Execrable: The Chase

The Chase (1966)
Directed by Arthur Penn
Written by Horton Foote, Lillian Hellman
Produced by Sam Spiegel
Starring Marlon Brando, Angie Dickinson, Jane Fonda, James Fox, Richard Bradford, Janice Rule, Robert Redford, E.G. Marshall, Henry Hull, Robert Duvall, Miriam Hopkins, Clifton James, Joel Fluellen, Martha Hyer, Diana Hyland, Nydia Westman, Jocelyn Brando, Steve Ihnat, Katherine Walsh, Marc Seaton, Paul Williams, Malcolm Atterbury, Bruce Cabot, Maurice Manson, Steve Whittaker, Davis Roberts, Pamela Curran, Ken Renard
Natives of only a few regions have been so frequently and grotesquely distorted in Hollywood’s productions as those of the reconstructed south, where a middle-aged, middle-class, terrible Texan trio (Bradford, James, Ihnat) crazed by booze and white privilege run amok in their town by harrying and terrorizing blacks (Fluellen, Roberts), drubbing their sheriff (Brando), and pursuing with intent to kill a jailbroken scapegrace (Redford) involved in a murder. A year before he and Warren Beatty focused the energies of and popularized nascent New Hollywood, Penn helmed this zany, overheated, overpopulated clunker masquerading as social drama, which condignly ravaged Spiegel’s career. Playwright and novelist Foote is reportedly renowned for the naturalism of his dialogue; one can only conjecture that both he and Hellman are responsible for the unbelievable, ostentatious kitsch invested in nearly every line of her script, and marvel that anyone in the cast could recite it plausibly. Among those so outstanding are Brando and Dickinson as the canny lawman and his liege wife, Marshall in the role of the town’s tirelessly enterprising magnate, and especially Bradford, who indues to his almost cartoonishly villainous banker a confounding charisma and conviction. Both are hopelessly miscast, but Duvall’s less inconsonant as a cowardly cuckold than Redford as a good ole boy named Bubber, cluelessly selected by Spiegel for his sex appeal. (Incidentally, Duvall played a cheated husband with threatening vehemence not too many years later in The Conversation under Coppola, who reunited him with Brando in The Godfather — for which Robert Evans also misintended Redford as Michael Corleone.) Approximately half of Foote’s characters behave like unhinged children, the worst of which are the most overpersonated: (ordinarily superb) Rule slithers sillily about as Duvall’s slutty spouse; Hyer hollers Bradford’s blaringly besotted wife into being; Marshall’s sappy, sententious son played by Fox is as disappointing a romantic interest as he is an heir; aged Hull’s a cornball, roaming realtor who chirps unfunny quips and peripherally insinuates himself into his neighborhood’s felonies; as Redford’s hysterically penitent mother, Hopkins irritates almost so persistently as Westman’s obtrusive, bible-banging widow. Like many movies drawn from stage plays, this is a twofold failure — stagily fake in the worst possible manner, but as overblown as its hams for cinematic liberties of gunplay and explosion. Foote’s story is fundamentally, indulgently horrible, its puny plot dwarfed by excess exposition and contrived complications, such as a pointless love triangle between Fox, Fonda and Redford. Armchair riffers will delight in an alcoholic party at the home of Duvall’s nebbish boasting some of the most jerkily wacko dancing ever committed to film. In the service of sinister sensationalism, this escape, advoutry, wassail and vigilantism might’ve been exploited as the unrestrained frolic of an exciting comedy; as a pontifical social drama, it’s a tremendous waste of histrionic talent and another of John Barry’s big, bold, blustering scores.

Instead, watch Cool Hand Luke.

