Running Man (The) (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (8th July 2019).
The Film

The Running Man (Carol Reed, 1963)

Synopsis:
At a memorial service for Rex Black (Laurence Harvey), Rex’s American wife Stella (Lee Remick) sits patiently. Rex has been dead for three months. After the service, Stella returns home with some friends to hold a wake for Rex. However, when her friends have left Stella’s demeanour changes completely: she laughs as Rex arrives. Rex is not dead: he has faked his own death, in a glider crash, and spent three months hiding out in a seaside bed and breakfast under the name of Erskine.

Rex and Stella’s reunion is interrupted by the arrival of Stephen Maddox (Alan Bates), an investigator for the Excelsior insurance company. Rex hides whilst Stella answers Maddox’s questions about her husband, whose body was of course never found.

After Maddox leaves, Rex and Stella reflect on their motivation for faking Rex’s death. Previously, the entrepreneurial Rex had crashed a plane carrying a cargo of women’s underwear, but the insurance company, Excelsior, had refused to pay out because Rex had forgotten to pay his last instalment on the cover. Subsequently, Rex became determined to get out of the company what he believed them to owe him, and he had come up with the plan to stage his own death in a glider clash.

Rex and Stella come up with a plan to meet in Malaga when the insurance money clears. Time passes, and in Spain Rex meets a drunken Australian sheep farmer and millionaire, Jim Jerome (John Meillon). Rex steals Jerome’s passport and uses it to build a new identity for himself in Malaga.

When Stella flies to Malaga, she is shocked to discover Rex living a life of luxury as Jim Jerome. Rex has died his hair blonde and affects an unconvincing and inconsistent Australian accent; he has also surrounded himself with pretty girls and playboys. However, Rex tries to reassure Stella that he has been faithful to her, and they make plans to leave for South America when the banker’s draft they have requested has cleared.

A greedy Rex suggests they should try to repeat their ‘trick’ with another insurance company, faking Jerome’s death in order to secure another fortune. However, matters become complicated when Rex and Stella encounter Maddox, who is in Malaga ostensibly on his holidays. Maddox attempts to befriend Stella and Rex, who he believes to be Jim Jerome. However, Rex is convinced that Maddox is on a busman’s holiday, investigating Rex’s disappearance.

Critique: In Romantics and Modernists in British Cinema, John Orr dismisses Carol Reed’s The Running Man as ‘a film most would rate as one of Reed’s weaker films, a pallid echo of The Third Man’ (2010: 25). It’s hard to argue with this, though The Running Man demonstrates some interesting similarities with the contemporaneous, and superficially very different, films of the British New Wave, such as Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) and, in particular, Lindsay Anderson’s adaptation of David Storey’s novel This Sporting Life, which like Reed’s film was released in 1963. (Interestingly, both films shared work by the same camera operator, John Harris.)

Reed made The Running Man after leaving the production of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962, which was eventually directed by Lewis Milestone) owing to conflicts with its star, Marlon Brando. Based on the novel Ballad of the Running Man (1961) by Shelley Smith, The Running Man features some expansive widescreen photography which gives the otherwise intimate narrative a sense of scope, and the film also makes strong use of its locations. Shot in Spain over ten weeks, with some footage filmed at Ardmore Studios in Ireland, The Running Man has something of the globetrotting espionage pictures that were popular in the early 1960s – including, of course, the likes of the contemporaneous James Bond pictures.

