Run for the Sun

Remakes frequently attract bad press, coming under attack for a lack of originality or the simple fact that they are unnecessary. This is so often the case that there’s a temptation to discount a remake out of hand, expecting it to conform to type. Still, blanket dismissals are rarely a good idea and can lead to ignoring worthwhile movies. So what makes a remake worthwhile? Well for me anyway, it ought to offer something different; if not, what’s the point. This is particularly true when we talk about a movie that’s generally regarded as a classic to begin. Richard Connell’s story The Most Dangerous Game had already been filmed very successfully back in 1932 so Run for the Sun (1956) needed to bring something new to the table if it were to be regarded as a valid piece of work. Personally, I feel Roy Boulting’s version of the tale rises to this challenge and succeeds in its own right.

Mike Latimer (Richard Widmark) is a famous author, a Hemingway-style figure who lived the adventures in far-flung locations he wrote about, but he’s dropped out of sight. When such people take it upon themselves to disappear there’s inevitably a desire to find out why. And so Katie Connors (Jane Greer), a magazine journalist specializing in celebrity profiles, heads to Mexico to see if she can track down the mysterious writer and get a line on what drove him to vanish. Well she finds him living a simple life, drinking, fishing and avoiding his typewriter at all costs. The first half of the movie concerns itself with Katie’s efforts to surreptitiously dig deeper, while Latimer finds himself gradually falling for her. Katie’s job involves a degree of dishonesty – Latimer is unaware she’s going to do a write-up on him – which doesn’t sit easily with her, and so she eventually loses all appetite for it. She takes the decision, abruptly, to leave, to head to Mexico City and let Latimer work out his personal issues in peace. And here’s where the film begins to get back to Connell’s premise. As Latimer and Katie set off in his light plane a piece of carelessness leads them unwittingly off course, way off course and running low on fuel over dense jungle. When they spot an isolated clearing, the one place they may be able to make an emergency landing, it looks like fortune is smiling on them. However, the aftermath plunges them into greater danger. The wrecked plane is discovered by Browne (Trevor Howard), an Englishman who has made his home far away from civilization. Browne claims that he and his associate Dr Van Anders (Peter van Eyck) are involved in archaeological research, but Latimer is suspicious: little details don’t quite add up and then there’s the pack of dobermans that roam the grounds, supposedly to keep the Indian laborers from running off and deserting. The fact is Browne and Van Anders are in this remote setting for an altogether more sinister reason, and they can’t afford to have their unexpected guests betray their presence.

The western is perhaps the most prominent example of a genre using landscape and locations as a character. The adventure picture must run it a close second though, and it’s especially noticeable when we look at the sub-genre of survival thrillers. Run for the Sun is heavily dependent on its Mexican locations throughout, highlighting the charming exoticism in the first act before venturing deeper into the wilderness later as events take a more dangerous turn. Roy Boulting really makes the most of the treacherous terrain Widmark and Greer must laboriously traverse and captures the grueling nature of a trek across broken ground and cloying swamps. Joseph LaShelle’s camera drinks in the primal beauty of the jungle and all its attendant perils. The latter half of the film is easily the strongest, helped not only by the locations but also drawing on the director’s skill at building tension and orchestrating the action sequences. Boulting also worked on the script, along with Dudley Nichols, and I like the way it alters or adds to Connell’s story while remaining respectful of the source. The updating to a post-war setting works well and is fairly credible – the reasoning behind the central hunt becomes arguably more rational, even if it does mean sacrificing some of the creepiness that characterized the 1932 version. Ultimately, the theme of man hunting man, and the portrayal of the wilderness as both friend and foe is still intact.

Run for the Sun came in the middle of a great sequence of films for Richard Widmark. He’d graduated from the villainous early roles and was very comfortable as a heroic lead. Even so, the edge that meant he was such a good bad guy was still there and it added something interesting to his heroes. Widmark had a prickly, querulous side that was never far below the surface and it gave another dimension to his characterizations, ensuring there was never any blandness on show. Jane Greer’s place in cinema history was guaranteed when she took on the part of one the greatest ever femme fatales in Tourneur’s Out of the Past. In truth, nothing else she did really came close to that iconic character. Nevertheless, I’ve always found her a welcome presence in any movie or TV show where she appeared. Run for the Sun gave her the opportunity to indulge in a bit of duplicity, although it’s of the mild variety, and she got the sense of internal conflict across quite successfully. Additionally, she coped well with the physical stuff that the long jungle pursuit required. The casting of Trevor Howard as the exiled Englishman was a fine choice. Howard had a quality of bruised refinement about him which was ideal for the part of a man forced by his own ambition and poor judgement to live a life far removed from what his upbringing had promised. Peter van Eyck too was excellent at playing the cool, calculating type, one whose outward polish masks a ruthless streak.

