Thursday, 20 October 2011

Happy birthday, Barrie Chase

Recently I wrote a retrospective of the Thompson and Scorsese treatments of Cape Fear for Filmwerk. In the 1962 Thompson version of the movie, Robert Mitchum's Max Cady attacks a drifter, Diane Taylor, who is played by Barrie Chase. Barrie Chase was born on this day in 1933.

This is what Chase looked like in Cape Fear. This is from the scene where she first encounters Max in a bar and gives him the glad eye:

The role of Diane is a small one, but Chase is so good in it (and, I admit it, so jaw-droppingly beautiful) that I wondered why she'd not become hugely, mega famous. IMDB went some way to explaining why:
"She was originally set to play Claudine in the movie Can-Can [1960] the part that made Gwen Verdon a Broadway star. But when the studio gave her two dance numbers - an apache dance and 'Garden of Eden' - to star Shirley MacLaine, she walked off the picture, and was replaced by Juliet Prowse. Barrie eventually bought out her Fox contract and left the studio that largely wasted her talents."
Wait. Dance numbers? Imagine my excitement when I found that Chase was, in fact, a professional dancer - a professional dancer who featured in 1960s movies! It's like she was born to have her career documented on this little-read blog of limited appeal.

Of course, I'm joking. Chase's career was far more successful than that. She was Fred Astaire's partner for a while - both on stage and off, despite their 34-year age gap - and she featured in four of his television specials. Here they are in a Pygmalion-inspired number from 1966:

(Her muscle control in that opening vignette is quite something.)

Even better, from The Occidental Dancer's point of view, is that in the 1965 Robert Aldrich film Flight of the Phoenix, Chase appears in a dream sequence as Farida, a "Berber dancing girl". Here are a few shots of her in that role and on set with Aldrich:

Perhaps not the most authentic Berber outfit we've ever seen, but she does have a small tattoo painted between her eyebrows that wouldn't look out of place on a Tribal dancer now (put 'Barrie Chase Farida' into Google images and you'll see what I mean).

Alas, try as I might I could not find a clip of her dance scene in that film, but I hope you'll find this, complete with MC Bette Davis and its live drummers, adequate compensation:


Now, you may have thought based on the IMDB quote above that Chase was being 'difficult' or just chucking a diva strop. But people, people, people. Barrie Chase could DANCE! She was Fred Astaire's dance partner! And the studio wanted to give her two big showcase pieces to Shirley MacLaine. The same Shirley MacLaine we see here, allegedly dancing in John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965) [Shirley's massive ball of Oh Dear God Someone Make Her Stop starts at around the 4.03 mark, but there's plenty of chiffon-on-girl action before then]:

The other featured dancers in this scene are Nai Bonet and Sultanna (more about them in future posts!). In an irony that has presumably been lost in the mists of time, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home was directed by J Lee Thompson, who only a few years before had directed ... Cape Fear, with Bobbie Chase.

There is no justice. Nevertheless, happy birthday Barrie.

PS - if you're interested, here's MacLaine doing (a) the 'Apache dance' and (b) the 'Garden of Eden dance' in Can Can:

Still think Barrie would've been better. Click here to see her in a rare public appearance from earlier this year, being interviewed by the Film Noir Foundation about the experience of making Cape Fear.