The Woman Chaser (1999)

 “Thanks for the party, kid. Any night, you feel like you want it, come on over.”

Bizarre, perverse and subtly subversive, The Woman Chaser from director Robinson Devor is difficult to define and will, unfortunately appeal only to certain tastes. If I knew you, I’d take a guess whether or not you’d appreciate this unusual gem, but instead, read this review and decide for yourself whether or not you want to take a chance.

I recently came cross The Woman Chaser reviewed on the marvelous Film Noir of the Week blog (see link on blogroll or http://filmnoiroftheweek.com ), and I’ll happily accept the genre of noir in order to categorize this strange yet wonderful film. Based on the pulp novel of the same name by Charles Willeford, The Woman Chaser is the story of Richard Hudson, a used car salesman who “possesses a pimp’s understanding of the ways in which women (and men) are most vulnerable–and justifies his seductions with a highly perverse logic.” I took that definition, by the way, right off the back of the VHS box. This isn’t something I normally do, but this description is so perfect, I can think of none better.

woman-chaserAnyway, Richard (played brilliantly by Patrick Warburton) arrives in L.A. and buys an existing used car lot for his San Francisco based employer. He then hires a manager, and then sets out to start raking in the money. He’s halted, however, in his drive, by a different kind of ambition–the creative urge. Richard becomes obsessed with the need to create something. He returns to his home–his bizarre, vain and self focused ex-ballerina mother (Lynette Bennett), and his stepfather, Leo (Paul Malevich), a has-been director. In Richard’s mind, Leo is the only man he knows who possesses any principles. Richard comes up with an idea for a film, and he wants Leo to direct. Together they approach the Man at Mammoth Studios….

I don’t know what I expected when I watched this film, but The Woman Chaser was so good, so unique, so damn peculiar that I watched it three times in a row–each time seeing something new and catching subtle things that I’d missed before (at one point for example, Richard is reading a book titled Much Ado About Me). I think it’s sadly quite possible that a great number of people could watch this film and dismiss it as campy trash, but it isn’t. The Woman Chaser is pure genius.

The main character, Richard, uses people–particularly women–without the slightest remorse whatsoever, but as he uses them, he rewrites his actions, and his motivations in the most off-kilter style. This is all achieved by a heavy voiceover narration by Richard throughout the entire film. This allows the viewer into the most peculiar corners of Richard’s twisted thinking. He’s a living, walking example of moral dissonance, and he unabashedly, proudly boasts of exactly how he manipulates people into getting what he wants.

Richard’s film, his baby, is called The Man Who Got Away. It’s a slim story about an angry, anti-social truck driver who runs over a child and her dog, and then proceeds to lead the police on a chase throughout California. It’s unclear whether or not the truck driver commits his crime deliberately out of a sense of misplaced rage or whether it’s just an accident. Richard grasps so many accuracies of human behavior, and yet the utter perverseness of his plot (which reflects his nature) seems to elude him.

Filmed in glorious black and white (which is perfect for this film), Patrick Warburton plays Richard as if he was born for the part. Operating with the sociopath’s emotional detachment, Richard is a large man, confident, with a large black hole when it comes to conscience. He is a frightening construct of all that’s wrong in society. Perfectly happy to dominate, intimidate and manipulate his way to the top (and to the bedroom), he’s crushed when the same thing is done to him. And one of the film’s great ironies is that Richard, the master manipulator, who understands just what fears, vices and vanities appeal to the human consciousness, finds himself outmaneuvered and out manipulated.

I was so intrigued by this film, that I chased down a copy of the book wanting to see if the novel was as perverse as the film or whether the film’s off-kilter look at life through Richard’s warped perceptions was the creation of the filmmaker. I was thrilled to discover that the film is amazingly like the book with the dialogue taken directly from the novel. That said, the film does add one embellishment in creating a very well done frame story, but at the same time the film leaves out one very disturbing detail that takes place between Richard and his secretary Laura (Emily Newman). Too bad this was cut from the film as I think this act of Richard’s really puts his moral depravity in a nutshell. Special note too for the film’s fantastic camera shots: Chet Wilson throwing a match into a puddle in which the clouds are reflected, front shots of Richard’s car, the lift traveling to the basement of the L.A. Museum, the angle of the camera during the scenes with the head of Mammoth Studios….

Anyway, The Woman Chaser is brilliant, bold and one of the most faithful adaptations of a novel I have ever come across. I suspect author Charles Willeford, who died in 1988, would be satisfied with the film version of his “psycho-pulp” classic.

Quotes:

I didn’t want Becky involved with some immature, tattooed youth who’d work the word love into his pitch. That would be unnecessarily emotional for her.

I had saved the girl from any physical or emotional involvement for a long time.

When a man starts doing stuff like that, he needs a woman in the worst way.

His evil parody made the notion of love and tenderness obscene.

Somehow, I had got dreams mixed up with reality.

I felt as though I was an unreal person creating a reality that might become unreal.

This movie isn’t cynical, it’s bitter.

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Filed under Cult Classics, Film Noir

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