The Running Man

It is understandable that Stella Black does not feel like playing the charming hostess back at her home in the evening following the memorial service for her husband who died three months before in a gliding accident; “the good die young,” the priest had told the assembled mourners, but Rex Black also lived fast and perhaps the end was inevitable.

His second accident within two years, the first had almost financially ruined Rex when the insurance claim was disallowed, the payout of £20,000 for his wrecked De Havilland light aircraft refused over an unpaid premium which had terminated the policy and effectively ended his courier business.

It is fortunate for the newly-widowed Stella that just months before his death Rex had taken out a comprehensive life insurance policy, something which Excelsior Insurance Company agent Stephen Maddox wishes to discuss with Stella before he finalises the release of the £50,000 cash payment, but he is satisfied with her assurances that despite the setback her husband was not someone who have taken his own life.

Meanwhile, having spent three months living on pie and chips in a boarding house by the sea recovering from a nervous breakdown, an unsuccessful shoe salesman known as “Mister Erskine” pays a visit to Croydon to visit Mrs Black at home; from there he will travel to Spain and take another name, Jim Jerome, Australian sheep farmer, where he will await the arrival of the Black widow and her substantial financial reserves.

Based on Shelley Smith’s 1961 novel The Ballad of the Running Man with a script adapted by Rumpole of the Bailey‘s John Mortimer, Carol Reed’s The Running Man was released in the late summer of 1963, touted as a return to the thriller genre with which he had achieved acclaim with The Third Man, though remastered on Blu-ray for Arrow Academy it now seems to be more of a romantic drama.

The opening scenes set in England although the studio work took place in Ireland for tax reasons, the majority of the film is set around the glorious scenery and winding streets of Malaga and Gibraltar as captured by cinematographer Robert Krasker who had worked for Reed on The Third Man and for David Lean on Brief Encounter, but the story is built around three distinct personalities.

Reserved but devoted, quiet but strong, A Face in the Crowd‘s Lee Remick is Stella Black, wishing nothing more than to return to a normal life, something that “Jim” promises her they will have, only richer, yet he is impulsive and driven by the same urge which made him fly in bad weather, unable to let go of the schemes which she knows are unworkable.

Into this unstable scenario comes a second meeting with Stephen Maddox (Georgy Girl‘s Alan Bates); charming and seemingly genuinely concerned with Stella’s feelings, is he simply using this approach as a ruse to continue his investigation into the insurance claim? Certainly he could not be a greater contrast to “Jim” (The Manchurian Candidate‘s Laurence Harvey), possessive, bullying and caring only for the cash; it is easy to understand why any man would love Stella, why she would care for such a man is a mystery.

Stella saying to her incognito husband many times that he has changed, the viewer never has the opportunity to know the man Rex was before so it is difficult to appreciate their relationship, and in the accompanying interviews with some of the surviving crew, all the principal actors now lost, they confirm that the on-set relationship between Remick and “prima donna” Harvey was not good, whereas fortunately Remick and Bates are a natural match, though regardless The Running Man is uneven, ironically lacking pace and momentum.

As well as a detailed commentary by Reed expert William Peter Evans, the most enjoyable of the features is a forty-five minute audio recording of a 1970 appearance by Lee Remick at the National Film Theatre, a luminous star who brightened every role with her warmth, intelligence and humanity, all in evidence in her fond discussion of her collaborations with directors and actors, modest and comfortable in her career and her life and much missed.

The Running Man is available on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy



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