The Running Man (1963)

THE RUNNING MAN was poorly received by critics and the box office in 1963, but the reviewers were needlessly harsh and the public too fickle: it’s earned late-date recognition as an intriguing suspense drama with compelling players in disarming locales. John Mortimer’s tangy script adapted Shelley Smith’s well-reviewed novel; the respected Carol Reed directed.

Incensed when an insurance company stiffs him, English freelance pilot ‘Rex’ (Laurence Harvey) pulls a fast one to get even: staging his death so his wife (and he in an assumed identity) can collect a benefit payout and enjoy the spoils. His trusting American spouse ‘Stella’ (Lee Remick) goes along with the scheme but then ‘Stephen’ (Alan Bates) turns up at their Spanish coastal hideaway. He’s an insurance investigator—or is he? His persistent interest wears at the guilty couple, and Rex (posing as a wealthy Australian rancher), who gets a kick out of playing risky games, shows increasing signs that his behavior may get darker than the worried Stella bargained for.

Tanned, his hair dyed blond, Harvey is sharkishly handsome in cornered cad mode (granted, his broad go at an Aussie accent is a drawback), and the sympathetic Remick was never prettier. Bates underplays effectively conveying a wary decency and the then-untrampled locations are a major atmospheric plus. They include Málaga, San Roque, Algeciras and La Línea; Gibraltar shows up in the finale. William Alwyn composed the music background, his 129th and final score. There’s some fairly wild automobile action, with Harvey and a stunt driver (we presume) whipping a ’62 Lincoln Continental convertible dangerously close to some no-doubt surprised local extras.

Despite the sunny settings it was an unhappy shoot. Remick disliked Harvey (joining a gleeless club that included Jane Fonda and Kim Novak) and Reed was feeling unsure of himself after trying manage the runaway remake of Mutiny On The Bounty (he’d quit that epic and Lewis Milestone assumed the migraines). A gross of $1,300,000 placed just 114th in the States.

Familiar faces in the supporting lineup: Allan Cuthbertson, Felix Aylmer, Noel Purcell, Fernando Rey, Eddie Byrne, John Meillon, Fortunio Bonanova and Roger Delgado. 104 minutes.

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