Hollywood loves a fake death. Especially when the subterfuge is mixed with some good old fashioned insurance fraud. The Running Man from 1963 is based on the 1961 novel The Ballad of the Running Man. The story is about Rex Black, a man who fakes his own death in order to collect the insurance money. When an investigator begins to look into the plane crash that killed Rex, things become much more complicated.
Laurence Harvey is excellent as Rex. From his introduction, there is an air of arrogance and desperation that clings to the supposedly dead man. Eventually, Rex is a borderline mentally abusive husband. When he is not talking about the great things he has done from this wife Stella, he is yelling at waiters or passively aggressively demeaning his wife. When Rex begins to live off his ill gotten money, his attitude seems to worsen. It is a typical characterization that Harvey handles deftly.
The story does a great job of getting across the love and doubt that Stella has for her husband. The look on her face when she first sees Rex is a mixture of relief and happiness. From the beginning, Stella seems concerned about Rex’s plan. This is played out well over the course of The Running Man. Regrettably, at times, this seems like a forced way to get Stella across as the movie’s heroine. It does not really work since she is more of an unsure accomplice that a person with strong morals.
The highlight of The Running Man is the cat and mouse between Rex and Stephen Maddox, the investigator. The writing constantly has the audience asking who knows what and how much do they know. This adds extra meaning to every comment. Each line seems to be a knowing dig filled with innuendo and every action seems to be mean something. There is a constant underlying intrigue the entire movie.
The Running Man is focused on these three characters. Over the course of the movie, the audience watches as each one slowly changes. It is something of a typical love triangle tale, but there are enough differences to keep the story engaging. Rex does not suddenly become evil nor does Stella suddenly fall in love. The events of the story take a toll on the characters leading to the film’s logical conclusion.
Director Carol Reed also does an excellent job. There is the requisite moment in which Rex looks at his disguised reflection questioningly, as if wondering who he really is. The Running Man also uses color wonderfully. From vivid yellows to lush reds, there are scenes that pop off the screen. Multiple shots are framed well taking in the full beauty of the movie’s many exotic locations.
Which is not to say that Reed does not make some missteps along the way. Long flashbacks early in the movie are clumsy and somewhat confusing. There is a great twist in the movie. It works well within the plot of the movie and is incredibly satisfying. Unfortunately, the scene ends abruptly and leads to a strange moment in which the finale could have been avoided.
The Running Man may seem like another insurance scam movie. However, a strong story and great character development differentiate it from other movies with similar stories. The film also delivers a satisfying twist that is the perfect culmination of everything that has happened before. The story constantly keeps the audience wondering what is going to happen next and is an intriguing watch.
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