In The Chase, Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford) is a born loser. Actually, there are two types of born losers, so a distinction is in order: first, there are those who fate has decreed shall always lose out no matter what they do; and then there are those who are losers of their own free will. Bubber Reeves is a little of both.
It does seem that fate has dealt him a few bad hands. When he was young, he was sent to reform school for something he did not do (stealing some money), but which began his life of crime, stealing watches, cars, and, apparently, an airplane. When he escapes from prison, his fellow escapee murders a man and takes off with the man’s car, leaving Bubber behind. And when he hops on board a freight train he thinks is headed for Mexico, it turns out that the train is headed north, in the direction of his home town, somewhere in Texas. Of course, fate also made Bubber the best looking guy in the county, which he should have been able to work to his advantage, reform school or no reform school.
That he does not turn his good looks to his advantage leads us to the fact that Bubber is also the second kind of born loser. He keeps making bad choices. At one point in the movie, he says to Lester Johnson (Joel Fluellen) that Lester owes Bubber, because Bubber took a rap for him once. Gee, that was a nice thing to do. But having already spent time in reform school for something he didn’t do, you would think he would have had enough of doing time for other people’s crimes. In any event, I wouldn’t take a rap for anybody, especially if I already had a criminal record.
Another bad choice was made while in prison. With only a year and three days left in his prison sentence, he makes a break for it because he was served a bad pork chop. Finally, even if he did hop the wrong freight, he did not have to get off at the one town in North America where everyone would know him, the town where he grew up, and where law enforcement would likely be looking for him. Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) says, “Bubber knows better than to come back here.” No, apparently he doesn’t.
Then there is Edwin Stewart (Robert Duvall), ultimate lickspittle and cuckold. He was the one who stole the money for which Bubber was blamed. He seems to be sorry for what he did, but then he rats out Bubber to gain favor with his boss, Val Rogers (E.G. Marshall), so he is just as despicable as a mature adult as he was as an immature adolescent.
Edwin is married to Emily (Janice Rule), a sexy, sultry adulteress. She not only is obvious in the affair she is having, which Edwin pretends not to notice, but she also embarrasses Edwin in front of his boss, and belittles him openly because he is such a wimp that he does not carry a gun, unlike most of the men in that town. Yes, to be a real man in this small Texas town, you have to carry a gun. And it must be a revolver. Semi-automatics are for Yankee city slickers.
Between crimes and jail time, Bubber apparently had time to get married to Anna (Jane Fonda), who is presently having an affair with Jake Rogers (James Fox). They try to help Bubber get out of town, but with no success, because one of those pistol-packing citizens shoots Bubber to death on the steps of the sheriff’s office. This may sound like an unhappy ending, but it could have been worse. If Bubber had been captured and sent back to prison, they might have served him another bad pork chop.