I must admit that I'm not perhaps of a generation who can fully appreciate the impact that Marlon Brando had on acting and there are only a handful of his films that I've seen, but his filmography seems full of material below his talents, interspersed by classics. Although not a hugely famous film, The Chase centres around Brando's charismatic Sheriff, but the supporting cast is no less impressive; Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall amongst others, with director Arthur Penn behind the lens. Similarly, John Barry's score isn't one of his best known, indeed it doesn't even appear on Silva Screen's extensive 4 disc anthology of his work. However, the score has been in more or less constant print since the original LP and Columbia Legacy have issued it again, with just a couple of bonus cues.
The Chase is one of those Barry scores that sounds more like source music than actual underscore. I'd be inclined to compare it to Playing By Heart in that regard, but The Chase is a much edgier listen. The Main Title features a Barry favourite, the harmonica, but the churning version of the theme isn't exactly Barry at his most ingratiating. However, The Chase Is On is an early highlight that opens with a Morricone style trumpet solo and only a very typical Barry melodic twist pulls the music back into his sound world. A bouncing western accompaniment chimes in, which echoes the later Monte Walsh, however this sidestep into something more uplifting is fairly short lived. Much of the underscore proper is typical Barry jazz but with a few fine set pieces such as Saturday Night Philosopher and Blues for Bubber. There are a few quite stormy passages, notably The Beating which is Barry at his darkest.
Compared to the recent Bond re-issues, the sound is a little disappointing with distinct hiss and a few tracks that aren't as crisp as might be hoped. However, the clarity is generally good, even if an unwanted side effect is a rather harsh sound quality which isn't especially pleasing (especially when the trumpet feels like it's piercing straight through your skull). There are plenty of fine moments and Barry shines with his typically distinguished way with subtle underscoring of anguished drama. Having said that, it's not a score that really inspired me the first time round, nor has it grown on me greatly. The main theme is good enough, but hardly one of his most memorable and some of the secondary jazz melodies are fine indeed, but overall it just feels a bit oppressive by the end. Barry fans will undoubtedly enjoy it, but more casual fans might find it a touch hard going.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad