a suit, but unshaven, with scuffed shoes, standing in front of a restaurant where the cook has pancakes and bacon frying on the griddle. Obviously hungry, Cummings pulls his belt in another notch. And then he takes a bottle from his jacket and gulps a pill, without anything to wash it down. It's later indicated that Scott may be suffering from what was then called "shell shock" as a post-war Naval veteran. What is never commented on is that Scott is seen popping pills several times throughout the film, including one time washing a pill down with beer. I'm pretty sure that even back in the Forties, professional opinion held that the combination of psychotropic medication and alcohol wasn't a smart idea.

Cummings might be hungry, but he's also honest. After treating himself to breakfast with cash from a very conveniently discovered lost wallet, Cummings returns the wallet to the owner. Eddie Roman lives in a mansion in a very posh section of a studio set Miami, Florida. Roman lives up to his name as there are statues everywhere in his elegant home. Steve Cochran takes on the part of Roman, a guy who never hesitates to let you know who's in control. The first indication that The Chase is more violent than comparable films of the era comes when Roman slaps a manicurist hard enough for blood to trickle from one side of her mouth. Scott is rewarded for his honesty by being hired as Roman's chauffeur. It turns out that Roman is a back seat driver, with a pedal that allows him to speed at 120 mph, and hope that the driver remains in control of the steering. Peter Lorre plays Roman's right hand man, the one who does the dirty work on behalf of his boss.

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There is Roman's wife, Lorna, usually held under lock and key at the mansion. Roman trusts Scott enough to let him take Lorna out of the house for a drive to a beach. As Lorna, Michele Morgan, wears fancy, and overly formal, long dresses, looking out at the ocean while contemplating her unhappy life as a trophy wife. Lorna talks Scott into helping her escape to Havana. Even when fleeing her husband, Lorna remains overdressed, wearing a mink coat for her cruise to Havana.

The plot, such as it is, is nonsense. There is a wonderful dream sequence where Scott has been framed for murder. Stepping further back, based on Scott's pill-popping, I think it's possible to imagine all of The Chase as a drug induced hallucination.

What can not be disputed is what Arthur Ripley was able to accomplish on a limited budget. There are a couple of overhead shots, including one traveling crane shot within a nightclub where, unknown to each other, Roman and Scott are separated by a partition within the club. A murder is indicated by off screen sounds, and the sight of a broken wine bottle, with the spilled wine appearing like the draining of blood.

Guy Maddin provided a commentary track which covers the production of The Chase as well as notes on the careers of Ripley, producer Seymour Nebenzal, screenplay writer Philip Yordan, novelist Cornell Woolrich, as well as the film stars. Those familiar with Maddin's own films, take on not only past films but mimic the technical aspects of older films, will not be surprised by the wealth of references mentioned within the eighty-six minute running time.

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Posted by peter at May 23, 2016 09:39 AM