Last Saturday I stayed up late watching “The Chase”. For once “The Chase” in question was not the ITV quiz show hosted by Bradley Walsh, which has had plenty of mentions on these pages this year (starting with this piece), but a movie from 1966, starring Marlon Brando. Brando has also had plenty of mentions in this Blog, most recently in this piece about Gloria Grahame. I saw “The Chase” (1966) back in the 1980s (over thirty years ago) but had not seen it since. Unlike the two Debra Winger movies that I wrote about last week (which I also saw first over thirty years ago) I couldn’t remember a single line of dialogue. In fact, there was almost nothing familiar about it at all, apart from a few images which I had also seen as stills from the movie.
My subject is memory. It is rare for me to watch a film from which I remember nothing, especially one which starred a favourite actor among a cast of future box office stars and Oscar winners, but that’s how it was. Alongside Brando there were Robert Redford and Jane Fonda (in very early roles), Angie Dickinson, Robert Duvall, James Fox (brother of Edward, and later to star in “Performance”), Janice Rule and EG Marshall (one of the “Twelve Angry Men”). The young Paul Williams also appears as one of a gang of teenagers. He went on to become a successful songwriter, with credits including “We’ve long just begun” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” for the Carpenters, the songs from “Bugsy Malone”, and “Evergreen” (the Grammy- and Oscar-winning song from the 1977 version of “A Star is Born”). Williams mentioned his appearance in “The Chase” in a BBC Radio 2 interview I heard many years ago as part of a Michael Feinstein American songbook series. I had forgotten about it until watching the movie on Saturday night. Williams even plays guitar and sings at one point, Robert Duvall having persuaded the director (Arthur Penn) to include his composition in the film. My memory of the actress Janice Rule was faulty, equating her with the writer of the book “Desert of the Heart”. It was made into the 1985 Donna Deitch movie “Desert Hearts”, which I loved, not least for its soundtrack, which included Elvis’s version of “Blue Moon”, “He’ll Have to Go” by Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline’s version of “Crazy”. Jane Rule (not Janice) wrote the book.
All these memories were triggered by watching Brando, Redford and co on Saturday night but there was nothing from the film itself that I remembered. The opening scenes feature Redford’s character Bubber and another convict trying to make their way to Mexico, having escaped from prison. These first few minutes were not familiar. Maybe I’d missed them first time round, thirty-odd years ago. Had I turned up late for the screening? But the rest of the action was unfamiliar too: Jane Fonda’s character Anna arguing with her step-father, her liaison with James Fox’s character Jake, the 60th birthday celebrations for Jake’s father Val Rogers (played by EG Marshall), the scenes in the bank where Janice Rule’s character Emily argues with her husband Edwin (played by Robert Duvall). I watched all 124 minutes expecting to see something I recognized but it was almost as if I had never sat through them before.
Last year, writing about “Jane Eyre”, I listed various classic books that I read as a teenager but remember very little about: “my eyes were open and passed across every word of every line on every page but I would get more out of every one of these books if I read them again now.” There are books 500 pages long from which I can remember nothing, apart from the act of reading them. The same goes for some of the Brando movies that I tracked down in numerous long-gone repertory cinemas all over London in my teens and twenties. My eyes were open for every minute of screen time (I have never fallen asleep in a Brando movie) but watching them again all these decades later I might as well be seeing them for the first time.