Run for the Sun (1956)

runforthesun2

*. Chances are you’ve heard this film is based on the Richard Connell story “The Most Dangerous Game,” which had already been made into a classic B-picture in 1932. And if you come to it with that knowledge and expectations, expectations triggered by Connell’s name appearing in the credits, it won’t be long before you’re wondering what’s going on.
*. There is a danger that goes along with re-telling any familiar story. Not so much the need to make it new, but to make it interesting. In the case of Run for the Sun they certainly made it new, but they fell down on the interesting part.
*. As far as what’s new is concerned, I don’t see how Connell got a credit, as there’s almost no connection to his story here at all. Or maybe it was based on some other story by Richard Connell, as the story isn’t named. But I doubt it.
*. Instead of a madman on an island hunting humans we have a couple of Nazis hiding out in the jungles of Mexico. When a reclusive writer named Michael Latimer (Richard Widmark) drops in on them, accompanied by a reporter named Katherine Connors (Jane Greer), the Nazis decide they can’t let them go. Our heroes escape from the magnificent jungle estate, are hunted, and then hop on a plane and fly away.
*. That is not the story of “The Most Dangerous Game.” Browne (Trevor Howard) is not a hunter but an ex-diplomat. He doesn’t have a gruesome trophy room full of human heads. He isn’t even that eccentric a figure. He mostly seems bored with life in the jungle, and is more irritated than anything else by Widmark’s sudden appearance.
*. So if you were expecting a rousing adventure story you’re not going to find it here. We’re half an hour into it before we’re even introduced to Howard. Instead the emphasis is all on the budding romance between Widmark and Greer.
*. I mention the time because it’s indicative of a problem. “The Most Dangerous Game” is a very short story. The 1932 film came in at 63 minutes. A Game of Death was 72 minutes. Bloodlust! was 68 minutes. These films kept things moving. Run for the Sun has much higher production values and a bigger cast, but that’s not necessarily a plus. For material like this such an approach is out of place. It’s a trashy little story and needs to be treated as such.
*. In short, there’s too much set-up, and the eccentric figure of Zaroff is marginalized. This means Widmark and Greer have to carry the picture. But while they’re both capable of this — Widmark is well cast as the damaged, edgy hero (in a role that usually calls for a stiff), and Greer — the woman who built Robert Mitchum’s gallows high in Out of the Past — is easy on the eyes, but they are mostly wasted here in parts that are conventional and dull. Trevor Howard is horribly underused playing Browne as just another burned-out case. Latimer is capable but not all that bright (why does he give himself away to Browne?), and Katie is just dead weight (“It’s no use, leave me, go on!”). She even screams when she sees a lizard, which may have been a nod to Fay Wray. Because, you know, it’s just a lizard.
*. I’d want to note though that Greer suffered for her art, contracting a virus during the location shooting that eventually required her to have a heart operation. We often look down on A-list actors as pampered divas, but most of them are real troopers.
*. It’s a shame they couldn’t find a way to play up a triangle with Browne. In other versions of the story the Zaroff figure expects to take the hero’s woman as a (living) trophy or an addition to his harem, but Browne doesn’t seem interested in Katie at all. I wonder if we’re meant to question his sexuality. There’s mention of his having had a wife in Germany who was killed in a British air raid, but nothing much is made of it. Now he lives with his brother-in-law (Peter van Eyck) and they seem rather like a couple. There are no women around.
*. It’s a movie I’d like to like more, as I admire the stars and it looks good. But the story drags. There’s less action than other versions of the story, and what action there is makes little sense (Latimer’s improvised door-gun is highly improbable, and I don’t see how you can run a man down in a plane taxiing for take-off unless they’re very, very stupid). There’s some nice photography and good-looking locations, but I think it’s finally just too conventional a telling of what is essentially a perverse and transgressive tale.

runforthesun3

 

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