Film Noir Friday: The Chase (1946)



Arthur Ripley’s The Chase has the makings of a quality psychological film noir, but it lacks spirit and can be a bit of a slog despite its lean runtime. It’s based on Cornell Woolrich’s The Black Path of Fear and features a screenplay by Philip Yordan, with music by Michel Michelet and a supporting performance by Peter Lorre.

On paper, the noir credentials are sound. And even in practice, The Chase has every qualifier to make it a decent genre entry. There’s even a critical twist, one that should disorient and illuminate at once. Unfortunately, Ripley’s tepid style and a set of uncharismatic leads sink this one into drab territory.

Robert Cummings stars as Chuck Scott, a down-on-his-luck war veteran looking for a hot meal in Miami. He comes across a wallet and discovers that it belongs to a man named Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran). Cochran hires Scott to be his driver and it turns out that the man is a brutal gangster with a brutal henchman (Lorre).

It also turns out that Cochran has a beautiful wife named Lorna (Michèle Morgan). Scott is smitten and the plot thickens when Lorna wants the new driver to help her escape to Havana. He agrees and plots the trip. In Cuba, Lorna is murdered and Scott is set up as the prime suspect. One thing leads to another and Scott’s personal hell deepens as his grip on reality loosens.

Ripley’s picture takes a mid-stream jump that changes the course of the proceedings and reveals an essential truth about the protagonist. It doesn’t feel gimmicky or contrived, but it’s not particularly compelling either. This is largely the blame of Cummings, whose bland performance sets him on the margin.

The Chase moves from Miami to Havana and constructs illusory environments everywhere, with Frank F. Planer’s cinematography capturing the clammy webbing. The movie has an unfussy look and feel, which is to its credit to a point. It feels like a working-class yarn, like something simple.

But the Hitchcockian pretzels that emerge are anything but conservative and that’s where The Chase doesn’t have the initiative to live up to its premise. Stronger performances and a more assured script would’ve lent Ripley’s dreamscape more authority and amusement.

There are interesting components. Lorre is good as Gino, a creepy killer who has found his niche. His ever-present cigarette droops as a window to his apathetic worldview and he conveys more with a look than most actors can convey in an entire picture, but his part is relatively small.

Cochran cuts a neat visage as the slippery gangster, but his character is somehow unprocessed. Apart from an immaculate car that seems ready for a Bond movie, there’s not much to his Eddie Roman. He’s a predictable cut-out.

Despite a unique premise and a twist that should turn the movie on its head, The Chase never gets out of the gate. It’s a dreary excursion, featuring a plain protagonist and a femme fatale without any crackle. Truly, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Cummings’ lukewarm hero taking such a risk to yank such an dull dame all the way to Cuba.

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