Posted by Paulcito
We're on the outside looking in. And boy do those flapjacks and pig sausages look good. The Chase begins with a vicarious breakfast seen through the eyes of Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings), a down-on-his-luck Navy vet who stands in front of Mary's Coffee Shop in Miami, not a nickel to his name. Under his feet, providentially, he finds a fat wallet belonging to gangster Edward Roman and treats himself to a full breakfast, cigar included, before tracking down Roman to return the property.
Turns out (surprise!) the gangster lives in a huge mansion, and after some peephole interrogation by Roman's Number Two thug, Gino (Peter Lorre), Chuck enters, refusing to state the reason for his errand to anyone but Mr. Roman himself. Right away we know we're in trouble. Every corner of the house is menaced by lattice-blind shadows and palm fronds, and the house is filled with statuary: a neo-classical nightmare that recalls the Nazi house in Notorious (there's even a wine cellar).
After sizing each other up, Gino escorts Chuck to a back room where Roman (Steve Cochran) has just gotten a manicure and a close shave by his butch female barber and her young assistant. Eddie follows the "pretty-boy gangster" ethic - look good and act psychopathically. Both women hang apprehensively on his every word, and in short order he delivers, rewarding the manicurist with a blow that sends her sprawling to the floor and a hearty "stupid dame!" The two women limp out as hapless Chuck walks in, the barber muttering "filthy beast" under her breath. Just another day in the Eddie Roman household.
When Chuck explains to the incredulous Roman that he has come to return the wallet (still brimming with cash despite the breakfast outlay), Roman is impressed: "You outta get a medal." Chuck replies sarcastically, "Thanks, I got a medal." Roman offers new pal "Scotty" a job on the spot as his chauffeur. Now we really know whats coming: here's another wounded war vet about to learn a little about the post-war world. Gino however, is nonplussed by this "law-abiding jerk," to which Chuck can only feebly add, "I guess I'm just a sucker." And how. Cochran's Eddie Roman is all silk and introspection, nicely contrasted by Lorre, whose role as Gino chews through every scene with all the venom that his employer keeps under wraps.
Chuck's trial-by-fire comes the first day on the job as he chauffeurs Roman, Gino and pet hound Charlie around. Roman trips a second accelerator pedal hidden in the back of the car, and sadistically hits the gas. When Chuck realizes he's lost control of the car, Roman chortles at him to just steer. They race a locomotive and break to a stop just inches before the crossing. Lorre spits out the window in nervous frustration, but Chuck keeps his cool and passes the test. Control-freak Roman has broken in his new lackey.
Cochran is one of noir's perennial baddies, best known for his loco turn in Cagney´s White Heat, alongside Virginia Mayo; he also starred in Highway 301 (with Virginia Grey), Tomorrow Is Another Day (with Ruth Roman) and with LaCrawford in The Damned Don't Cry. Watching Cochran in this film, I am struck by Colin Farrell's striking resemblance to him. Robert Cummings was no stranger to the dark side of the tracks either, having starred in The Accused, Sleep, My Love and Rio.
And here's where The Chase really begins (* SPOILERS *)
Cut to Wednesday night: Roman entertains shipping magnate Emmerich Johnson (Lloyd Corrigan) regarding a business deal and we finally meet Mrs. Lorna Roman (Michèle Morgan), a French beauty who Roman keeps under wraps. She beats it for her room after Roman insults her. Sap Johnson, surprised the gangsters would invite him over, asks about Eddie's line of work. Roman & Gino cackle: they're "in the amusement business:" everything is "strictly for laughs!" Johnson doesn't sense the danger and lets himself be swayed into visiting the wine cellar. Killer pooch Charlie is waiting for him there and as Johnson meets his end, the gurgle of a choice bottle of 1815 Napoleon brandy slaking blood-red across the cellar floor lets us know that he is down the drain as well. Eddie Roman has his new yachts.