Rex’s life becomes consumed by his vendetta against the Excelsior insurance company (and, more generally, the notion of insurance) following the incident, depicted through an extended flashback, in which Rex’s plane, loaded with his stock of lady’s underwear, crashed and the Excelsior insurance company refused (quite rightly) to pay out because Rex had accidentally let his insurance cover lapse. ‘We’re only getting what they owe us’, Rex tells Stella near the start of the film, and he reiterates that sentiment throughout the picture. At the memorial service for Rex which opens the film, the narrative starting in media res (following Rex’s staging of his own death), the vicar who leads the service asserts that Rex was a ‘young man [who had] everything. Youth, enthusiasm, the work he loves, the devotion and comfort of a Christian marriage’. With this, the camera dollies in to a close-up of Stella, reinforcing her centrality to the narrative. Ironically, given the fact that the memorial service for Rex is held in a church, later in the film Stella will accompany Maddox on a day trip to the museums and churches of the region of Spain they are visiting; during this excursion, Stella tells Maddox that throughout her marriage to Rex, he would refuse to visit churches or museums. This motif of the church finds its pay-off at the climax of the film when Rex, believing himself to have killed Maddox, attempts to strangle Stella – in a church, no less.

At the heart of the film is the notion of identity as a fluid, performative act. When Stella arrives in Malaga and finds that Rex has surrounded himself with attractive women and playboys, she notes that ‘First I have a husband, and then he disappears, and back comes a nervous little shoe salesman called Erskine. I got one night out of him, just one night, and now he’s off again and now I’m told he’s Jim Jerome and he’s got half a million sheep’. Stella watches Rex change after the insurance pay out and his adoption of the identity of wealthy Australian Jim Jerome. On the other hand, the film suggests that beneath Rex’s outward civility, there was always a sense of bitterness and entitlement. In the flashback that takes place towards the beginning of the film, which shows the aftermath of the genuine plane crash for which Excelsior refused to pay out, we see the insurance agent tell an angry Rex, quite accurately, that ‘We’re not a charity, you know’. Rex responds bitterly, ranting that ‘because of your rules and regulations, we’re going to go broke’. The insurance agent tells Rex that ‘With your experience, you’ll find a job, Mr Black’. ‘I don’t want a job’, Rex rants petulantly, ‘The hell with working or other people. I want my own aeroplane, and I tell you, I’m going to get one’. After devising the plan to fake Rex’s death and claim the insurance money, Stella asks Rex, ‘When this is all over, we’ll be ordinary, won’t we? We’ll be just like we were before?’ ‘Of course’, Rex reassures her, ‘Only richer’. The film suggests that Rex may be motivated more by the challenge of deceiving the insurance companies than by the money. In one scene, Rex play-acts at bullfighting with two local boys whilst Stella watches. ‘You know, they make a fortune, these bullfighters’, Rex tells Stella, ‘Thousands and thousands of pounds. And you know what? They don’t do it for the money. They do it to show all those stupid people that they don’t care [….] You know, I’m not doing this new trick just for the money’.

In its exploration of this theme of economic mobility, The Running Man displays some quiet similarities with the films of the British New Wave (such as Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, 1960). Though outwardly very different to the social realist films of the British New Wave (which are largely associated with narrower screen formats and monochrome photography), through its narrative of Rex’s ‘performance’ as Jim Jerome The Running Man offers a representation of the issue of class mobility that has parallels with how this theme is explored in the social realist pictures of the era. After the insurance payout, Rex acquires a huge amount of money very rapidly but loses his manners, acting in a generally ‘entitled’ way. In one particular scene, he treats a waiter cruelly, leading to criticism from Stella. ‘You never did that before’, Stella observes, ‘Talk like that to waiters’. ‘Well, someone’s got to’, Rex responds, ‘I mean, they’d never learn [….] Places like these have go to give some value for money, now that we’re…’ ‘Rich’, Stella finishes, ‘Is that what you’re saying? So now we’re going to have a lifetime of shouting at waiters?’ One might be reminded quite strongly of the restaurant scene in Lindsay Anderson’s film adaptation of David Storey’s novel This Sporting Life, made and released in the same year as The Running Man. In This Sporting Life, Frank Machin (Richard Harris) is a coal miner who ‘makes it’ in the world of rugby league, where his aggressive streak can be channelled into the game. Machin achieves a sense of wealth but this leads to increasingly vulgar displays. In one scene, he takes his landlady (Rachel Roberts) to a fancy restaurant but disgusts her with his treatment of both the other patrons and the waiter, who he accuses of ‘traipsing about like a fifty year old tart’ and also suggests has manipulated the final bill. Underlying both Rex’s treatment of the waiter in The Running Man and Machin’s behaviour at the restaurant in This Sporting Life is an examination of the ‘failure’ of economic mobility: the acquisition of wealth in a ‘too much, too quick’ manner can lead to an amplification of negative character traits that were already present, or can lead to simply vulgar displays (ie, in the sense that the person who becomes wealthy very quickly does not always know how to conduct themselves appropriately in certain situations). Fundamentally, these narratives explore the ramifications of the age-old question asked in Matthew 16:26 and Mark 8:36: ‘For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’

