« My Nights with Susan, Sandra, Olga & Julie | Main | Midnight Lace »

June 19, 2019

The Running Man

running man fugarul.jpg
Romanian poster

Carol Reed - 1963
Arrow Academy BD Region A

I only have very general information, but what ever it was that happened on the set of the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty severely rattled original director Carol Reed. As it was, that film turned out to be the last by Reed's replacement, Lewis Milestone. Most of the time, or at least at a time when the stakes weren't quite as high, directors usually bounced back, even when fired from high profile productions. George Cukor's career hardly suffered from losing Gone with the Wind. Carol Reed thought he could make his return on a mid-budget production, something like the thrillers that brought him his greatest acclaim.

As the booklet notes also remind us, The Running Man is one of five films with "man" in the title. And there are some thematic similarities to Reed's earlier films. Freelance transport pilot Rex Black has lost his plane and cargo in an accident. He considers himself cheated out of his insurance when it is discovered that he missed his most recent payment. With his wife, Stella, he fakes his own death. Stella successfully collects on the life insurance policy. An insurance investigator, Stephen Maddox, comes to Stella's apartment to ask a few questions. He concludes his visit by encouraging Stella to go on holiday following her mourning. Rex, in disguise, and Stella go to Malaga, Spain. Stephen appears in Malaga, but it is never clear whether this is coincidence, or an attempt to verify fraud.

The booklet notes and the supplemental interviews with several surviving crew members all stress that Reed was indecisive during the production of The Running Man. Reed's uncertainty brought about an end to his collaborations with cinematographer Robert Krasker and editor Bert Bates. Adding to Reed's own second guessing himself were impositions by Columbia Pictures - the opening credits designed by Maurice Binder, with a separate title score by Ron Grainer, attempted to open the The Running Man more in the style made popular by the James Bond films. And while no names have been mentioned, it has been suggested the Laurence Harvey was not Reed's first choice as Rex Black. Adding to the confusion was the status of Lee Remick, briefly leaving the Spanish set to replace Marilyn Monroe on the ill-fated Something's Got to Give. Given all the problems, it's a wonder that The Running Man turned out as well as it did.

Robert Krasker was nominated for a BAFTA award for his cinematography. The Running Man is less visually stylized than Odd Man Out or The Third Man, Krasker's most famous work with Reed. Maybe it's the nature of the format, but Krasker's black and white films almost always are more interesting to watch than the films he did in color. There was one very simple shot that I liked, that also owes to the production and costume design. As Rex, Laurence Harvey is wearing a wine red shirt and matching pants. Alan Bates as Stephen is wearing a white shirt and a very light blue suit. Also monochrome Is Lee Remick in a pink sheath dress. Rex and Stephen are conversing at a fountain outside the hotel where all three are staying. Stella has walked back to her room. This is a full shot that probably played better on a movie screen, with the two men seen sitting across from each other with hotel entrance behind them. One has to take the shot in its entirety to notice the small pink figure, Stella, observing the conversation from her window up above the men.

The film ends with a car chase through a mountain road. Reed's most famous films are about men trying to escape, often pursued, closing with death or failure. There is no defense for Rex's dubious scheme to scam the insurance company. His fate appears pre-ordained, a small scale reversal of the adage that events repeat themselves, first as tragedy, and again as farce.

The blu-ray comes with a commentary track by Peter William Evans, author of a book on Carol Reed. Evans primarily discusses the thematic connections of The Running Man with Reed's earlier films, as well as the use of color as signifiers in the clothing of the characters. Also covered are the ways Reed and screenplay writer John Mortimer diverged from the source novel by Shelley Smith, The Ballad of the Running Man. Somewhat of a stretch is comparing the triangle of Rex and Stella Black and Stephen Maddox with that of Harry Lime, Anna and Holly Martins in The Third Man. Evans concedes that The Running Man is a minor film. Even though Reed would realize critical and commercial success just a few years later with Oliver!, it is The Running Man that can be said to be his last truly personal film.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 19, 2019 08:11 AM