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With: Patrick Warburton, Lynette Bennett, Emily Newman, Eugene Roche, Paul Malevitz, Ernie Vincent, Laura Witty
Written by: Robinson Devor, based on the novel by Charles Willeford
Directed by: Robinson Devor
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and some language
Running Time: 90
Date: 10/08/1999

The Woman Chaser (1999)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Dime Store Hero

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

In the 1940s, there were dime novels and there were B-movies. People liked them, but nobody paid much attention to them. Then in the 1950's, the French began to see them as an art form, and movies like Breathless (1959) and Shoot the Piano Player (1960) paid homage to them, but filtering them through the "new wave" sensibility. Now comes a new film that plays like an homage to the French New Wave homages.

The new film is called The Woman Chaser, directed by Robinson Devor. It's a black-and-white film noir based on a 1950's pulp novel by Charles Willeford (who also wrote the novels Miami Blues and Cockfighter, both made into movies). And, as the French would surely appreciate, it's about a man who makes a movie. The Woman Chaser is a very off-kilter picture, and it's bound to throw viewers for a loop. Most people are going to stay away simply because it's in black-and-white. But those that stay are in for many other kinds of weirdness.

The main character is named Richard Hudson, played by Patrick Warburton (whom I had the chance to talk with recently). He's a bulky salesman with a deep voice and a methodical, strange, and cold-hearted personality. He dances a furious, crazy (almost sexual) ballet with his mother and seduces an older woman collecting pennies for the church. He buys out a used car lot and makes his employees dress up as Santa Claus during the hot Los Angeles summer months.

Actually, the title is misleading, because Hudson doesn't really chase women at all. Some women come on to him, but he's only interested in making his movie. (He decides that moviemaking is so easy that anyone can do it, whereas sculpting or writing a novel require study and time.) His movie is called "The Man Who Got Away", and at first it sounds horrendous. Hudson pitches it to us in a menacing scene, talking to his producer, but really talking to us and the camera.

Hudson eventually gets his movie made, taking us through the whole process, from writing to recording the music. And from what we can see, it's a stunner. People go crazy for it. But it's only 63 minutes long, and that leads to other kinds of problems relating to the business end of movies. I couldn't help thinking about some of the brilliant B-movies of the 1940's like Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour (1945) that run only about 63 minutes.

If I'm making The Woman Chaser sound like a straightforward story, it's not. Pretty much nothing I could write would prepare you for the oddball tone of this picture. It's funny, exciting, dreary, and very very strange. Think of Eraserhead (1978) crossed with The Big Sleep (1946). The reason it works is Warburton, who has a real cowboy/gangster/private-dick kind of presence. He's like an old-time movie star transplanted to the modern day, a little bit Bogart, a little bit Wayne. Somehow he makes the partly psychotic Hudson a warm and forgivable character. It's a brilliant bit of casting that probably saved the movie.

Moreover, this movie is enough to cause a minor resurgence of interest in writer Willeford. Though only three of his books have been filmed, there are plenty more. It's a reminder that there are still mountains of unmined material for movies. You just wouldn't know it from visiting your local multiplex this summer. The Woman Chaser is a movie for those who don't mind looking a little bit.

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