Throughout the film, Maddox’s conversations with Rex and Stella are highly ambiguous and loaded with double meaning: is Maddox on to their scam, or is he simply naïve? When Maddox and Stella encounter one another in Malaga, Maddox observes dryly that ‘It’s extraordinary, isn’t it, how one runs into people one knows abroad’. The sensitive Maddox, who has taken time to learn some Spanish so that he may converse with the locals, is contrasted with the coarse Rex; Rex has lived in Spain for several months but has refused to learn the local dialect. In one scene, Maddox helps Rex order a drink in Spanish. ‘It’s quite useful, knowing a little bit of the language, you know’, Maddox notes good-naturedly.

There’s a frisson of the forbidden in Stella’s burgeoning extramarital relationship with Maddox, which takes place at the periphery of the gaze of her husband Rex. Of course, Maddox believes Rex to be dead (or does he?), and Stella and Maddox end up in bed together after Rex demands that his wife search Maddox’s hotel room for his notebook. (As she’s looking for the notebook, Maddox enters, and Stella convinces him that she has is waiting in his room for him; this leads to a scene of mutual seduction.) The remainder of the film sees Stella plucking up the courage to leave Rex; this only takes place during the climax of the film when Rex, believing himself to have killed Maddox, attempts to strangle his wife. As Peter William Evans has noted in his book about Carol Reed, Stella is ‘a mainly domesticated heroine, only towards the end of the film finding the courage to challenge her controlling husband’ (2005: 144).

Though there is no narrative relationship, naturally, between this film and Paul Michael Glaser’s 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring dystopic sci-fi action picture The Running Man (an adaptation of the Stephen King novella of the same title), there is an uncanny similarity in the titles sequences of the two films. Designed by Maurice Binder, the titles sequence of Carol Reed’s picture features a rotoscoped image of a running man (presumably Laurence Harvey’s Rex); the image of the running man multiplies, each time in different colours, as if to suggest Rex’s multiple identities. Glaser’s film presumably pays intentional homage to this image with its opening animation, in which a line of men (meant to represent Schwarzenegger) are shown running before the camera angle changes and the line of men become a single man in profile.

Video

Filling 32.6Gb of a dual-layered Blu-ray disc, The Running Man is presented uncut, with a running time of 104:15 mins. Presenting the film in its intended aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this 1080p presentation uses the AVC codec. The presentation is based on a 2k restoration of the film by Sony.

The Running Man was photographed anamorphically on 35mm colour stock by Robert Krasker, who also photographed Reed’s films The Third Man and Odd Man Out. The photography on The Running Man is very different to those two pictures. Where The Third Man and Odd Man Out were photographed using spherical lenses, in monochrome and with low-key, chiaroscuro lighting, The Running Man was shot in colour, using anamorphic lenses, and with its largely Mediterranean setting, the film features much high-key light. In this Blu-ray presentation, this use of light is communicated excellently, contrast levels being very pleasing: midtones are rich and have strong definition, and there is some quiet tapering off into the toe, with detail being retained in the shadows. Highlights are even and balanced too. Detail is very pleasing throughout the presentation, with a rich level of fine detail being present in closeups. There is some very minor damage here and there: a few white flecks and small scratches are present here and there, and there are some noticeable fluctuations in the density of the emulsions in a few scenes. Colour is naturalistic and communicated very well. The presentation retains the structure of 35mm film, carried in a pleasing encode to disc, which results in an organic and film-like presentation.