Chuck, meanwhile, has gotten into the habit of taking the missus for long waterfront drives -- her years with Roman are wearing very thin. In her white sequined two-piece, Lorna looks like a sad Vero Lake and Chuck is all ears. Lorna asks Chuck if he knows Havana. Sure, he says, "cheap hotels, cheap restaurants, cheap friends." They plot to escape together the very next day: Pier 26, S.S. Cuba, 11PM sailing. Lorna was originally to be played by actress Joan Leslie, but she was under contract at Warners and they would not release her. Michèle Morgan plays her as a sultry enigma.
Next day, Chuck buys the tickets to freedom. Roman knows something is up, that Lorna is restless, and has been going to the oceanfront nights. At this point the Chase score begins to insinuate itself, a mix of strident piano and whooshing strings. The piano pounds as the hour approaches and the film gets increasingly gauzy and surreal. A morose Roman sits at home listening to the long-play version of the soundtrack when Gino informs him of Lorna's escape: "Whaddya want me to do?" to which Eddie replies laconically, "Play the other side". In a nice bit of audio fade, We cut to another piano, this one shipboard, as a surprised Lorna listens to Chuck play. As she stares in the mirror, a shadow guillotines down over her reflection, an effect that is repeated as their lips lock and we pull back outside, through the porthole. Like a shutter aperture stopping down, the future closes in on them.
Havana is all shadows and crumbling decadence, and Chuck hesitates over whether they should return to the ship. Instead they defiantly enter a bar, and in short order Lorna is dead, stabbed by a jade-handled monkey dagger which Chuck had bought earlier that day from chinawoman Madame Chin. Chuck is interrogated by local police to the strains of Amor Brujo. Escaping from the detectives, Chuck confirms the worst -- he's been framed -- when he runs into Gino menacing the antiquities dealer and Gino...kills Chuck.
But wait. Chuck wakes up, still in bed at his room at the Romans, earlier that afternoon. Flushed with fever, amnesiac and panicked, he bolts from the house and goes to see his old Naval shrink Commander Davidson (Jack Holt) who reveals that Chuck suffers from "anxiety neurosis" and its not exactly the first time. Like any psychologist worth his weight, he invites Chuck down to the club for a drink, where Roman is likewise hanging out with Gino after belting Lorna for being a homebody. But Scotty can't shake the feeling he had plans for 9PM that night. His memory restored, he goes for Lorna and the chase from his malarial fantasy repeats itself. Roman races to stop them at the tramp steamer but has Gino drive, repeating the "let's race the choo-choo" trick, this time with horrifyingly fiery results.
The Chase stands out memorably because of its mid-film dream sequence, which offers much more in the end than simply disorientation for the viewer. Through this story device, disillusioned vet Chuck has already seen the worst and thus, once he recovers his memory, he is free to pursue Lorna all the more, and control his destiny, something rival Roman wants so badly but which ultimately costs him his life. It's as though the film delivers its noir ending without the consequences. There is life after death and a film gris denouement is possible. (Of course, for hardcore enthusiasts, seeing Roman & Gino hit the train is plenty noir enough).
The Chase is an archetypically noir film in both story and style. The dreamlike atmosphere, expressionistic tone, and fatalistic outlook all make for a very fine noir screening. The Chase's noir credentials are impeccable: The score is provided by Russian-born composer Michel Michelet, who also scored Joseph Losey's M, Impact and Lured. The shadowy camerawork is thanks to Franz Planer, an old-school German cinematographer. The screenplay, by Philip Yordan, is based on the Cornell Woolrich novel The Black Path of Fear,one of the films in the "black novel" series, which include The Bride Wore Black (1940), The Black Curtain, Black Alibi, Phantom Lady, and The Black Angel, all from Woolrich's most prolific period as a pulp novelist. Director Arthur Ripley is a bit of an oddity within noir. His legacy is more for his early work in the twenties with Frank Capra and Mack Sennett writing comedy; later in life, he was a driving force at the UCLA Film Center. Besides The Chase, his forties' output included Voice in the Wind, and in 1958,Robert Mitchum got him to helm Thunder Road (perhaps in exchange for a jug of moonshine?)
The DVD: The Chase is available on DVD from two sources: Alpha, and more recently, from VCI on a double feature DVD with Bury Me Dead. The VCI edition is the recommended one, as it underwent some restoration by VCI archivist Jay Fenton, although the print and audio still leave much to be desired.
Posted 6th March 2007