Definitely not to be confused with the 1987 Stephen King adaptation of the same name starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, this The Running Man is a crime drama/thriller from 1963 and is an altogether different beast, rediscovered, restored and released by Arrow Academy. Director Sir Carol Reed maybe best known for the classic musical Oliver! and hugely influential film noir thriller, The Third Man but here he tackles insurance fraud, as a married couple attempt to fake the husband’s death in order to claim £50,000 of life insurance money and live happily ever after with a new life, holidaying around the sun-kissed spots of the world.
Based on the novel by Shelly Smith titled The Ballad of The Running Man, the film opens at the “funeral” of Rex Black (Laurence Harvey) but once the wake is over at Rex’s and the now “newly widowed” Stella’s (Lee Remick) place, and the mourning, well-meaning guests have left, Rex appears and we learn that he has been in hiding after faking his death in a plane crash. All seems like it might be going to plan as the couple arrange their getaway and new life. A visit from insurance agent, Stephen (Alan Bates), who’s investigating Rex’s death, shakes Stella up a bit but once rid of him they can plan their escape from the country as their destination in Spain awaits. But of course, life is never that simple and when Stephen turns up in Spain and just happens to be staying in the same town as Stella and a now heavily disguised Rex, the couple have to work out if Stephen is on holiday as he says he is or whether he is on a work assignment to investigate and foil Rex’s plans.
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The above makes for some nice twists and turns as Stephen’s motivations keep us, and Rex and Stella, on our toes throughout, and the film moves at a decent pace. As Rex’s intentions and true nature become clear, our feelings towards what could seem to be a loveable rogue change, as we see a bond between the sweet but possibly naïve Stella and the well-meaning but slightly mysterious Stephen. The way our feelings change for the main characters throughout certainly makes for an interesting and exciting journey with action, lust, betrayal and even attempted murder all part of the making of The Running Man. But this is 1963, so although the thought of those aforementioned elements might get your pulses racing, you can hardly compare a lot of what goes on in The Running Man to the crime or action thrillers we have seen since. Including, quite ironically, the Arnie vehicle this movie shares its name with. Having said that, The Running Man (this one!) does have its moments. A car chase in and around the city that nearly claims the lives of one of our main characters is certainly an edge-of-your-seat moment.
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The performances in The Running Man are solid enough too. Laurence Harvey putting in a decent shift as Rex the loveable-rogue-come-arrogant-schemer who has to change his persona to an Australian at one point to conceal his identity is quite entertaining. And the interplay between the three main characters, Rex along with Stella and Stephen, is generally strong enough to carry the film along to a satisfying enough conclusion. It might not reach the heights of some of the other great thrillers or received the acclaim that some of Carol Reed’s other films have, but The Running Man is an entertaining thriller and a worthwhile watch for its time.
Arrow have done their usual great job for their release of The Running Man on Blu-ray. Not only is it the film’s official worldwide home video premiere, there’s an audio commentary and an all new featurette titled ‘On The Trail of The Running Man’, featuring various crew members that worked on the film, an audio recording of Lee Remick at the National Film Feature, an image gallery, and a reversible sleeve featuring new artwork. First pressings include a limited edition collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw.
The Running Man is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.