Marketing The Chase (1966)

Oscar-winning film producers like Sam Spiegel – The African Queen (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Suddenly Last Summer (1959) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – tended to abhor gimmicky promotions and depended on more classic marketing strategies to sell their pictures.

in this case, Spiegel relied on a 16-page A3 Pressbook (plus a slightly smaller four-page supplement) which in the main concentrated on a series of advertisements. Having said that, it was quite clear that Speigel considred his own name one of the movie’s biggest selling tools since his accomplishments were splashed over many ads and he took second billing to Marlon Brando. His name was above the title whereas that of director Arthur Penn was in a typeface smaller than all the leading players. Of the 20 pages available for original pressbook and supplement, a total of 14 were given over to the advertisements.

However, efforts were made to secure promotional partners. Harper’s Bazaar blocked out an eight-page section of its January 1966 issue for a fashion merchandising spread involving four top manufacturers – Ben Zuckerman, Originals, Larry Aldrich and Patullo-Jo Copeland – and 20 major retailers including Joseph Magnin in Los Angeles, De Pinna in New York and Couture Ltd in Chicago. New York exhibitors also benefited from marketing tie-ins from Horn & Hadart Co in its 88 restaurants and and Kinney System Inc. in 96 parking lots.

There was a big push in radio stations and record stores for the soundtrack by John Barry and in bookstores for the novel by Horton Foote published by New England Library with photos from the film on front and back covers. The closest Spiegel came to a gimmick was a tie-in with Barb-Q-Matic which sponsored barbecues for press previews and special screenings. The company had 1,500 distributors lined up to provide the necessary equipment and food.

A more violent image from the Pressbook supplement which also included reviews.

Otherwise, the producer expected the movie’s various talking points to provide fuel for media discussion. The way in which a community deteriorates “from a group of average people into a mob of hatefilled manhunters” would be ideal fodder for newspaper columnists, radio discussion and screenings for law enforcement agencies.

Among the attempts to provide filler material for newspapers was the notion that those involved were global citizens – Brando flying in from Tahiti, Spiegel and Jane Fonda from France, James Fox from London, while screenwriter Llllian Hellman was living at the time in Mexico. This was also the first pairing of Brando with his sister Jocelyn and a return to the screen for 1930s star Miriam Hopkins.

A measure of the film’s scope was that it required five sound stages at Columbia studios in Hollywood. In order to achieve authenticity art director Richard Day traveled 3,000 miles to photograph southwestern towns, rice fields, junkyards and sugar mills. There was an unusually high proportion of night shooting – 50 days in total – and 500 extras were on call for some critical scenes.

Interestingly, there was no great promotional push for Robert Redford. Brando, Fonda, Janice Rule and Hellman were the first stars mentioned in the first page of the editorial section of Pressbook, followed on the next page by Angie Dickinson, E.G. Marshall and Miriam Hopkins. Redford did not appear until the final editorial page, allocated space along with Katharine Walsh and Diana Hyland.

There were ten separate adverts, some of which were altered in minor ways to create another half-dozen. One of the unusual aspects of the advertising was the thematic design of the title and the image of a running man. The main advert had Brando center stage in casual mode smoking a cigarette surrounded by a montage of characters and incidents with the tagline “The Chase Is On” and a list of the producer’s credits. The second advert was identical except for an extra tagline – “He was the right man in the right place…the day everything went wrong.” A third ad used the running man theme around Brando and split the montage which now showed some characters in different ways with a new tagline “A breathless explosive story of today” plus the Spiegel credits.

The fourth ad also split the montage but this time Brando was more aligned with the characters on one side and the Spiegel credit reduced to “the man who has brought the screen its most exciting productions.” The running man logo took pride of place on advert number six with six main characters featured at the edges each with a quote – e.g. Fonda: “I never asked for anything because I knew I wouldn’t get it.” A seventh advert used a montage in criss-cross fashion. Violence and sex were the keys to the eighth advert while the ninth featured “the women”, “the men” and “the excitement” of The Chase. The final ad was more suggestive, just the thematic typeface, the logo of the running man and the names of star and producer.

