Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"Chase" given old college try
Cleveland Press October 26, 1973
College movies are seldom about the real stuff of college life. Mostly they are about campus romance or athletics or provide the background for situation comedies.
Going to class, studying, taking exams are lightly sketched in or are simply understood as off-camera activities.
"The Paper Chase," while not perfectly portraying what college is all about, does try to grapple with the problem.
It puts across a feeling of academic tension. some notion of the educational treadmill.
But either unwilling or unable to count on these aspects to carry the film, the makers of the movie have drifted into undeveloped sub-plots, into material that in the end is simply padding.
The setting is Harvard Law School and the hero is first year student Hart (Timothy Bottoms).
"All that stuff about grades is true," he's told his first there. "It's a number, it's a letter but it determines salaries and futures."
Having stated this premise and then continuing to develop it, the movie strangely opts for the opposite view at its conclusion.
For the new students the major crisis is getting through the course conducted by Professor Kingsfield. The role has been wonderfully cast with theatrical producer and director John Houseman who conveys the dry, authoritarian style of a man who is both academic genius and tyrant.
The movie is best as it concentrates on the attempts of Hart and his fellow students to come to grips with Kingsfield's course, to outguess him, to emerge unscathed from skirmishes with him. Theirs is a mixture of awe, fear and hatred for the man.
Some of the students from a study group, and it s is interesting in view of Watergate maneuverings to watch these neophyte lawyers make plans, fight among themselves, to observe the authoritarian manipulation that shapes some of their thinking.
There is a sub-plot about Hart and Susan (Lindsay Wagner), a romance in which they are rather quickly and easily living together.
It turns out that she is Kingsfield's daughter. There is a whole area of complication and drama here that is suggested and then sluffed off. The entire relationship is both unbelievable and a burden to the movie.
"The Paper Chase" is a movie with the right atmosphere and feeling even when some of the people and events are wrong.