It’s never a small event when there’s a prison break. But for the town of Tarl, Texas, it proves to be a life altering event for many of its residents when Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford) and another inmate make a break for it. While they’re running, the other convict kills a passing motorist, steals his clothes and his car and leaves Bubber on his own. However, Bubber has just enough time to accidentally leave his fingerprints at the scene of the crime. He starts running for it, but finds himself headed in the direction of his hometown, Tarl. Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) doesn’t expect him to come home, but the rest of the town isn’t so sure. In such a small town, news of Bubber’s escape spreads like wildfire and it’s all anyone can talk about. Everyone is speculating about where he’ll go next. However, a few people in town have good reasons to be worried that Bubber might be coming after them. There’s his best friend Jake Rogers (James Fox), who has been having an affair with Bubber’s wife Anna (Jane Fonda). Then there’s Edwin Stewart (Robert Duvall), who once got Bubber sent to reform school for something he didn’t do. Years later, Edwin’s wife Emily (Janice Rule) told Bubber the truth about what happened and he wasn’t happy. Virtually the only person who has stood by Bubber is Mrs. Reeves (Miriam Hopkins), his mother.
When Bubber finds his old friend Lester while hiding in a junk yard, he sends Lester to find Anna and have her bring him some money and clothes. While trying to find Anna, Lester is arrested. Sheriff Calder finds Anna and Jake and brings them to see Lester in jail. After their visit, Calder knows that Lester had just told Anna where to find Bubber, so they make a deal where she gets an hour to find Bubber and convince him to come to the station and surrender. With all the town worked up and ready to hunt Bubber down, it’s the only way he could be brought back to prison safely. Now, Sheriff Calder has a vested interest in seeing that this situation to be handled peacefully. The whole town seems to think Calder is working for wealthy businessman Val Rogers only and Val is paying him to kill Bubber to protect Jake since Jake is having an affair with Anna. But word travels fast in Tarl and a when word gets out that Bubber is in the junkyard, they gather around to drive him out. Of course, the situation quickly spins out of control and literally becomes explosive.
The Chase is one of those movies where you look at the cast and think there’s no way that movie could go wrong. But then you start watching it and you quickly realize that it has, indeed, somehow managed to go wrong. When I was trying to decide which movie I wanted to watch and review for today, I was looking up some of the movies on IMDB and when I saw this one had a cast of Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Angie Dickinson, and Miriam Hopkins, plus direction from Arthur Penn and was based on a Lillian Hellman play, I was definitely sold by the sheer amount of star power involved. It’s too bad that once I actually started watching it, I found it really dull. It moved slowly and there were a lot of times where I found myself looking at the clock and getting frustrated that it had only been ten minutes since I last looked at the clock. For all the fantastic stars in this, the only performance that stood out to me was from Miriam Hopkins. This simply isn’t a quintessential Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, or Robert Redford movie.
As far as I can tell, the main problem most likely came from producer Sam Spiegel meddling in ways he really shouldn’t have. He got Lillian Hellman to write a script for the movie version, but then had it rewritten (although Lillian still got credited as the screenwriter) and wouldn’t even let her see the final cut before it was released. Then he wouldn’t let Arthur Penn do the editing himself, so this movie doesn’t fully reflect Arthur Penn’s vision. Maybe if Lillian Hellman and Arthur Penn had been given more control, it might have been improved. But ultimately, if you missed this one on TCM yesterday, you really didn’t miss much.