The Chase (1966) *****

Arthur Penn’s movie came with a lot of baggage. Notwithstanding that he was in need of redemption – he was fired from The Train (1964) and Mickey One (1965) had flopped – he virtually disowned The Chase a week before it opened, denouncing Hollywood in the media, complaining that films were being made by committee. Producer Sam Spiegel was desperate to prove he could make big pictures without David Lean, who had decamped to Carlo Ponti and MGM for Doctor Zhivago (1965) and the knives were out, as always by this point, for Marlon Brando.

So it’s quite astonishing that the finished picture carries such visceral power. It’s a rich, meaty movie, part drama, part thriller, part social comment. Thematically it covers racism, power, adultery, civic apathy, injustice and integrity. At the same time it’s action-driven and the acting from a stunning cast is uniformly excellent. Theoretically, covering so much ground, it should be all over the place.

But three elements keep it grounded. The first is Lillian Hellman’s screenplay. Only using the bare bones of the source material (Horton Foote’s novel and play), she creates a fabulous intermeshed canvas wherein every character no matter how small has an integral part to play. As Coppola would do later with The Godfather she employs the device of large gatherings (two parties, in fact, one for the rich and one for the lower classes) to expose frailties. The second is Brando, in a thoughtful performance, as an ex-farmer who despises the people he represents and battles to maintain bis integrity. And third is Penn’s classical direction. Regardless of the interference he detected, nobody told him where to point the camera. It is noticeable that characters are often centered on the screen, rather than the more arty off-center compositions gaining in popularity. This creates an onscreen equality.

Basically, the narrative revolves around a small Texan town’s reaction to the return of escaped prisoner Robert Redford, now wanted for a murder he did not commit, which both brings the past to light and exposes existing tensions within the community. That Redford takes a good while to return allows those tensions to gently simmer. By the time he does the town is at fever pitch.

Redford’s wife Jane Fonda fears her affair with millionaire’s son James Fox will be discovered.  Timid banker Robert Duvall fears Redford discovering that he was initially imprisoned for a crime Duvall committed. Duvall’s sexy wife Janice Rule taunts him with her adultery. Redford’s mother Miriam Hopkins fears further humiliation.

Adding further bile to the proceedings are Bruce Cabot as Fonda’s venomous stepfather, real estate manager and gossip-monger Henry Hull who preys on adversity, and Rule’s lover Richard Bradford who drums up racial hatred against Redford’s friend African-American Joel Flueller.

The incorruptible Brando is faced with keeping the lid on a number of potential explosions.

Hellman’s script and Penn’s empathetic direction prevent it from falling to a swamp of melodrama. All of Miriam Hopkins’ maternal despair is captured in one shot of her sitting on a stool. Millionaire E.G. Marshall is building a local college so “young men do not have to leave here like my son.” The poor Fonda and rich Fox are genuinely in love but she holds it against him that he married someone else (of his own class) first while she waited “all those bad years.” When Brando imprisons Flueller for his own protection, he lets him find his own way to the cell and trusts him to lock himself up.

And there is an ample wit. A drunk confronts Brando with “the taxpayers of this town pay your salary to protect this place.” Brando’s response: “If anything happens to you, we’ll give you a refund.”

And I’ve not even mentioned Redford. While relegated to dipping in and out of the story to keep tension high, this is a memorable turn. Martha Hyer is estimable an alcoholic wife while Angie Dickinson extends her acting credentials with an untypical role as a domesticated wife.

John Barry’s score, dismissed by the Variety critic as having “no particular theme that lingers in the ear,” is in fact it is a triumphant piece of work, with a central melody that is in turn jarring and romantic.   

But it is Penn who brings home the bacon, bringing together a disparate tale in fine style, drawn tight to a stunning conclusion, and proving he had a mastery of both style and material that would stand him in good stead for his next picture Bonnie and Clyde.

I was lucky enough to catch this for free on Talking Pictures. It might come round again on this free channel. If not, or if you can’t wait, it’s well worth investing in a DVD.