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The Chase

The Chase(1946)

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Home Video Reviews

A scroll at beginning of VCI's new DVD of The Chase says it was "restored" and explains that the "restoration" was imperfect due to the sorry shape of the surviving film elements. I use the quotation marks because the print looks and sounds generally mediocre, with scratches and glitches in picture and sound. The other film on this disc, Bury Me Dead, is in even worse shape - it looks like it was transferred from a slightly fuzzy, second-generation 16mm print. Also, the films' titles are not "real" - it is obvious that they have been freeze-framed from the actual title cards and then optically extended while the title music plays behind them. The result looks cheap.

Now, all that being said, what of the movies themselves?

The Chase, an obscure, forgotten film, turns out to be a lesser noir, but it nonetheless boasts an intriguing dreamlike atmosphere with expressionistic photography from Franz Planer. Robert Cummings stars as a WWII vet who falls into a job as chauffeur for gangster Steve Cochran and henchman Peter Lorre. Cochran turns out to have an unhappy and unfaithful wife (Michele Morgan), whom Cummings, in classic noir tradition, promptly falls for and plans to run away with. From there the plot takes on surprising twists. Cochran almost steals the show (the scene where he is brutal to his manicurist is memorably nasty), but it is the pictorialism and a few original story elements which lift this movie above the average. The most bizarre of these is a James Bond-like backseat accelerator in Cochran's car that must be seen to be believed! Another sequence involving an attack dog in a wine cellar is an imaginative and spooky idea carried out to only moderate effect. In the hands of a stronger director it could have been a real winner.

Even so, director Arthur Ripley does have something of a cult following. He began as a cinematographer in the 1910s and then found success as a gag writer for Mack Sennett in the 1920s, working alongside Frank Capra. Later Ripley wrote two of Capra's silent features. In the 1930s he added directing to his resume and years later he retired to become UCLA's first film professor, significantly shaping what was to become a leading U.S. film school.

The screenplay for The Chase was by Philip Yordan from a Cornell Woolrich novel called The Black Path of Fear. Woolrich was a major name in film noir, with eleven stories adapted into movies over the years. Yordan was an equally important noir writer and would soon begin a long association with director Anthony Mann, writing other noirs like Reign of Terror, westerns like The Man From Laramie, the combat film Men in War, and the epic El Cid.

Bury Me Dead begins with June Lockhart showing up at her own funeral, incognito. Thinking that someone attempted to murder her, she begins to investigate who was really killed and who the murderer is. The suspects parade by - her estranged husband, her lawyer, her younger sister, her romantic rival, her boxer boyfriend, her butler and housekeeper. One by one they react with shock to the fact that Lockhart is alive, and one by one they share their stories via flashback. The audience is inundated with red herrings.

It sounds like a cheap knockoff of Laura, and in some ways it is, but Bury Me Dead also attempts something different. It's a whodunnit, but it mixes in slapstick humor throughout the story, resulting in an odd brew indeed. While it's true, as Jay Fenton points out on his commentary track, that the comedy makes it harder for the audience to guess whodunnit (since we're not likely to suspect characters who make us laugh), it also creates a movie of uneven tone and stilted performances.

It also makes it quite a stretch to label Bury Me Dead a "film noir." It has atmospheric noir-ish lighting, by the great John Alton no less, but it lacks the feelings of dread, paranoia and despair that define the true noir style. (The Chase is much more a noir.) The flashback structure which lends an air of fatalism to many great noirs here merely keeps a mysterious story engaging. The director, Bernard Vorhaus, was an interesting fellow. An American who found most of his success in England and was blacklisted in the 1950s, he was a mentor to David Lean, who called him his biggest influence. In Hollywood, Vorhaus followed up Bury Me Dead with the superb The Spiritualist (1948), also known as The Amazing Mr. X, again working with John Alton and resulting in a remarkably gorgeous picture. It's too bad that there isn't a better print available for Bury Me Dead - watching a lousy print of an Alton film is practically torture. Still, it gives a taste of his artistry, which is better than nothing at all.

VCI Entertainment's DVD of this double feature is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it comes with a decent amount of extras - commentaries, actor biographies, trailers, a poster gallery and a fun 1942 color Superman cartoon. On the other hand, the prints and soundtracks leave much to be desired, and the menus are irritatingly slow to load. Overall, the DVD is worth it for a look at two B obscurities with some unique things going for them.

For more information about The Chase/Bury Me Dead, visit VCI Entertainment.

by Jeremy Arnold