RogerBW's Blog

The Running Man 16 September 2023

1987 science fiction action, dir. Paul Michael Glaser, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Dawson: IMDb / allmovie. The only real game is the game of death.

So it's The Most Dangerous Game again, but it's all a bit flat even when we get there. This has the air of a production that nobody cared about, and everyone's motto was "eh, good enough, we ain't making art here".

Part of the problem is that we never see how the game is supposed to work. There's this idea of multiple zones to flee through, but they all look the same and there's no suggestion of what the goal might look like. The footage of a "normal" game that we see at the beginning is taken from Arnie's run later on in the film. So it just comes down to a bunch of big guys trying to kill Arnie, and instead he kills them. Those big guys (Toru Tanaka, Gus Rethwisch, Erland van Lidth and Jim Brown) provide the colour and distraction, but they're practically non-verbal, just a physical threat with occasional grunted quips. I suppose having to find actors big enough to look credible menacing Arnie does put some limitation on casting…

But it's quite a while before we even get into the game. Arnie has to have his Moral Moment, then get imprisoned, then do the explosive collar thing (which was presumably the inspiration for Wedlock, a film I still regard with unreasonable fondness), then break out of prison, then meet the Girl (who apparently didn't change the lock code when she moved into her new apartment), then get caught again and dumped into the game – by which point we're a quarter of the way through the film. I mean, sure, picaresque detail about how horrible the world is, but…

Then the game is interleaved with the Resistance (mostly Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac), because if you can just show the people that the government lied about this one thing, they'll rise up and… all right, it was 1987 and it seemed a little more plausible. And obviously the government wouldn't just shoot all the rioters and carry on, in this world where they've happily done exactly that once already that we've seen.

Here's a weirdness. One of the key points is that the masses are radicalised by being shown the original footage of Arnie in the sequence at the start of the film, rather than the version that makes him look like the bad guy. And yet the version that plays on the screen is clearly not the same footage, with quite different line readings – so why would the (real-world) filmmakers not just use the same piece of film for both? Hey ho… maybe they had to choose one version to go on the screens before the final cut had picked one for the "real" version.

It has its moments, sure. But it's trying to be a Network, to say that TV is the opiate of the masses (but film is completely different of course), and at the same time it just plays everything utterly straight. "I'm your court-appointed theatrical agent" is a great line, but it's one of all too few, and most of the time there's just no self-awareness.

On this viewing I was particularly impressed by Richard Dawson as the evil game show host, and the face of the villainous system; he'd just spent nine years as the original host of Family Feud, and I can't help feeling this must have been very cathartic for him.

Steven E. de Souza, producer of this film, said in an interview some years later that footage from it was used in the pitch for American Gladiators. "We're doing exactly this, except the murdering part."

(IMO it's still better than the book, which is unrelieved 1970s grim even though it came out in 1982.)

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

See also:
The Most Dangerous Game, Richard Connell

  1. Posted by John P at 10:16pm on 17 September 2023

    I like the music on the credits - Restless Heart by John Parr!

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 09:22am on 18 September 2023

    You never told me about your career writing music for trashy '80s action films!

  3. Posted by John P at 09:13pm on 18 September 2023

    I don't tell you everything.

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