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STUDIO: Warner Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
• Theatrical trailer
‘E’s a lonely lad. ‘E’s running a long bloody way. E’s a good chap ‘e is.
Tom Courtenay, Michael Redgrave, Avis Bunnage, James Bolam, Topsy Jane, Julia Foster.
"Trying hard now *gasp*…getting strong now *wheez*…gonna fly now *vomits*…"
Collin Smith is a Nottingham juvenile who’s sent to reform school for breaking into a bakery with his mate, Mike. While there, he curries the favor of the Governor through his prowess as a cross country runner. The governor hopes to use Smith to win a cup in an athletic competition with a rival school. During his many training runs, Smith reflects on his misbegotten life and how he arrived to be in his current situation. He then has to decide who he’s really running for and why.
Filmed in 1962, the first thing this black and white film reminds me of are the films like The Bicycle Thief and The 400 Blows that I watched way back in film class. Runner paints Smith’s life as a malcontented youth trying to deal with the death of his father and his overbearing mother’s indifference and infidelity with her live-in boyfriend before Smith’s father is even cold. That part of the story is told via flashbacks as Smith reminisces while doing time in the pokey. Smith is your typical rebellious type who’s just looking to do his time, while also continuing to have disdain for the system, which he partially blames for sending his father to an early grave as a low wage laborer.
"For the love of Christ, could somebody please switch off that friggin’ Vangelis music?!!"
As the parallel story – past and present – is told, Smith spends most of his time running in reform school, in preparation for the sports day competition for which the governor hopes to use him. Smith’s rise to athletic golden boy is at the expense of his standing as one of the regular blokes that he shares bunk space with, and the former best runner of the school, who picks a fight with him. The governor (Michael Redgrave), singles him out for special privilege, including allowing him to train outside the school’s walls by himself as a sign of trust. The governor is the standard, old school stiff-upper-lipped “pip, pip cheerio, old boy!” type, the kind of person that Smith despises, yet he goes along with it all.
Um, I’m gonna let this one go and just chalk it up to…cultural differences…yeah…
The more interesting aspect of the tale, however, is told in Smith’s days leading up to his incarceration. He doesn’t get along with his mother, who takes the insurance money supplied by her husband’s employer and blows it on things mostly for herself, and has her boyfriend, Gordon, move in pretty much right after the funeral. Smith and Gordon are not pals to be certain and they have frequent arguments. To pass the time, Smith hangs out with his buddy, Mike, and pulls the occasional job of boosting a car for a joyride with some chicks they pick up or breaking into the aforementioned bakery. The two girls, Gladys and Audrey, become Smith and Mike’s girls and they spend some time away from the dreariness of Nottingham in a seaside town getaway. But they realize that they have to go back and none of them are happy about it.
"Blimey, did this Coulter chick just call that Edwards bloke a faggot?"
"Bugger, she’s even an even crazier bitch than I thought…"
When the big running competition finally rolls around, Smith proves himself to indeed be a formidable runner. But he makes a fateful decision at the end when he thinks about all of the issues, his trouble with authority, his father’s death, the system in general, his relationships with Mike and Audrey, and his kowtowing to being the governor’s pet just to get a little special treatment. The narrative tends to drift a bit here and there and the transitions aren’t always the smoothest. And the ending is fairly open ended and not completely satisfying. One thing you also have to make yourself aware of, is that you pretty much have to be from the ole blighty isle to understand half of what these guys are saying. It’s like watching an entire movie spoken by Austin Powers and his father in their Cockney dialogue. Groovy, baby.
"Okay, only 40 years until I get my Ipod…"
The film is in 1962 black and white and the quality isn’t always the best. But what’s really dreadful is the audio level (English Mono). I made copious use of the subtitles because I couldn’t hear what they were saying half the time and the other time I couldn’t understand them even when I did. The only special feature is the theatrical trailer. And damned if Tom Courtenay doesn’t look like Thomas Haden Church on the cover. Blimey.