Carol Reed/ 1963/ UK/ 103 mins
Available on Blu-Ray from Mon 17 Jun 2019
Having failed (missed a payment) to collect on a legitimate insurance claim Rex (Laurence Harvey) attempts to fake his own death and defraud the offending insurance company. After a few months of subterfuge Steve played by Alan Bates comes calling to check on the claim and meets the enchanting Lee Remick who almost gives the game away with nervous glances and anxious looks as Rex’s girlfriend and co-conspirator Stella.
This first act is pretty robust as the viewer is drawn into the scam but as Rex plans to flee to Spain and meet up with Stella the film flounders. The unexpected appearance of Steve is assumed to represent the authorities closing in but Bates delivers such an amiable performance as he focuses his attentions on Stella that any potential thrills in the cat-and-mouse scenario are lost.
In 1963 Harvey was a leading man and had managed to successfully migrate to the States. His rather wooden and somewhat upright delivery evokes notions of militarism as does his status as a pilot, but is at odds with Remick’s almost child-like eagerness to please. Remick’s Stella appears to be the sort of young lady who would seek solidity and security instead of Harvey’s aspirational criminality failing to convince as a young lady looking for adventure among the bad boys.
Rex is supposed to be experiencing a moral transformation as he adopts a new persona (an Australian one) and proposes another scam but either the casting of Harvey or some strange choices (Australian accent) leave the viewer uncertain of his resolve and extent of his devilishness.
The choice to contract John Mortimer to adapt the novel results in uneven results with the legal machinations handled in a predictably convincing fashion whilst the social interaction in Andalucia is somewhat meandering. The threesome enjoy the beach, drink cocktails and are apparently followed by a never ending supply of street children. Rex’s contempt in these moments is more powerful than any of the planning and scheming that has preceded the trip to Spain.
The inevitable climax is fuelled by Rex’s paranoia and Steve’s transparency as misunderstandings begin to mount and Rex starts to feel trapped. Reed’s lack of action expertise is highlighted in a poorly-staged car chase which only serves to undermine the preceding set-up.
The Running Man is a film that apparently triggered a CIA investigation in the aftermath of the JFK assassination due to some ill advised viral marketing that appeared in Dallas newspapers on the 22nd November. This may be the most notable feature of this late entry in the venerable career of Carol Reed.