Loosely based on true story, 1979’s The Runner Stumbles was the final film of legendary director/producer Stanley Kramer’s (Judgement at Nuremberg, Inherit the Wind, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) long career. Set in remote Michigan circa 1911, the story begins as Father Rivard (Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins) is fetching his parish’s latest addition, fresh faced Sister Rita (Kathleen Quinlan), from a transit station. The two spark each other immediately–she’s curious and challenging, he’s a stickler for rules and tradition. He’s a free thinker, but he’s grown tired of fighting the church establishment.
Sister Rita was brought in to run the country school after two older nuns contract tuberculosis. Since sharing quarters with them would expose her to TB, Quinlan must, of course, move into the priest’s rectory. It’s obvious this is going to be a huge mistake.
A possible love affair between Dick Van Dyke and Kathleen Quinlan has been apparent from the start, but her moving into his residence scandalizes everyone involved. No one more than Rivard’s devout housekeeper Mrs. Shandig (Maureen Stapleton), who has long been in love with the priest herself–and who has such a case of sexually repressed hysteria, from the beginning, it’s easy to imagine her doing something dangerous.
The fraught (bordering on silly), scenario climaxes in a final act comprised of a fire, illicit sex and a trial full of venomous accusations. Framing the main storyline is a recurring courtroom sequence featuring Rivard–incarcerated on suspicion of murder after Sister Rita’s body is discovered–receiving counsel from his inexperienced young lawyer, Toby Felker (Beau Bridges).
The Runner Stumbles is an interesting opportunity to see Dick Van Dyke in a rare dramatic performance, but it gets bogged down by the occasionally confusing flashback sequences. Nonetheless, Van Dyke, Maureen Stapleton, and Kathleen Quinlan deliver the kind of convincing characterizations that make The Runner Stumbles worth watching despite some issues.
Although The Runner Stumbles was reportedly shot on 35mm film, Kino’s new Blu-ray release, presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, looks like a TV movie. When it comes to the image, expect little in the way of detail. Nonetheless, Laszlo Kovac’s cinematography remains impressive.
The DTS-HD Master 2.0 audio track handles the films limited effects well. The score by Ernest Gold (who worked on many Stanley Kramer films), offers acceptable depth and stability. Dialogue is clean, clear, and concise throughout.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- NEW! Audio Commentary with Film Historian and Critic Peter Tonguette: Tonguette traces the career of Dick Van Dyke, going so far as to read from his autobiography. Tonguette provides a thorough and interesting analysis of the film. I look forward to more of his commentaries.
The Runner Stumbles (1979)
Movie title: The Runner Stumbles
Duration: 109 min
Director(s): Stanley Kramer
Actor(s): Dick Van Dyke, Kathleen Quinlan , Maureen Stapleton, Ray Bolger, Tammy Grimes, Beau Bridges