The Running Man (1963 film)
|The Running Man|
|Directed by||Carol Reed|
|Produced by||Carol Reed|
|Screenplay by||John Mortimer|
|Based on||The Ballad of the Running Man (novel)|
by Shelley Smith
|Music by||William Alwyn|
|Edited by||Bert Bates|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
The Running Man is a 1963 British drama film directed by Carol Reed, starring Laurence Harvey as a man who fakes his own death in a glider accident, then runs into trouble when an insurance investigator starts taking a close interest. It was adapted by screenwriter John Mortimer from the 1961 novel The Ballad of the Running Man by Shelley Smith.
The film briefly came to the attention of the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy because of a viral marketing campaign which placed personal ads in the Dallas Morning News asking the "Running Man" to please call "Lee". Investigators thought that they might be coded messages placed by assassin Lee Harvey Oswald until they discovered the source of the advertisements. In Hollywood, an urban legend arose claiming that the film was a flop because it starred actors named Lee and Harvey.
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (July 2014) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
In Croydon, England, seemingly grieving Stella Black (Lee Remick) has just returned home from her husband's memorial service. Apparently, he died in a gliding accident when the glider he had rented crashed into the sea, and his body was never recovered. In reality, she knows her husband Rex Black (Laurence Harvey) is still alive and has been in hiding at a seaside boarding house for three months under the assumed name of Erskine, a shoe salesman on vacation, between the time of his "death" and the memorial service. He has just clandestinely returned home following the memorial service. They are perpetrating this ruse to collect on the £50,000 life insurance money from the Excelsior Insurance Company. They feel Excelsior owes them this money as, in the previous year, Excelsior did not pay out a £20,000 business insurance claim when his aeroplane, which he used to operate his own transport company, went down in bad weather on a flight to Hamburg, West Germany, and was destroyed. His insurance had lapsed by two days due to an error in not paying the latest premium – Rex admitting that it may have been his error - which in turn ruined his business.
Rex is close to being spotted at the house when Excelsior agent Stephen Maddox (Alan Bates) stops by unexpectedly to discuss details of the claim with Stella, most specifically confirmation from her that Rex's death was not suicide over his business failure.
The next phase of the plan is for Rex to fly to Paris immediately. Stella, handling the finances, is to collect the insurance money, have it deposited in a bank account in Málaga, Spain, where she will be emigrating. She is then to take out a specific ad in The Daily Telegraph, which is code in informing Rex that all has been accomplished. Three days later, she is to fly to Málaga, where he will meet her.
In Málaga, Rex is able to steal the passport of a drunken Jim Jerome, an Australian sheep farmer, and doctor it to make it look as his own. Rex is now impersonating the identity of Jerome, complete with facial hair, dyed blond hair, and an Australian accent, for the remainder of his stay in Málaga.
Three days after placing the ad, Stella arrives in Málaga, and eventually meets up with Rex and his new group of international friends who only know him as sheep farmer Jim Jerome. They believe Stella is his casual widowed girlfriend, who he met while on recent previous travels to London.
At the bank, Rex and Stella go into the process of converting the insurance money into a bank draft which can be cashed anywhere in the world. This process will take one week.
In the meantime, they are to simulate slowly moving into a more committed relationship, which Stella does not like if only because she feels the process is too slow, since she already has largely been without Rex for over three months, and because Rex is staying with his international friends, which include some beautiful women. Stella also admits that she does not like "Jerome" and by association what it looks Rex has become, a man doing anything for money, which he uses to buy a flashy new car, and expensive earrings for Stella. He also implies that he is in the process of another insurance scam where Jerome will die a premature death, which will allow them to collect further life insurance money.
A British man who Stella recognises but can't remember approaches her. He eventually divulges that he is Excelsior's agent, Stephen Maddox, who states he is in Málaga on holiday. He asks her out for dinner which she sweetly declines. Stella and Rex later discuss the issue. Stella believes Stephen is a sweet lonely man who just wanted company with someone he had previously met, albeit in less than pleasant circumstances, while Rex believes his arrival is too coincidental, and that he is looking for evidence as to their insurance fraud. After an argument, they agree to get away from Stephen by spending the week in a town down the coast until the bank draft is completed.
Rex and Stella get settled there, when Stephen arrives. Stephen notices Rex by the car he saw Stella previously drive. Rex does not immediately recognise Stephen until Stella arrives on the scene, she introducing Stephen to "Jim Jerome". Then, Rex believes a better tack to take, now that he knows Stephen knows that he and Stella are travelling together, is to keep Stephen close so that they can find out exactly how much he knows or suspects. If and when Stephen reveals that he knows too much, they will deal with him at that time in the appropriate manner. The immediate issue is for Stella to get another room, as they aren't supposed to be that close yet. Rex believes that in simulating only a casual relationship between the two of them, Stephen might be more willing to open up to her. Rex's plan places a further wedge between himself and Stella, who just wants to be with her husband.
As Stella and Rex spend more time with Stephen that week, they find that he seems to ask a lot of questions about their lives, and that he secretly keeps writing things in a little notebook he carries around with him everywhere. Stephen takes a photograph of them, which Rex believes he wants as evidence for the insurance company. Believing that, Rex "accidentally" drops the camera in the water.
