The Running Man is a film I've wanted to watch for a long time, and thanks to the Talking Pictures channel, I've finally caught up with it. The reason for my interest was that, many years ago, I read the novel on which the movie is based - The Ballad of the Running Man by Shelley Smith, an author I've discussed several times on this blog, as well as in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. What I hadn't realised was that the screenplay was written by John Mortimer, in itself a recommendation.
As well as the ingredients of a good source novel and a good scriptwriter, the film also benefited from a first-rate cast, a good director (Carol Reed) and a theme tune by Ron Grainer. Yet it wasn't a big success - some people claimed that this was because the two stars were Laurence Harvey and Lee Remick and in the wake of the JFK assassination, "Lee" and "Harvey" had unfortunate connotations. Hmmm....Anyway, I found it a very watchable piece of work, quite tense at times, although also rather low-key.
In essence, it's an insurance scam story. Harvey plays Rex Blake, charismatic but reckless, a glider pilot who feels he's been cheated by an insurance company, and that this entitles him to commit fraud by faking his own death. So it's a "Canoe Man" type of story, but with a glider substituted for a canoe. Alan Bates plays the insurance investigator who seems to suspect that something is amiss - but the pay-out is made.
Rex resurfaces in Spain, under a false identity, where his wife (Remick) joins him. All seems to be going well until Bates suddenly turns up. What is his game? A cat-and-mouse story ensues, and I thought Mortimer maintained the suspense pretty well until the end. The novel was published in 1961, when Smith was at the height of her powers, but she only published two more books, both in the 1970s, and neither made any great impression. I've always been puzzled by this, and I'd love to learn more about why her career fizzled out in this way.