Run for the Sun is available in the US as a MOD DVD from MGM, and in the UK as a pressed disc from Optimum/Studio Canal. I’ve had the UK release for some years now (I think from reading around that the US MOD is an identical transfer) and it looks very good. The print states the film was shot in SuperScope 235 but the DVD presents the movie 2.00:1 – I don’t know how accurate that is but the compositions look fine and certainly don’t appear compromised by any cropping. The image is clean and sharp with good color reproduction. The disc is a very basic affair which offers no extra features whatsoever. The film itself is a neat and clever updating of the 1932 original, changing the locations and the motivations of the characters but maintaining the central thrust of the theme. It’s a good, solid adventure movie with strong performances from the four principals, and some stunning location photography. If I have any major criticism, it’s that the first half takes longer than it needs to set up the story. Having said that, the latter half picks up the pace impressively and more than compensates for any earlier slackness. It’s a film I enjoy revisiting periodically and I recommend checking it out.

 

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36 thoughts on “Run for the Sun

  1. Glad you’ve highlighted Run For The Sun which I’ve always enjoyed. It’s well written,directed and with a fine cast. What more could you ask for.

  2. Great review as usual. No doubt, Run For The Sun is worthy of your discerning selection. I have always enjoyed watching this since catching it in the 50s. This and Last Wagon are my all time favourites of Richard Widmark. Best regards.

    • Thanks, Chris. Widmark took on a great variety of roles through the 50s and those two are strong vehicles for him, playing to his strengths as an actor.

  3. Great stuff Colin. This was, I think, the first ‘official’ version of the story that I ever saw and I remember liking it a lot. It’s also a good looking movie (love VistaVision – 2:1 would be the max in terms of its AR) so good to hear the DVD is up to snuff. This must be the most plagiarised story ever though – the list on Wikipedia of the various ‘adaptations’ under ‘human hunting ‘s certainly very long:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_hunting

    • Thanks, Sergio. The DVD does look very good and is worth getting.
      As for Connell’s story and the number of times it’s been “borrowed” from (although this one is officially credited to him on screen) I remember we chatted about it before when you wrote about The 10th Victim at the beginning of the year.

      • Completely forgot about that – good job you’re on the ball! Boulting is not an obvious choice for this kind of material but he makes a good fist of it clearly – I wonder how he ended up with it?

          • I do really like the 1932 version as it is so unexpectedly creepy but as you point out, the update here is very smart and the real locations give it a very different feel and Joseph LaShelle’s cinematography, as always, is very impressive.

            • I think the change of emphasis when it comes to tone makes this more than a mere run of the mill remake. And LaShelle’s photography of the Mexican locales contributes to a realism which contrasts with the dreamy exoticism of the 1932 movie.

              Speaking of remakes or reimaginings going off n their own direction, I recently had a look at The Badlanders, Delmer Daves’ take on The Asphalt Jungle. It’s a lesser film than the original but does at least try something different.

              • Interesting – I’ve not seen that one (at least, I don’t think I have) and love Daves’ work (well, before the 1960s soaps) – would be inetesting to look at the various examples of crime movies later turned into Westerns like COLORADO TERRITORY, FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST and BROKEN LANCE for instance

  4. Another fine review, Colin.

    One of many adaptations of ‘The Hounds Of Zaroff’, I believe and, as you said, a remake of the 1932 “Most Dangerous Game”, an early success for Joel McCrea. This version must surely rate as the best though with good direction, location shooting and a terrific cast. The three leads are all fine actors. Richard Widmark, like Robert Ryan, could turn his hand equally well to either hero or villain and his heroes, like Ryan’s, always have that ‘edge’ about them, as you say.

