The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - THE RUNNING MAN (1963) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - THE RUNNING MAN (1963)

the running man 1963 review
After pulling a scam, a couple attempts to evade an insurance investigator's attentions.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Carol Reed

Starring: Laurence Harvey, Lee Remick, Alan Bates, Felix Aylmer, Fernando Rey

the running man 1963 bluray

When today's moviegoers think of escapism, the images that come to their minds are of superheroes and giant CG monsters. Ask the average cinemagoer what they want to see on screen and they'll tell you they desire fantasy, an escape from the humdrum of their diurnal existence. If you asked the same question in the early 1960s many would have told you that they wanted to see exotic locations. This was a time before affordable air travel and package holidays, when leaving your country simply wasn't an affordable option for most of the population. It's no surprise then that the James Bond series proved so popular, as envious audiences roamed the globe vicariously with 007, and even less of a surprise that Britain's movie producers aped the globetrotting formula of the Bond franchise throughout the decade.

Watching Carol Reed's 1963 thriller The Running Man on a grey, rainy Dublin afternoon, I appreciated just why such movies appealed to the sun-starved British audiences of the time. It's a highly flawed movie, and if you break it down objectively it doesn't really hold water, but there's something alluring about its unbridled sense of glamour, and who among us hasn't dreamt of running away to sunnier climes with a bag of cash?

the running man 1963 review

Rex Black (Laurence Harvey) has such a dream, and so he fakes his death in a glider accident, crashlanding his plane off the coast of Brighton and holing up in a local motel under an assumed name until his wife, Stella (Lee Remick), can collect the £50,000 of insurance money that will launch their new life together in Spain.

When the payment comes through, Stella heads to Spain and joins up with her hubby, who has died his hair blonde, grown a moustache, and with the aid of a stolen passport, is now posing as a wealthy Australian sheep farmer. Rex's personality seems to have changed for the worse too, his new wealth turning him into an elitist snob who bawls at waiters, and he already has a plan to pull off another insurance scam. Stella begins to question whether this is really the man she wants to spend her life. But the money, oh the money.

While waiting for the bank to clear the money for withdrawal, Rex and Stella head to a small village on the Spanish coast. To their horror they find themselves sharing a hotel with Stephen Maddox (Alan Bates), the mild mannered insurance agent in charge of their case. Rex decides it's best to keep Stephen close while they figure out if his arrival is mere coincidence or if he is investigating them, and as the three hang out, Stephen falls for Stella, complicating things further.

the running man 1963 review

Harvey is an actor who was always at his best when playing absolute cads (check out his turn as an insufferably chess player in a notable Columbo episode), and his Rex Black is a bounder of the highest degree. He's so unlikeable that even though we can empathise with his plan for a new life, we really don't want things to work out for him. On the other hand, Bates' Stephen is posited as something of a moral and romantic saviour for Remick's doe-eyed Stella, but he's such a docile figure that there's a complete absence of sparks between the two.

You may find yourself wishing Stella could find a way to escape the attentions of both men, but the film doesn't acknowledge this as an option. There's a queasy scene in which Stella forces herself to bed Stephen when he discovers her snooping in his room, but the movie is oblivious to just what a creepy scenario this really is. Part of the problem is the miscasting of the handsome Bates in a role that would have gained an extra dimension were it occupied by someone like Donald Pleasence, thus making Stephen's unrequited affections an added element of the overall tension. There's also the baffling scene in which Stella first bumps into Stephen in Spain, yet fails to recognise him as literally the one man who could scupper her husband's plan!!! Is it plausible that Stephen might have never seen a picture of the man whose claim he's investigating?

the running man 1963 review

The Running Man suffers heavily from such logic gaps, yet there's something mildly enthralling about its drama. Reed is best known for his shadowy, claustrophobic black and white thrillers like The Third Man and Odd Man Out, so it's a surprise to see him helm a colourful widescreen movie in which all the action takes place in sun-kissed daylight. Once the cat-and-mouse dynamic kicks in between Rex, Stella and the man who may or not be hunting them down, it becomes quite gripping, even if it's a struggle to root for either of the men involved.

If you're a fan of Patricia Highsmith adaptations like The Talented Mr Ripley and The Two Faces of January, The Running Man's familiar scenario should prove an entertaining diversion, one perhaps best appreciated on a rainy afternoon.

Commentary by author Peter William Evans; a featurette in which former crew members discuss working with Carol Reed; isolated music and effects track; audio of Lee Remick speaking at the NFT in 1970; image gallery; collector's booklet featuring writing by Barry Forshaw.

The Running Man is on blu-ray June 17th from Arrow Academy.