Chase, Borden

views updated

CHASE, Borden

Writer. Nationality: American. Born: Frank Fowler in Brooklyn, New York, 11 January 1900. Family: Married the pianist Lee Keith (first of three wives); daughter: Barrie Chase. Career: Left school at 14; worked as boxer, taxi driver, high diver in a carnival, shipyard worker, bootlegger, deep sea diver, sandhog (tunnel digger) on Holland and Eighth Avenue subway tunnels, and as a writer; 1935—first film as writer, Under Pressure; first novel, East River, published; then freelance fiction and film writer; TV work includes pilots for Daniel Boone and Laredo series, 1960s. Died: 8 March 1971.

Films as Writer:


Under Pressure (Walsh)


Blue, White, and Perfect (Leeds) (story)


Harrigan's Kid (Reisner) (story)


Destroyer (Seiter); The Fighting Seabees (Ludwig)


This Man's Navy (Wellman); Flame oftheBarbary Coast (Kane)


I've Always Loved You (Concerto) (Borzage)


Tycoon (Wallace)


Red River (Hawks); The Man from Colorado (Levin)


The Great Jewel Robbery (Godfrey); Montana (Enright); Winchester '73 (A. Mann)


Iron Man (Pevney); Lone Star (Sherman)


Bend of the River (Where the River Bends) (A. Mann); The World in His Arms (Walsh)


Sea Devils (Walsh)


His Majesty O'Keefe (Haskin); Vera Cruz (Aldrich) (story)


The Far Country (A. Mann); Man without a Star (K. Vidor)


Backlash (J. Sturges)


Night Passage (Neilson)


Ride a Crooked Trail (Hibbs)


Los Pistoleros de Casa Grande (Gunfighters of Casa Grande) (Rowland)


A Man Called Gannon (Goldstone); Backtrack (Bellany—for TV)


By CHASE: fiction—

East River, New York, 1935.

Sandhog, New York, 1938.

Lone Star, New York, 1942.

Diamonds of Death, New York, 1947.

Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail, New York, 1948, as Red River, New York, 1948.

Viva Gringo!, New York, 1961.

By CHASE: nonfiction—

Sandhog: The Way of the Life of the Tunnel Builders, Evanston, Illinois, 1941.

By CHASE: article—

Interview with Jim Kitses in The Hollywood Screenwriter, edited by Richard Corliss, New York, 1972.

On CHASE: articles—

Script (Belgium), no. 3, 1962.

Présence du Cinéma (Paris), June 1962.

Film Comment (New York), Winter 1970–71.

* * *

Borden Chase pursued a successful screenwriting career from the mid-1930s into the 1970s by creating tough heroes who faced danger and death in the uncivilized days of the American West. His most famous films, such as Red River (with Charles Schnee) and Bend of the River, were all Westerns, although he also wrote war films (Fighting Seabees, Destroyer), detective films (Blue, White, and Perfect), and even romantic melodramas (Frank Borzage's I've Always Loved You, which is also based on Chase's own short story "Concerto"). However, his success at depicting complex conflicts between two strong men kept him working in the Western format after a certain point in his career, and today his name is associated almost exclusively with that genre.

Chase left school at fourteen, and roamed the country, trying his hand at boxing, taxi driving, bootlegging, sandhogging, and even serving a hitch in the navy. Realizing this colorful existence could be put to use in storytelling, he started a professional writing career. His background led him easily to writing for the pulps (Argosy and Detective Fiction) and for slick successful magazines (The Saturday Evening Post and Liberty). This success led him inevitably to Hollywood, where his brand of well-plotted, clear stories about strong men found a welcome market.

Among Chase's most successful works are three Western films starring James Stewart and directed by Anthony Mann: Winchester '73 (with Robert L. Richards), Bend of the River, and The Far Country. These films typify the characters and conflicts associated with Chase's work. First of all, two strong men are involved in an arduous journey across the western terrain, with units of society either contained within the journey itself (as a wagon train) or as various stops along the way (western towns, mining towns, etc.). The primary involvement of the movie is the conflict between two men, who tend to be deeply linked by some common bond. It may be an actual blood relationship (Winchester '73), a mutual past experience (Bend of the River), a competition over an economic goal (The Far Country), or an adoptive father-son link as in his Howard Hawks film, Red River. In some cases the conflict is internal, the hero against the evil inside himself. Although Chase created strong females in films like Lone Star, Vera Cruz, and Flame of the Barbary Coast, most Chase stories are male conflicts. Chase once said "That I believe is the greatest love story in all of the world. I don't mean sexual. I have always believed that a man can actually love and respect another man more so than he can a woman. . . . That's the theory I've worked on. There is a closer relationship between two men than between a man and a woman."

Straightforward dialogue, and absence of pretentious philosophizing, and clearly delineated action mark the story progressions, which culminate in unambiguous resolutions. Any ambiguities lie in the maturity of the characterizations, in which the two men are neither totally good nor totally bad. In this regard, Chase made a major contribution to what is thought of as the "adult" or "psychological" Westerns of the 1950s. Even when Chase's original script endings were altered, as in the case of Red River, the story and the characters he created were not destroyed. (Charles Schnee wrote a new ending for Red River, in which the two heroes, John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, end up in a showdown resolved by the intervention of the leading lady.)

The Chase Western story is presented in a physical progression across a larger-than-life landscape, an epic journey west which allows forces of good and evil to interact. In Red River, there is a cattle drive. In Bend of the River, a wagon train moves west. In Vera Cruz, a stagecoach progresses into Mexico. And in perhaps Chase's most commercially successful Western, Winchester '73, a search for a stolen rifle moves the story across the American West, and also through a microcosm of typical Western genre events: a final shootout, an Indian uprising, a last stand, a bank robbery, a saloon fight, an Indian attack on the cavalry, and more. The issue of the Chase Western script is not whether man will settle the West and live in it. It is assumed he will, or that he already has. The question is more universal and appropriate to modern life: Will the uncivilized forces within man create a Wild West in perpetuity by winning out over his better instincts?

—Jeanine Basinger