The Running Man (1963 film)

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.[3] It was adapted by screenwriter John Mortimer from the 1961 novel The Ballad of the Running Man by Shelley Smith.

The Running Man
Directed byCarol Reed
Produced byCarol Reed
Screenplay byJohn Mortimer
Based onThe Ballad of the Running Man (novel)
by Shelley Smith
StarringLaurence Harvey
Lee Remick
Alan Bates
Felix Aylmer
Music byWilliam Alwyn
CinematographyRobert Krasker
Edited byBert Bates
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 1 August 1963 (1963-08-01) (United Kingdom)
  • 2 October 1963 (1963-10-02) (New York)
  • 16 October 1963 (1963-10-16) (Los Angeles)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

It was filmed in San Roque, Cádiz, Spain, Gibraltar and Ireland. The film opened at the Odeon Leicester Square in London's West End on 1 August 1963.[4]

Lee Remick and Alan Bates co-starred with Harvey.

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 that placed personal ads in the Dallas Morning News asking the "Running Man" to please call "Lee". Investigators thought that these 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.[5]


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, 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, 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 is to collect the insurance money and 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 has now taken the identity of Jerome, complete with facial hair, dyed blond hair, and an Australian accent, for the remainder of his stay in Málaga.

Stella arrives in Málaga, and 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, whom he met while on recent previous travels to London.

At the bank, Rex and Stella convert 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 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. Rex implies that he is in the process of another insurance scam where Jerome will die a premature death, allowing 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 declines. Stella believes Stephen is a sweet lonely man who just wanted company with someone he had previously met, 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, introducing Stephen to "Jim Jerome". Then, Rex decides 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.

Stella and Rex spend more time with Stephen and find that he asks a lot of questions about their lives, and secretly writes notes in a little notebook. 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.

Rex 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 the same person. 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 in order to return Stella's earring. He catches up to them at a roadblock in town. 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. Rex tells 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, who believes Rex tried to run him off the road out of jealousy.

Rex, with a hysterical Stella as his passenger, drives off toward the Gibraltar border. They are questioned at border patrol. The police, who have reached Stephen in the mountain, 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 her. Rex eventually catches up with Stella in a crowded church. He tries 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 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, still believing Rex acted 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. However, he is 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, leading Rex to the realisation before he dies that all his machinations leading to his death were completely unnecessary.


Original novel

The Ballad of the Running Man was published in 1961. The Guardian called it "horrifying, gripping."[6] The New York Times called it "spellbinding".[7]


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.[8]

Filming took place in Spain, for ten weeks, and at Ardmore Studios in Ireland.[9][10]


The New York Times published a negative review of the film, with critic Bosley Crowther writing: "Mr. Reed, who used to shine at flight and pursuit melodramas, just doesn't put excitement into this film. He has mostly devoted himself to getting the Malaga atmosphere, and this, in color, is rather dazzling. It's the only thing in the film that is."[1]

Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Philip K. Scheuer praised the film, writing: "Columbia's 'The Running Man' is my idea of an almost perfect motion picture — on-edge anxiety, unpredictable surprises, all astonishingly logical; and always a developing sense of characterization, so that — in contrast to the celebrated Mr. Hitchcock's chases — the final bitterly ironic twist leaves one actually moved with pity and a feeling of loss."[2]


Cinematographer Robert Krasker — one of Carol Reed's favorites — was nominated for the BAFTA colour cinematography award.


  1. Crowther, Bosley (3 October 1963). "Screen: Laurence Harvey on the Run". The New York Times. p. 31.
  2. Scheuer, Philip K. (17 October 1963). "Fascinating Thriller From Sir Carol Reed". The Los Angeles Times. p. IV-10.
  3. Variety film review; 7 August 1963, page 6.
  4. The Times, 1 August 1963, Page 2
  5. Shenon, Philip (2013). A Cruel and Shocking Act. Henry Holt and Company. p. 279. ISBN 9780805094206.
  6. CRIMINAL RECORDS Iles, Francis. The Guardian 3 Nov 1961: 9.
  7. Criminals at Large By ANTHONY BOUCHER. New York Times 8 Apr 1962: BR15.
  8. 'Mutiny' Director Find Make Deals: Bogarde in 'Living Room'; Du Pont Scion Plans Three Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 2 Mar 1962: C13.
  9. Lee Remick, Garner Named as Co-Stars Los Angeles Times 29 June 1962: C11.
  10. REED'S 'RUNNING MAN' ON A SPANISH COURSE New York Times (12 Aug 1962: X7.
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