    As for Trevor Howard, he is one of my all-time favourite British actors. His performance as the lead in David Lean’s “Brief Encounter” had a wonderful subtlety and truth to it. Truthfully though, he was really a character actor and had great range. His performance in this film contributed so much to the success of it.

    It is many years since I saw it and your review reminds me I should be seeking it out.

    • Jerry, I like the 1932 film a lot and think it probably is the best version – good casting again and it plays up the horrific elements very successfully. Run for the Sun goes in a different direction but is still quite faithful in spirit.

      Agreed on Howard. His performance is a nuanced one that adds to the interest of the movie. A top performer who deserves lots of credit.

  5. Always liked this film. Widmark has a lot to do with that I am sure. I picked up the MOD version about a month ago. Havent watched it yet but was going to feature it as well. You beat me to it but great piece! You captured a good description of both Widmark and Howard. I like the line “bruised refinement”. Well put.

    • Thanks, Mike. Sorry if I beat you to the punch on this one but I do hope you’ll put up your own thoughts on the film in due course – I look forward to reading them.

  6. Great choice, Colin! This one’s a real winner, though not so well known. I too have the U.K. disc and it’s a nice print. I know where you’re coming from, about the slow (if atmospheric) build-up at the beginning, but once Widmark and Greer’s plane crashes near the bad guys’ plantation, it does really kick into gear. I’m a sucker for any riff on “The Most Dangerous Game” and this one does Connell’s short story justice in its broad outlines while adding some nice embellishments of its own (and the ways the slimy Nazi baddies bite it are most satisfying) . Totally agree that Widmark’s prickly quality brings a nice edge to many of his heroic characters…he also frequently mixes that with a heartfelt honest quality that’s endearing. The rest of the small cast does fine work too, and the exotic locations, cinematography and climactic action all add to the fun.

    • Jeff, in all fairness, the opening section of the movie does build the atmosphere and rounds out the characters of Widmark and Greer quite effectively. It certainly serves its purpose even if it meanders a bit. Widmark’s acting generally carries it though and he makes the part his own. Good point too about his essential honesty, a quality that almost all the great actors seemed to possess.

  7. Great review, I really like this one too, I had a poor orange tinted vhs for a long time and still got a kick out of watching it (same with Inferno). Agreed on Widmark, he had edge plus intensity and tight control as a hero. Jane Greer contracted some kind of virus tromping through the waters here, that years later led to her needing heart surgery.

  8. Thanks for a terrific review, I’m so glad to find that others like this film too. It’s one of my top ten Widmark films. 1956 was such a great year for Widmark with Backlash and Last Wagon, two other favourites. Just love those early scenes, especially the one in the bar where he and she are getting acquainted. Trevor Howard was excellent – perhaps one of the first uses of an Englishman as a baddie, as seems to have been very common in more recent films?

    • Yes, although I do feel the early section moves slowly there’s no doubt that it’s very well played. Widmark does fine work in those scenes you mention and they are quite atmospheric.
      I know the casting of Howard wasn’t the first instance of using a British actor in a villainous role but the practice seems to have become more common with the passage of time.

  9. Just stopping by to say how much I enjoyed both the film and your post, Colin! I very much enjoyed the interaction of Widmark and Greer as well as the film’s beautiful cinematography. The color photography is part of what gives it such a different tone from the pre-Code version. It’s such a compelling basic story, this is one of those times where I was glad they made a (loose) remake, as I enjoyed it as much or more than the original.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    • Yes, the photography is a big part of what makes the remake different. And I think Widmark and Greer are good together on screen.

      If anyone feels in the mood your own thoughts on the film can be found here, and they’re pretty close to mine.

    • Yes, the film looks very handsome on disc and makes a nice addition to the collection.
      Widmark has a good reputation among film fans but he really should be more widely known.

  10. I have never even heard of this movie! It sounds excellent, and I completely agree with your analysis of what made Richard Widmark such an unusual, captivating actor. The first time I ever saw him was his last movie, “True Colors” with John Cusack and James Spader; he was great in that and only got greater the further back I went in his career. I will absolutely be checking out this movie, and will absolutely be kicking myself that I’ve never heard of it before. Just when you think you’re an expert on 1950s movies…..

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