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128 13 Brandeux Jane Fonda stopped in the middle of her close-up and told Marlon Brando, who was feeding her lines from offscreen, “You’re just the best fucking actor in the world.” Directing them, Arthur Penn nodded his head in agreement. “We had already finished Brando’s aspect of the scene,” he recalls. “We now turn around. We’re on Jane. Marlon was off camera. And they went over what they’d gone over with Marlon on Marlon’s takes, three or four or five times, and he was still inventing off camera! Here he was, finished, but he couldn’t not respond to that moment, and it just stopped Jane and stopped all of us.” Later Fonda enthused to the press about her costar, “He will not settle for anything less than the truth. He wants to get to the root of something and not in the way most actors do in terms of script. If he sees something is wrong he cannot agree to do it anyway , he just cannot.”1 It was the summer of 1965 and Chico, California, was doubling for the fictitious town of Harrison, Texas. The movie was The Chase, a steamy drama about an inbred community’s meltdown when an errant son, Bubber Reeves, escapes from prison and comes home to exact revenge on those who sent him up. But first he has to go through Sheriff Calder, played by Brando. As might be expected from the volatile casting of Brando and Fonda—along with Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Angie Dickinson, Janice Rule, James Fox, and E. G. Marshall, among Brandeux 129 a roster of other actors, both established and new—there were intrigues behind the scenes. Most of them were caused by producer Sam Spiegel, and all of them were lobbed at Penn in the course of the troubled superproduction. The Chase began as a 1952 play by Horton Foote that focused as much on Anna Reeves, Bubber Reeves’s young wife, as on Sheriff Hawes (not yet called Calder) and his wife, Ruby.2 Reflecting Foote’s writing gift, it slowly reveals the interrelationships of the townspeople and the layers of deceit that make them collectively guilty for Bubber’s predicament. Featuring John Hodiak, Kim Hunter, Murray Hamilton, and Kim Stanley under José Ferrer’s direction, the play ran a bare thirty-one Broadway performances, yet attracted the attention of producer Sam Spiegel.3 Spiegel, who could charm a snake out of its skin and then refuse to pay for it, had distinguished himself over the previous ten years by producing the highly successful films On the Waterfront (1954), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), among others. Success brought him international acclaim, but what he truly craved was repatriation into Hollywood’s inner circle. Spiegel saw The Chase as his entree, not just by producing a star-studded $5 million picture4 but also by making one that addressed subjects dear to the industry ’s socially conscious heart: southern racism, mob violence, one man standing up for principle, greedy industrialists, and sex. Although those elements were not the dominating focus of Foote’s play, Spiegel had screenwriter Michael Wilson add them in his unsigned first draft dated March 11, 1959. Wilson, who was still on the Blacklist, had made previous uncredited contributions to Kwai and Lawrence; it would be thirty years before his credits were restored. Spiegel hired him on the sly—and probably on the cheap—for The Chase. Where, in Foote’s play, Bubber returns bent on killing the sheriff—and the sheriff knows it—Wilson’s script has Bubber escaping from jail alone, killing two motorists and orphaning their child, then returning to town, not to kill Sheriff Hawes but to reclaim his wife, Anna, who has taken up with the son of the 130 Arthur Penn town’s business baron, Val Rogers. It then becomes the sheriff’s job to catch Bubber, return him to jail, and protect Rogers fils because the sheriff owes his job and political future to the elder Rogers. A subplot has Sheriff Hawes and his barren wife adopting the boy that Bubber orphaned. Penn describes the sheriff as “a character who essentially fails and what you get through the film, I think, is a growing sense of his displeasure and disapproval. Yet we didn’t want him to seem judgmental—you know, ‘I’m so liberal and you’re all so hard-nosed.’ It was...


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