It has everything a noir needs.
Many films are based on Cornell Woolrich novels and stories, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (“It Had to be Murder”), François Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black (novel of the same name) and Mississippi Mermaid (Waltz into Darkness), and Harold Clurman’s Deadline at Dawn (novel of the same name). Arthur Ripley’s 1946 film The Chase, adapted by Philip Yordan from Woolrich’s novel The Black Path of Fear, may not be as well known as those films (it was allowed to pass into the public domain), but captures the essence of the world created by Woolrich’s fevered imagination as well as any of them.
Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings) is a good guy down on his luck—when we first meet him, he’s gazing hungrily through a diner window as breakfast is prepared—but things seem to turn for the better when he finds a dropped wallet and decides to return it to his rightful owner. This takes him to the palatial home of Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran), a gangster who rewards Scott by giving him a job as a driver. And so it begins—the honest (and conveniently genre-blind) Scott finds himself drawn into the world of crime and wouldn’t you know there’s also a beautiful woman in the person of Roman’s wife Lorna (the rather exotic-looking Michèle Morgan) to entice him further into the criminal web.
The plot of The Chase is difficult to describe without spoilers (and it’s unusually twisty even for a noir), so I will just say that it has everything a noir needs:
- A clean-cut, manly hero (Scott is a Navy vet, knows his Bible, and doffs his hat to the ladies)
- A pretty-boy crime boss to contrast with the hero (Roman gets manicures, loads his hair with grease, and is pointlessly cruel to women)
- An ambiguously foreign sidekick for the crime boss (Gino, played by Peter Lorre)
- A femme fatale (Morgan)
- Several murders (including one death by dog)
- A dream sequence and a case of amnesia
- Great visual storytelling (including a dialogue-free opening scene) featuring inventive, atmospheric cinematography (by Franz Planer, an Eastern European émigré with 163 imdb.com credits stretching from 1919 to 1962).
It also has a few life lessons that we can all profit from, including:
- Crime does pay, just not forever.
- If a gangster offers you a job, don’t think you can take it and stay clean.
- If you’re going to write love letters to your boyfriend, do it somewhere where your husband can’t find you.
There’s also a game of chicken with a train, featuring a mechanical device I’m not sure has ever existed, but who cares—it’s a great scene and also illustrates key points about the characters involved. | Sarah Boslaugh
The new restoration of The Chase, which looks and sounds great, is distributed on Blu-Ray by Kino Lorber with a street date of May 24. Extras on the disc include an audio commentary by Guy Maddin, trailers for several other films, and two radio versions of The Black Path of Fear, one a CBS program from 1944 starring Brian Donlevy and the other a 1946 Armed Forces Radio Service program starring Cary Grant.