Movie Review: The Chase (1946)

What did I watch? The Chase, public domain on the youtube. (Please note that the quality is not great.)

Oh, the Charlie Sheen movie where Henry Rollins is a cop. No, not that one.

The one with Paul Newman? NO. This one stars Robert Cummings.

Ronald Reagan’s friend? C’mon, he’s Mark from Dial M For Murder. Please note I spoil two separate movies below.

The Chase is about Chuck Scott played by Cummings, who is a war vet drifter in Florida. He finds a wallet and treats himself to a dinner with some of the money in it, but tracks down the wallet’s owner at a mansion to hand over the rest of the contents. There he’s met by a skeptical Peter Lorre, who uses the “testy twitchy henchman” line of questioning that usually gets the best results with honest guys down on their luck. The wallet belongs to a guy named Roman, and after Chuck explains that he found it and only spent a few dollars for food, Roman and Lorre continue to chide Chuck for being honest.

(Okay, if I were Chuck? I’d just leave. This goes on for longer than I’d have tolerated if I found the wallet. And I’m a guy who once found a wallet with a thousand goddamn dollars in it and gave the whole thing to its owner, who was rude about it, so shut up.)

SO, Roman decides that Chuck is good enough to hang with his crew and hires Chuck to be his chauffer. Roman has Chuck drive the trio around. Roman has a box in the back seat he opens that has a gas and brake pedal. He uses it to take control of the speed of the vehicle, forcing Chuck to keep the car steady as it careens around a country road before Roman hits the breaks at a railroad crossing just in time to avoid a passing train.

This makes NO sense. A show of power over his underlings? A custom feature he installed for use in criminal activity? I’ve seen this movie twice now and I still can’t figure out the practicality other than this is now Chekov’s Accelerator, and will come into play later.

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Roman later has a fancy get together with a business rival, and Roman’s kept wife (as in physically abused and practically held hostage) Lorna is there as well. The business rival and Roman have a laugh about how Roman puts people out of business somehow, and then Roman offers to show the rival his wine cellar. As the rival marvels over some of Roman’s vintage wines, he hears some growling, and then notices that Roman is gone. The camera cuts away to the rival screaming in terror as he is attacked by some beast, and the next day everyone is reading about the rival’s suicide. Suicide by wild animal? What?

Lorna has had enough and has Chuck drive her aimlessly along the ocean, stopping to stare into the distance at Cuba, her destination of escape from this terrible life. OH, this movie was released in 1946, not too long before Fidel Castro & cronies turned it into a communist paradise, so getting away from America to relax in Cuba seems like a strange choice to us now. Chuck senses that Lorna is troubled, I don’t recall at any point in this movie where he witnesses Roman doing anything illegal or terrible. I bet he suspects that Roman is a terrible person: a legit businessperson keeping twitchy Peter Lorre around when meeting other legit businesspeople would instantly kill that business dealing, based on Lorre’s demeanor throughout this movie. BUT, Chuck is perturbed enough by her longing for a new life that he buys them both tickets for a boat to Cuba.

There, he plays piano for her in their room (there are pianos in passenger rooms on boats?). This is the only lighting imagery I recall from the version on youtube that I saw: the light shines bright on their porthole, and after they talk about their fears and love for each other (not that they fear loving each other), the scene ends with the light going down like a pulled window shade on the side of the ship as he closes the porthole.

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Actual comment from Lorna to Chuck. Response is mine.

From there, they’re in Cuba, and things seem strange to Chuck. Their horse drawn carriage driver leaves them in a shady manner at a shady bar, where in their paranoia they feel the need to hide amongst the crowd. As Lorna tells Chuck that she loves him, she is knifed in the back, and dies. And it looks like, to everyone, even Chuck himself, Chuck has stabbed and killed her.

Chuck retraces his steps to the skeptical police, taking him to a psychic who sold him a knife earlier in Cuba. He had purchased the knife because the handle had a gem the wife wanted, and it was one of three knives, all with handles having separate carvings of monkeys covering their ears, eyes, mouth. Chucks escapes from the police, and goes to find a photographer who had taken photos of people at the bar that evening. He’s too late, someone had killed the photographer, but left the negatives, where Chuck can see a picture of Lorre about to throw a knife, the murder weapon.

BUT, get this, Chuck is KILLED by Lorre. He goes to the psychic to find the knife and Lorre is there and he shoots Chuck. WHAT? WHAT WHAT WHAAAAT?

It was all a DREAM (Chuck’s). Chuck freaks out and downs a bunch of pills and then goes to the hospital to see his doctor, his commanding officer from the war. Not being able to figure out why Chuck is in such a panic, they decide to go drinking at a club. Also at the club: Roman and Lorre. Roman is stressed out from his rival’s “suicide” being in the news, and having had had to lock up Lorna again because he figured out she was in love with Chuck.

Chuck remembers why he was freaking out, and runs off to free Lorna and they leave for the boat. Another businessman who Roman hasn’t murdered tells Roman that he saw Chuck buy the tickets for the trip earlier, and Roman has Peter Lorre drive him to stop the runaway lovers.