Sublime: 3 Women

3 Women (1977)
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Robert Altman, Patricia Resnick, Shelley Duvall
Produced by Robert Altman, Scott Bushnell, Robert Eggenweiler
Starring Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule, Robert Fortier, Ruth Nelson, John Cromwell, Sierra Pecheur, Craig Richard Nelson
Each misfortune to befall a geriatric spa’s awkward, arrogant attendant (Duvall), the girlish, guileless coworker (Spacek) who alone idealizes her, or a grim, sullenly expectant muralist (Rule) wed to a whilom stuntman (Nelson) permutes their personalities, sequent circumstances and resulting relations in this oneiric masterpiece, almost as dimly depicted as dreams from which it was conceived. For his distinguishing empowerment of leads with creative carte blanche, Altman’s best movies succeed by the strength of their innovation and intuition, and worst fail for a want thereof. Duvall indued to her obtusely oblivious oddball and Spacek her apparently artless adulator nearly their every peculiarity, extemporarily creating their eccentrics in each transformational, scantly scripted stage — an accomplishment as tremendous for its histrionic invention as the realization of roles that might’ve played as caricature. These personations and a peppered plentitude of cunning little thematic, often auguring metaphors illustrate the potential fluctuancy of ipseity, divides spanning philauty from reality, how social compartmentalism follows personal congenialities, and ostracization begets hubris and aggravates anomaly among gesellschaft and gemeinschaft alike in sun-baked Palm Springs, its very deserts denoting desolation. Engulfed by hydrous signification, this funny, flurrying ornament of New Hollywood’s latitude is richer with each screening, and the last, best, most immersive and penetrating picture of Altman’s winning streak.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Persona, Images or Mulholland Drive.

Sublime: Missing

Missing (1982)
Directed by Costa-Gavras
Written by Thomas Hauser, Costa-Gavras, Donald Stewart, John Nichols
Produced by Edward Lewis, Mildred Lewis, Peter Guber, Jon Peters, Terence Nelson
Starring Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, John Shea, Melanie Mayron, Charles Cioffi, Janice Rule, David Clennon, Richard Bradford, Keith Szarabajka, Joe Regalbuto, Richard Venture
A tragic mystery associative to purges executed in the aftermath of a military putsch in unidentified Chile assumes a familial dimension when a curmudgeonly businessman (Lemmon) rendezvous with the wife (Spacek) of his son, an inquisitive filmmaker and freelance correspondent (Shea) who’s suddenly vanished without trace or report. With the aid of his surviving friends (Mayron, Szarabajka), ingratiatory consuls (Clennon, Doolittle), a few eyewitnesses and an investigative presswoman (Rule), their inquiry unveils both the ultimate fate of their kin and extent of the U.S. State Department’s intergovernmental complicity and obscurantism. Costa-Gavras’ skillful coalescence of interpersonal drama and political conspiracy is no less carking or captivating here for its moneyed polish than in his French pictures: graphic reenactments of Pinochet’s sanguineous coup, the ructions and hecatombs of its tyrannic wake and a personal percontation prosecuted in homes, hospitals, an embassy and a charnel house in the Greek dissident’s peak picture hit as hard as any he’s fashioned, swelled by one of Vangelis’ best synthesized scores. Neither did he forfeit any of his trademark craft or subtlety, demonstrating both innocent and deliberate contrarieties between account and actuality with cutbacks and narrations that further obfuscate the means by which the irrevocable’s committed. Heading an invariably terrific cast, Lemmon and Spacek are superb, slowly and credibly transitioning from an adversarial to affectionate relation as the former’s reproving yet principled father bonds with his daughter-in-law, perceives in his son’s output his total substance, and realizes himself as naif for his initial credulity regarding his government’s integrity as was his boy in the conviction that American identity is unconditionally salvational. Almost as unsettling as the outdoor omnipresence of soldiers, public plentiousness of cadavers and stridence of gunshots and helicopters conducing a miasmic evocation, Venture and Cioffi unnerve as an ambassador whose geniality turns to glacial severity and a creepily underhanded Navy captain, as does Bradford as a deviously obscure military operative, and one of the lost individual’s last known interlocutors. As an allegorical denunciation of both the Pinochean junta and their American allies, and history of a pathetic incident, Gavras’ most proclaimed feature also emphasizes a caveat of conduct: in an event of martial law, inquisition is less risky than suicidal.