The Chase (1946)

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Chuck Scott, a penniless veteran (Robert Cummings), finds the wallet of Miami mobster Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran) and goes to his mansion to return it. Roman, intrigued by Chuck’s honesty and situation, hires him as a chauffeur. Every day Lorna Roman (Michèle Morgan) asks to be driven to the shore, where she stares out toward Havana, expresses depression over four years wasted with her controlling heartless husband Eddie. Lorna offers Chuck $1000 to help her sneak away to Cuba, and by the time they get there, they’re madly in love. Meanwhile, Eddie and his efficient, catty, deadpan right-hand man Gino (Peter Lorre) follow the couple to Cuba, frame Chuck for Lorna’s murder, and shoot him.

Except part of that never happens. Chuck wakes up, back in Eddie’s house, in a pool of sweat, and rushes to his Navy Doctor and friend, Commander Davidson (Jack Holt). We already saw Chuck’s pill-popping, but now we learn that he suffers from frequent blackouts and memory loss. Once he pieces together how he got into that chauffeur’s uniform, and how he fell in love with a woman named Lorna, the couple prepare to sail for Cuba, again with Eddie and Gino in close pursuit, but this time the story plays out differently.

The Chase was based on Cornell Woolrich’s 1944 book The Black Path of Fear, which in turn came from his story “Havana Night.” Woolrich was a fantastic suspense writer who had many of his novels and 100+ pulp stories adapted for big and small screen, into the movies The Leopard Man (1943), Phantom Lady (1944), Rear Window (1954) and The Bride Wore Black (1968) to name just a few of dozens. The Black Path of Fear was one of Woolrichs’s six “black series” of novels, works loaded, as much of his writing was, with dark atmosphere and melodrama. Screenwriter Philip Yordan changed the characters’ names, stretched out the book’s one-night timeline, added the dream sequence and the amnesia, and cut out the book’s flashback story told to a Cuban prostitute who then helps the hero (she does get a neat little scene in the film). Those may sound like huge deviations but Yordan, director Arthur Ripley, and cinematographer Franz Planer stayed true to the story’s mood, and cooked up an intense, hot, paranoid, frantic nightmare of a noir.

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Cochran is great as the sadistic psycho Eddie, who seems inescapable and all-knowing, pulling strings as far as Cuba or crossing Chuck’s path by sheer coincidence. When a deal with shipping company owner Emmerich (Lloyd Corrigan) goes sour, Eddie locks the man in the wine cellar to be mauled to death by the dog. Eddie makes a point of telling Emmerich how huge this dog is beforehand, so even though we never see the animal, all we need to picture the gruesome attack are the deep growls, Emmerich’s look of horror, and the brandy running across the floor from the bottle he drops. Chuck gets a similarly harrowing experience the first time he takes Eddie and Gino out for a drive. Eddie’s got his own override gas and brake pedals in the back seat, and gets kicks out of taking control, pushing to max speed and trying to beat a speeding train to the crossing. All Chuck can do is steer and pray, and say he doesn’t “get it,” and he’s just that helpless for most of the movie, whether it’s fate or Eddie manipulating and ruining his life.

And so, Chuck’s in a confused, guilty fog, unable in the dream/frame-up sequence to prove his innocence to an overly logical police detective, when a bribed storekeeper lies about selling him the murder weapon, and an exonerating photo from the nightclub goes missing and its photographer murdered. In the amnesia section of the story Chuck is just as lost, unable to put his finger on why he feels pursued and driven to do some important task at some time with someone. His chance to replay this part of his life with the “new” knowledge brings him right back to Lorna, to Cuba and the club, and this time both are at least free of Eddie’s control, but who knows what fate has in store for them.

Strange, dark and fascinating, The Chase is a fine noir, and a part of the Words, Words, Words, blogathon, the CMBA’s Spring event. See all the other writing about writers in film and book to film adaptations. While you’re there please check out the eBook collecting some of this great writing.

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21 thoughts on “The Chase (1946)”

    1. No the one I have is a public domain disc, decent in places but horrible during Cummings’ “end” in Cuba and the final scene. Really would love to see a restored one!

      1. That’s the one I have. I did some digging around a few years ago and learned that that’s the best print that survives. I was wondering if someone had since found a better copy!

  1. Nobody tops Woolrich when it comes to giving us the haunting crazies.

    I started your article with “I’ve never seen this” which went to “Wait a minute. Maybe…” and back to “Nope. Must be thinking of something else.” I kinda feel like Chuck.

    1. The confusion is catching! True about Woolrich, and so many good adaptations of his writing, this one goes to show that so long as they get that crazy mood right there’s a lot of wiggle room with the plot.

  2. This sounds like a wild ride, even if it is a dodgy public domain copy. Another Kristina Recommendation! 🙂

    Also, thanks for the heads up on Cornell Woolwich. I have never read him, and I feel I’m missing out. Will try to find him in the library.

    1. He’s tons of fun to read and they’re fast reads too, great psychological suspense. This has been called a forgotten essential and I agree, it’s a great noir. Thanks!

  3. Thanks for an intriguing write up of a new-to-me film. But, you had me at Cornell Woolrich. I just had to look him up to find out if it was his real name – indeed it was – and many great films based on his writing.

  4. Cornell Woolrich is one of the leading writers of that time whose books were adapted into some of the great classic film ‘noirs’ we so love. Others were of course James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Jonathan Latimer. Some terrific hard-boiled writing there.
    Great write-up, Kristina! I also have that p.d. DVD which, whilst not a great print, is certainly good enough to enable enjoyment of a rather good film.

    1. Thank you, well it’s good to hear there from Colin about a better copy coming out soon, I’ll sure be interested in rewatching with a great picture. Woolrich really had that loss of control, foreboding and fatalistic feel down, and some of his stories are close to horror. Juicy stuff for the movies.

  5. Nice write up on this dreamy and delirious noir which is a fine Woolrich adaptation, and he was such a terrific writer.
    For those hoping for a better presentation, it’s worth remembering that Kino are putting out a brand new edition on Blu-ray and DVD on May 24, apparently from 35mm elements.

    1. That’s great to hear, I’ d like to see it clearly! It’s neat that the movie worked out as well with all the changes they made, but like I said it keeps that paranoid feel and literally makes it dreamy and delirious.

  6. Great review, this film is such an interesting experience above anything else. The cast is terrific (especially Cochrane), but for me at least its the atmosphere that makes The Chase stick out. Good stuff.

    1. Cochran was really great at being evil, downright frightening and unstable. Ends up a victim to his own uncontrollable temper and urges, which is great. Thanks!

  7. Always get this confused with the Brando/Redford/Fonda 1960’s film. Titles the same but completely different. Always found Cummings a weak leading man but the others in the cast (Cochran, Morgan and Lorre) do make this a film I want to see. Embarrassingly, I have only read Rear Window (which I believe had a different title originally) by Woolrich. Need to catch up on his work.

    1. So many enjoyable reads, I know I got addicted one summer years ago and read everything my library had of his. Great cast in this one, hope you enjoy it. Thanks!

    1. Cummings is interesting casting, I mean he’s pleasant, as usual, and decent, but also kind of tough and unstable good guy who’s bothered by guilt, so it worked for me. Thanks for reading!

  8. I’ve only read The Bride Wore Black, but was fascinating by the author’s ability to create such an eerie sense of mood. It sounds like this film captures that spirit. Thanks for making me want to go out and watch it!

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