The Naked Runner
|The Naked Runner|
Original film poster
|Directed by||Sidney J. Furie|
|Produced by||Brad Dexter|
|Written by||Stanley Mann
Francis Clifford (novel)
|Music by||Harry Sukman|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$1,400,000 (US/ Canada)|
The Naked Runner is a 1967 British espionage film directed by Sidney J. Furie and starring Frank Sinatra, Peter Vaughan and Edward Fox. It was the last film Sinatra made with Warner Bros. and is largely viewed as being a fairly disastrous end to his association with the studio.
Sam Laker (Sinatra) is a former World War II Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative who is recruited by his former commanding officer to do a mission whilst he attends a business conference in Leipzig. To ensure his cooperation, his son is kidnapped.
Sinatra was in need of a hit—Marriage on the Rocks and Assault on a Queen having flopped in the two previous years—so he put actor and trusted aide Brad Dexter in charge of finding a suitable vehicle. After negotiations for him to star in Harper fell through, The Naked Runner was plan B. Sinatra had been impressed with 1965's The IPCRESS File and recruited its director Sidney J. Furie. Among the film's co-stars were Peter Vaughan, Derren Nesbitt and Edward Fox. Sinatra's fee was an at the time massive $1 million plus box-office participation.
Reports were of a troubled shoot with Sinatra playing the spoiled superstar. Two weeks into filming, he temporarily closed down the shoot and flew to Las Vegas to marry Mia Farrow. He returned with the intention of combining their honeymoon with his filming and took regular weekend trips to the south of France. This approach supposedly annoyed Dexter, who had been looking to arrest what he saw as increasing laziness in Sinatra's on-screen performances.
After one incident where Sinatra's helicopter (the star demanded a helicopter for all but the shortest journeys) got lost in the London fog and he arrived late, Sinatra threw a tantrum and demanded production be shut down and moved to Palm Springs. Furie threatened to quit the picture rather than put up with Sinatra's behavior and had to be persuaded by Dexter to return. Sinatra was placated and shooting went without incident. However, in Copenhagen, Sinatra left to perform at a rally for California's Democratic governor Pat Brown (running against Republican Ronald Reagan). Word arrived from the States that Sinatra was not going to return to Europe and wanted his outstanding scenes to be filmed at a soundstage in Los Angeles.
Dexter and Furie decided to take the maverick action of finishing the film with a stand-in James Payne. For Sinatra's remaining scenes, editing in close-ups from earlier shots in postproduction and over-dubbing the dialogue. The main problems were a lifeless depiction of spy-games, listless (if at times stylised) execution, heavy-handed plotting and little real characterisation. There are, however, some interesting locations, among them a still blitzed Leipzig and a rare view inside Centre Point.
Opening to mostly poor reviews on 19 July 1967, The Naked Runner was criticised for its slow pace, camera work and plotting. Variety, however, gave Frank Sinatra fair notice, commenting that "Sinatra, whose personal magnetism and acting ability are unquestioned, is shot down by script. Peter Vaughan overacts part as the British agent." The reviews of the film weren't enough to keep away audiences who made the film Sinatra's first hit—albeit a minor one—since the massive success of Von Ryan's Express two years earlier.
The film is based on the 1965 novel by Francis Clifford (pseudonym of Arthur Leonard Bell Thompson). The title comes from a quote from Arthur Symons' In the wood of Finvava—"A naked runner lost in a storm of spears"—that begins the book. Furie's film follows the novel but makes the lead character an American based in London.
- "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.