Run for the Sun (DVD Review)14 May, 2012 By: Mike Clark
Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Stars Richard Widmark, Jane Greer, Trevor Howard, Peter van Eyck.
It’s impossible to lumber through all 140 or so impersonal minutes of The Hunger Games without thinking of all the screen versions of Richard Connell’s short story perennial The Most Dangerous Game. The kind of rouser just made for anthologies, it ended up being assigned as part of my ninth-grade English class reading — as was Carl Stephenson’s equally outdoorsy Leiningen vs. the Ants (itself filmed as 1954’s The Naked Jungle and teaming Charlton Heston and a zillion carnivorous red little buggers).
The most obvious adaptations of Connell’s story were the eponymous 1932 David O. Selznick version from the King Kong team of Merian C. Cooper (co-producer) and Ernest B. Schoedsack (director) — and its “B” 1945 remake A Game of Death, which was directed by the young Robert Wise an eternity he won dual Oscars for helming Jets, Sharks and the Von Trapp family. Less literal Dangerous versions were a 1961 “Z” called Bloodlust, which came five years after this fondly remembered (by at least some) Richard Widmark-Jane Greer variation, which added welcome Technicolor to the mix. The script here — credited to Sun director Roy Boulting and screenwriting royalty Dudley Nichols — takes so many liberties with the story that I didn’t think until this viewing that 1956’s Run for the Sun was anything more than someone’s “unofficial” salvo. But there’s Connell’s name right there in the opening credits, so OK.
Widmark plays a boozy author-adventurer obviously molded on Ernest Hemingway — and, in fact, when the character crashes his plane in a Central American jungle and is presumed dead, his captor (Trevor Howard) notes that Widmark will now be able to read his own obituaries (which is something that actually happened to Hemingway once when he crashed his own plane in the jungle). But we’re getting ahead of the story. The movie’s first half, which is pretty well carried by the romantic leads and Joseph LaShelle’s outstanding cinematography, deals with an undercover magazine reporter palming herself off as a stranded hellhole tourist so she can learn why a famous writer and onetime war correspondent gave up his profession so he could booze in solitude.
Following a flirtation that threatens to bog down the narrative, the two eventually fly out and crash-land in Howard’s middle-of-nowhere fortress (though not a factor, it’s noteworthy that Widmark likes to fortify his flying by taking a belt or two in the cockpit). Also living alone without women on these spacious digs is a Howard colleague played by Peter Van Eyck — the actor who had perhaps the best career of them all playing what were usually referred to as “krauts” in old World War II movies. The associative casting (and the story’s locale) offer something of a hint to what these boys are up to — as well as what they did in their wartime pasts; their new guests quickly size it up that they’d better fly this coop. But with a damaged plane, the captives have to ankle it through the jungle — which is how this version differs from the previous versions of Connell’s story (or, for that matter, The Hunger Games). The pursuit here has nothing to do with sport, just plain old survival.
Sporting hair that continuously looks great through the ordeal, Greer comes through with terrific reaction shot screams, in great contrast to the icy calculation of the femme trouble she plays in the noir all-timer Out of the Past. According to IMDb.com, the actress learned to manipulate her facial expressions as therapy after she developed some sort of face-afflicting palsy as a teen. (And insult to injury, she picked up with some kind of virus filming Sun on its Mexican location and later had to have heart surgery because of it.) This is also a movie where Greer’s emoting even looked good in the original poster art, which I recall hanging at my neighborhood Grandview Theater around August of ’56 — when a perfect kids’ day would have been to go to the pool in the early afternoon, see Sun and the co-feature (probably a cheap black-and-white Western) in the late afternoon and come back to listen to listen to some Elvis in the first summer of his reign.
Sun is the best of four films produced by former Rams quarterback Robert (Bob) Waterfield from the days when he was married to Jane Russell, thanks in part to some memorable dispatching of its villains. Waterfield also had a (mercifully) brief acting career himself, most notably in 1951’s Jungle Manhunt, part of the Johnny Weissmuller Jungle Jim series. In one of its year’s big casting stretches, he played a football player who’s lost in the jungle. To put it charitably, the movie is, uh, rarely revived.