We (yours truly) are pretty vocal when we dislike a movie’s ending.
We have endless ideas about how filmmakers could have brought the film to a better conclusion – and just never mind we’ve never made a film ourselves. Why should lack of experience interfere with being an expert?
But when we recently saw the film noir, The Chase (1946), we were excited to see two endings.
Let’s back up a bit. Robert Cummings plays an unemployed military veteran who is hired as a chauffeur by a ruthless gangster (Steve Cochran). Cummings, at first, is unaware of Cochran’s underworld status, because he himself is an Honest and Decent fellow.
But his moral fibre starts to unravel when he meets Cochran’s beautiful but troubled wife (Michèle Morgan). He falls in love with her, poor slob, and when he agrees to travel to Cuba with her, he sets in motion a tragic and irreversible chain of events.
Or maybe he doesn’t. Maybe the Tragic Events are Cummings’s hallucinations, a by-product of his wartime trauma. Maybe he gets a second chance at a Fateful Evening, and his choices – some different, some not – lead to a different outcome.
Tantalizing, isn’t it? Because who says you have to have one ending to a movie?
The Chase has been criticized for being slow and confusing. Some critics say the hallucination scenario is weak, but we like it. We like the uneasiness of it, and how it makes us Wary of Cummings, a character in whom, until that moment, we had implicit trust. Is Cummings mentally unstable? Why does he develop an obsession with clocks? Why does his memory fail him?
We normally aren’t a fan of dream plot devices, because they can cheapen a film. But we think it adds to the strangeness of The Chase, which already has some disquieting aspects.
First, Peter Lorre. Lorre plays Cochran’s menacing assistant, and even though he’s short in stature, he exudes power and shrewd villainy. Without Lorre, Cochran’s character would be a mediocre thug; with Lorre, he’s the executive type – someone who controls the world around him.
Secondly, the film has an unsettling atmosphere that never lets you feel comfortable. You feel like you’re always looking over your shoulder.
Thirdly, it’s a violent film. Even though it was released in 1946, there’s an early scene where Cochran hits his manicurist, and this act drills fear into his staff and the audience.
So, we have a war vet who may or may not possess all his Faculties, a powerful gangster, and Peter Lorre. This film gives you your Money’s Worth.
The Chase is an adaptation of the 1944 novel, The Black Path of Fear, by American author Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich worked in Hollywood, without much success, as a scriptwriter in the late 1920s. However, he found his Niche when he started writing crime fiction in the 1930s.
Filmmakers had a few obstacles to work around. One was making changes to the story for approval vis-à-vis the Production Code; hence the hallucination business. They also wanted to sign Joan Leslie to star opposite Cummings, but her studio, Warner Bros., refused to loan her out. Thirdly, production was delayed during the summer of 1946 when electrical workers at RKO went on strike.
This film was submitted to the 1947 Cannes Film Festival, but has since, sadly, fallen into the public domain, and we all know what happens to movies Then.
Even though The Chase has a low audience score on Rotten Tomatoes (42%), and the Public Domain issue notwithstanding, we think you might like it. There’s enough originality – plus two endings – to keep you engaged.
The Chase: starring Robert Cummings, Michèle Morgan, Steve Cochran. Directed by Arthur Ripley. Written by Philip Yordan. Nero Films, 1946, B&W, 86 mins.