THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, or ‘The Dreariness of a long-winded Bummer’, more apt for this artsy relic from the “angry young man” (i.e. “drunken punk”) era of baleful black & white British brooders, a social realism drama subgenre that pleased many critics and (much more importantly) launched a number of first-rate actors into long and rewarding careers. Fair enough, but buyer beware: the small print price tag for watching vibrant young turks like Albert Finney, Richard Harris, Laurence Harvey, et.al strut their testosterone was in forcing yourself to give a damn while enduring static stories, stifled scenery and a series of sour, sulking sociopaths. In this case, the snarling star being born is the estimable Tom Courtenay as the title’s Borstal boyo: delinquent, ecstatic cross-country racer and rebel “hero”. Loose cannon director Tony Richardson, not content from batting us over the head with gloom in Look Back In Anger and The Entertainer, can’t restrain his anarchic instincts working over a script by Alan Sillitoe, adapted from one of his short stories. Good acting. Good luck—spending 104 minutes with the characters.
“Running’s always been a big thing in our family, especially running away from the police.”
Home life miserable, choices and chances limited, attitude toward society fixed on sour, ‘Colin Smith’ (Courtenay) is sentenced to a borstal (juvenile detention center) after being nabbed for burglary. In charge, ‘The Governor’ (Michael Redgrave) takes an interest in Smith because of his skill as a runner, which The Gov plans to use to demonstrate his rehabilitation theory and defeat a public school in a race. Credit all around. But Smith will only go along as far as it suits himself.
The scripts commentary on society, class and priorities is keen and barbed, and some will appreciate the running=freedom/escape/purity metaphor; others will shrug, especially if they’ve had to put up with snotty punks and their excuses for acting out. It would be easier to digest if director Richardson didn’t foolishly indulge in ridiculous interludes where he speeds up the film for comic effect (in a harsh drama), and if it wasn’t further injured by an awful score from John Addison. Courtenay is excellent, and Avis Bundage is venomous your basic Mother From Hell.
Made for £130,211 (£2,960,149 in 2022), it failed at the British box office. The same result would greet the substantially more interesting This Sporting Life a year later, indicating the public was about done with angry & bleak, though that film boosted Richard Harris with critics much as this did for Courtenay. Cogerson has it grossing $2,700,000 in the States, 88th in ’62.
“Do you know what I’d do if I had the whip hand? I’d get all the coppers, governors, posh whores, army officers and members of parliament and I’d stick them up against this wall and let them have it ’cause that’s what they’d like to do to blokes like us.”
With James Bolam, Alec McCowen, Topsy Jane, Joe Robinson, Julia Foster, James Fox.