Some full-sized screengrabs are included at the bottom of this review. Please click to enlarge them.

Audio

Audio is presented via a LPCM 1.0 track. This is rich and has good range throughout the presentation, dialogue always being audible. The track is accompanied by optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing. These subtitles are easy to read and free from errors.

Also included is an isolated music and effects track (LPCM 1.0).

Extras

The disc includes:
- An audio commentary by Peter William Evans. Evans, who wrote the aforementioned 2005 book about Carol Reed for the British Film Makers series by Manchester University Press, talks about The Running Man. Evans considers the film’s themes, reflecting on the centrality of the notion of ‘split identity’ within the picture. Evans reflects on the position of The Running Man within Reed’s body of work and he talks about what the actors bring to their roles.

- ‘On the Trail of The Running Man’ (24:41). This new featurette looks at the making of The Running Man and features interviews with the film’s script supervisor Angela Allen, second assistant director Kits Browning, assistant accountant Maurice Landsberger and draughtsman Tony Rimmington. Allen discusses what she learnt from working with Carol Reed. Browning talks about the film’s relationship with its source novel, suggesting that very few people in the production were familiar with the book on which the picture was based. The participants reflect on the film’s production on location in Spain. Browning talks about Laurence Harvey’s ‘terrible’ Australian accent and discusses Robert Krasker’s difficulties in lighting Lee Remick’s closeups, and both Allen and Browning consider Reed’s relationship with Krasker. Between The Third Man and The Running Man, Browning suggests, Carol Reed had become more indecisive, which led to some friction between the director and Krasker. There was also some conflict between Laurence Harvey and Lee Remick, Allen suggesting that Harvey ‘was a bit of a prima donna’ and ‘a bit of a bore’.

- ‘Lee Remick at the National Film Theatre’. This is an audio recording of Lee Remick’s 1970 appearance at the NFT, which if selected plays over the film. Remick fields questions from the audience after a screening of Wild River (Elia Kazan, 1960), one of her earliest screen roles. Remick talks about her work on some of the pictures in which she acted throughout the 1960s, reflecting on her relationships with their directors and talking about her performances.

- Image Gallery (13:40)
.

Overall

Though far from Carol Reed’s best work, The Running Man is nevertheless an interesting picture. In Rex’s trajectory and the manner in which his rapid acquisition of wealth underscores flaws in his character, The Running Man has some interesting areas of thematic overlap with the social realist films of the British New Wave – particularly Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life, which like The Running Man was released in 1963. With its glossy widescreen photography, The Running Man is outwardly very different to those pictures, but inwardly it examines similar themes of class mobility. As the commentators suggest in the new featurette included on this disc, the ‘chemistry’ between Lee Remick and Laurence Harvey is wrong from the outset, and Harvey’s performance, generally, is a little off-key. (This may or may not have something to do with his reputed clash of personalities between Reed and Harvey, who wasn’t the director’s first choice for the role of Rex.) This arguably ‘works’ for this character, however: given Rex’s status as such an egotistical bounder, convinced of his own abilities to deceive and manipulate, one can imagine Rex not caring whether or not his Australian accent is convincing.

The Running Man is far from a great film, and it drags a little with too many flashbacks in the first half; nevertheless, it is an often entertaining picture, one of the most memorable pleasures being Alan Bates’ clear sense of delight in playing with the ambiguities of his character. Arrow’s Blu-ray presentation of The Running Man is very good, offering a film-like experience, and the main feature is supported by some strong contextual material.

References:
Evans, Peter William, 2005: British Film Makers: Carol Reed. Manchester University Press

Orr, John, 2010: Romantics and Modernists in British Cinema. Edinburgh University Press

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