Blu-ray Review: The Running Man (1963)

Highly respected for a trifecta of films from the late 1940’s–Odd Man Out (1947), The Fallen Idol (1948), and The Third Man (1949)–few truly questioned Carol Reed’s talent. However, by 1962, following a decade of up and downs, and perhaps most shockingly, having been fired from Mutiny on the Bounty the year before, Reed’s confidence was shaken. Unhealthy, overweight, he undertook a cat-and-mouse thriller The Running Man, based on the novel by Shelley Smith.

As the film opens, American Stella Black (Lee Remick, A Face in the Crowd) is mourning her husband Rex at a memorial service. But as we soon discover, Rex (Laurence Harvey, WUSA) is very much alive. He’s faked his own death in a gliding accident to collect the insurance money and start a new life in South America. Not surprisingly, Stella is in on the plan. Flashbacks layout exactly what drove the couple down this route. These revelations do little to create sympathy for them, with Rex coming across as egotistical jerk; an attitude that only worsens.

With Rex’s body never recovered, of course, the insurers would be following the money. With insurance money in hand, Rex and Stella ran off to Spain. When Stella recognizes a man following them as insurance man Stephen Maddox (Alan Bates, Women in Love) she is understandably, concerned. On the other hand, Rex, having changed his identity to Jim Jerome, seems to enjoy it. His ego out of control, Rex/Jim believes he’s untouchable. He’s okay with Maddox hanging out with them, wanting to keep him close to learn whether he’s figured out their secret. Meanwhile, Stella has grown increasingly tired of Jim/Rex’s narcissistic behavior.

The ending is entirely predictable, but it has some entertaining action beats. The film is also aided by strong performances from the leads. Laurence Harvey played quite a few good-looking cads throughout his career and he certainly succeeds here. Rex/Jim is thoroughly unlikable. Stella is no Saint, but I spent the last 1/3 of the film hoping she would do something, anything to get away from him. Lee Remick is wonderful as the wife who can’t deal with the changes she sees in her husband. Besides sporting unflattering blonde hair, he’s become truly loathsome. She continually begs for a return to normalcy. Does she ever realize how much trouble she could really be in? Alan Bates’ Stephen Maddox is an interesting character here. He behaves as though he is gathering evidence against them, but it’s also believable when Stella’s affections turn toward him. The connection between Stella and Stephen and a subsequent twist is perhaps most satisfying in the film.

The Running Man isn’t among Carol Reed’s best work, but it’s a decent thriller with some moments of tension and beautiful cinematography by Reed favorite Robert Krasker. A flop on its release in 1963, for fans of Reed, Laurence Harvey, or Lee Remick, this Blu-ray release is worth a look.

Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the HD master, transferred from the restored original film elements, was provided by Sony Pictures. There was some damage to the source elements as white specks regularly dot the image. Colors occasionally run a bit hot. Otherwise, this is a solid transfer. The level of detail is impressive, and the location scenery stands out.

The LPCM mono audio track serves the film well, with clear and concise dialogue. Effects are handled with confidence, so too is the score by William Alwyn.  Working within the limits of a mono presentation, the track excels.

English SDH subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio Commentary with Author Peter William Evans: He wrote a book that takes an extensive look at Carol Reed’s filmography.
  • Isolated Music and Effects Track: Presented in LPCM mono.
  • On the Trail of The Running Man (HD, 24:41) A series of interviews with people who worked on the film and/or with Carol Reed, including Angela Allen, Kits Browning, Maurice Landsberger and Tony Rimmington.
  • Lee Remick at the National Film Theater: A 1970 audio interview done in London as part of the John Player Lecture Series, is presented here as a kind of “alternate audio track” accompanying the film. (The film’s soundtrack starts when the interview ends.)
  • Image Gallery (HD, 13:40)
  • Booklet: An illustrated booklet featuring essays by Barry Forshaw, Henry Blyth, and camera operator John Harris.

The Running Man (1963)
The Running Man

Movie title: The Running Man

Director(s): Carol Reed

Actor(s): Laurence Harvey, Lee Remick, Alan Bates , Felix Aylmer , Eleanor Summerfield , Allan Cuthbertson

Genre: Drama, Crime

  • Movie
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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