Well, get THIS, Roman takes control of the speed of the car with Chekov’s Accelerator and WHAMMO KABOOM the duo die in a fiery crash with a different train on those same tracks at that same crossing.

Leaving Chuck and Lorna to express their love in the same carriage they were ditched in the dream sequence.

Wait, was it all a dream? I don’t know, maybe this was an early version of Total Recall.

So…many…questions. I know. Starting with the back seat accelerator. Is Roman Lex Luthor? It’s not really addressed WHY he has it. To take control of the car? You’re not steering, the driver can still turn the wheel and crash the car into a tree before you hit the brake from the back. I see it as an empty threat on Roman’s part, really. “I can put us all at risk,” is pretty much the only thing I take away from this device. This was followed up shortly thereafter with the death of the business rival. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, because I don’t recall what animal killed the rival. And I sat through it twice.

You weren’t paying attention. Okay, confession: this movie is boring and, aside from some surreal moments, not very good. I don’t know how many people who saw this in the 40’s thought that the accelerator thing was a good idea or something other than “Look what the BAD GUY can do!” Roman has the money and connections to control people and also soup up his private car for what exactly? Beyond maybe intimidating THE PEOPLE IN THE CAR. Maybe this is an influence on Death Proof, except Roman himself will be the victim. Only in the dream sequence does Roman have power and influence, with nearly everyone ready to look the other way as Roman gets revenge. Really Roman kills one guy in his cellar, and beats his poor wife. Maybe Lorre’s character isn’t a bad guy, he’s just a jerk who happens to work for a criminal jerk, and died for no reason?

And, c’mon, would people have found this car modification to be unlikely if they didn’t believe it to be practical? “Oh, he added something to his car. So, that’s why he’s the bad guy, then?” I was scratching my head since the one person in the most danger would have been Roman. Why not have a henchman who throws a hat at people or something ridiculous like that?

So did the reveal that the middle 3rd was a dream ruin it? No, but it DID waste a lot of time. If Charles didn’t wake up after he died in the dream, was the 3rd act going to be Roman getting his comeuppance some other way? Was he going to trap himself in the wine cellar by accident or by Peter Lorre’s doing and be eaten by the mystery animal, and Lorre done in some other way, so that the doomed lovers would get some justice after all? And then post dream, it moved so quickly. Could it have been a mystery where Chuck is haunted by something else, a love he can’t remember? Is it Momento, where he falls for the same woman and then drugs himself into forgetting every day? BOTH pre & post dream scenarios I speculate on are far better movie ideas and I would totally watch that, 40’s Hollywood.

That said, I’d like to compare it to another movie that gets surrealistically dream like, because it is: The Limping Man, starring Lloyd Bridges. It’s a dark film about a man trying to protect a woman doomed by her own criminal actions, and just as it is about to end on the darkest note for the damsel in her own distress, the hero wakes up on the plane, the whole thing being a dream. It’s visually stunning with some great shots that foreshadow the worst scenarios and you’re on the edge of your seat in those moment wondering if there will be a rescue, or if people deserve to be rescued, and then WHOOPS it was all a dream.

At least here, there’s a resolution, albeit by chance. Roman forced Peter Lorre to drive recklessly and that’s…why…Chuck and Lorna got to run off together. You know what? I almost excuse this nonsense if the moral of the story is to meet your problems head on. Chuck whisked Lorna away in the dream. Roman calmly let them go, but was able to use the entire populace of pre-Castro Cuba to hunt down and kill them. Post dream, once Chuck remembers who Lorna was, he runs to the mansion, beats up a butler, and once at the boat, which has a few hours to depart, he leaves Lorna in their passenger room to wait on the dock to confront Roman. Roman never shows, because the very thing Roman tried to use to show off his power over Chuck (which seeped into Chuck’s dream) ended up highlighting how little control Roman had. In the real world, Roman freaks out over losing Lorna, and forces Peter Lorre to race to the boat, or he won’t be able to control her any more. As his fiery death shows, Roman has none. I FIGURED IT OUT!

Wow! You figured it out, AND you’re handsome too. Should I watch this? No. It’s…pretty boring. And even if it has a story, it’s one that makes no logical sense, dream or no dream. Some people regard it as a post-war expressionistic European-style noir but I think that’s just because a 1/3rd of it is a dream and there’s some interesting visuals. It’s based off a book that probably dives much deeper into this story, but here it’s just a flat love drama thwarted by a character’s dream and some inept gangsters. Watch DIAL M FOR MURDER instead.

Anything else about the cast? Hopefully we’ll see more stuff with Robert Cummings in it. Steve Cochran, who played Roman, was a hit with the ladies (including some famous bombshells of the 50’s). He died surrounded by women (well, two of them teenagers) he had on his boat under the impression they were to make a movie. The ladies didn’t know how to pilot the boat and it drifted for almost two weeks before reaching shore.

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