As Rex heads to Málaga one day to pick up the bank draft and to insure the earrings he bought Stella, he gives Stella the task of trying to get a look at Stephen's notebook. During their day together, Stella almost lets slip to Stephen that Rex and Jerome are indeed one and the same person. In turn, Stephen starts to tell her something – what she believes will be that he knows their ruse as he talks about her spending the insurance money and travelling aimlessly around the world – when she stops him. Seeing Stephen's room door ajar and knowing he is not inside, Stella sneaks in and tries to find his notebook. Stephen catches her in his room before she can read the notebook's contents, and Stella implies that she was in his room to seduce him. They make love. After their lovemaking session, Stephen tells her among other things that he no longer works for the insurance company, and that what he writes in his notebook are musings about his travels, which he shows her. She now realises that he knows nothing about their scam and that his interest in them is purely as a man wanting a woman. She is so relieved that once again, with her guard down, she lets slip that Jerome is Rex, but is able to cover up her mistake.
When Rex returns from Málaga, he first runs into Stephen, who talks as if he knows what's going on with their scam without actually saying so. Thinking that Stephen does know, Rex later tells Stella that their new plan, with no more scams, is to ditch Stephen by leaving first thing in the morning before he awakens, and crossing the border into Gibraltar. Relieved that there will be no more scams, Stella does not tell Rex what she has found out about Stephen.
The next morning, Stephen, awake and alone in his bed, finds one of Stella's expensive earrings in the bed. Hearing a noise outside, he gets up and sees Rex and Stella driving off in their car. He rushes off to catch up with them in order to return Stella's earring. He is able to catch up to them as they are caught behind a temporary roadblock in town. Rex is standing at the roadblock seeing what is going on while Stephen approaches Stella in the car. Stella initially believes Stephen has come for her, but Stephen shows Stella the earring. She thinks this could get her into trouble with Rex if he finds out. Stephen is unable to return the earring before Rex returns. Rex, seeing Stephen, is angry, as he still believes Stephen is after them. On the surface however, Rex is cordial, telling Stephen to meet him and Stella for a drink further up the mountain. With Stephen following the pair in his own car along the winding mountain road, Rex tries to run Stephen off the road and over the cliff. Rex, seeing Stephen's car go off the road, believes he has been successful. Stella is horrified. Two road workers witness the event, and are able to save Stephen, whose car, albeit in a precarious position, only slid a small distance down the hill. Stephen believes Rex tried to run him off the road out of jealousy, since he thinks Stella told him about their tryst.
Rex, with a hysterical Stella as his passenger, drives off toward the Gibraltar border. Reaching the border, they are stopped behind a long line of cars. Once they reach border patrol, they are questioned. The telephone rings. It is the police, who have reached Stephen in the mountain. They alert border patrol to stop Rex and Stella. When Rex figures out what is going on, he notices that Stella has run off into the crowd with the bank draft. He jumps back into the car and drives off into the crowd chasing after Stella. Rex eventually catches up with Stella in a crowded church. Angry, he tries quietly to get the bank draft from her. She replies that he will never be able to cash the draft as the authorities everywhere will know he killed Stephen, thanks to Stephen's having her insured earring in his possession. Incensed, Rex tries to strangle Stella out of jealousy. He stops as he realises what he is doing. When the police arrive, Rex runs off to his car and drives off while the police take Stella into custody. At the police station, Stella is surprised to see Stephen there, alive. Stephen refuses to press charges against either Rex or Stella, Stephen still believing Rex’s actions were purely out of jealousy. Stella continues the ruse as she tells Stephen that she told "Jerome" about their tryst.
Meanwhile, Rex drives to an aerodrome and steals a plane. He is able to get the plane up into the air over the sea. However, he is initially unaware of a leak in the fuel line. The plane runs out of fuel mid-air and crashes into the sea. Rex is pulled out of the water, barely alive, and returned to the Spanish dock, where Stella and the police are waiting. As Rex dies, Stella still continues the ruse, stating to the police that he is Jim Jerome, an Australian man she barely knew, but she does have time to inform Rex that Stephen had become only a paint salesman who was not onto their scam, enabling Rex to die in the horrible realisation that all his machinations leading to his death were completely unnecessary.
- Laurence Harvey as Rex Black
- Lee Remick as Stella Black
- Alan Bates as Stephen Maddox
- Felix Aylmer as Parson
- Eleanor Summerfield as Hilda Tanner
- Allan Cuthbertson as Jenkins
- Noel Purcell as Miles Bleeker
- Ramsay Ames as Madge Penderby
- Fernando Rey as Police Official
- Eddie Byrne as Sam Crewdson
- Colin Gordon as Solicitor
- John Meillon as Jim Jerome
- Roger Delgado as Spanish Doctor
In March 1962 it was announced Carol Reed would direct a film based on the novel for Columbia Pictures, who had made Reed's Our Man in Havana. It was the first project Reed worked on since leaving the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty.
- Variety film review; 7 August 1963, page 6.
- The Times, 1 August 1963, Page 2
- Shenon, Philip (2013). A Cruel and Shocking Act. Henry Holt and Company. p. 279. ISBN 9780805094206.
- CRIMINAL RECORDS Iles, Francis. The Guardian 3 Nov 1961: 9.
- Criminals at Large By ANTHONY BOUCHER. New York Times 8 Apr 1962: BR15.
- 'Mutiny' Director Find Make Deals: Bogarde in 'Living Room'; Du Pont Scion Plans Three Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 2 Mar 1962: C13.
- Lee Remick, Garner Named as Co-Stars Los Angeles Times 29 June 1962: C11.
- REED'S 'RUNNING MAN' ON A SPANISH COURSE New York Times (12 Aug 1962: X7.