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Run For the Sun
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Run For the Sun

A near-perfect example of the short story form and required reading for some during their formative years in high school English class, "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell told a thrilling tale of depravity and survival set on a remote island in the Malay archipelago. A shipwreck survivor, Rober Rainsford, swims to safety on the island only to find it inhabited by the diabolical Count Zaroff, a Russian aristocrat who has grown bored with hunting animals and replaced it with "the most dangerous game" of all - hunting men. By coincidence, Rainsford is also a skillful hunter and proves to be more than a match for Zaroff and his armed men.

It was inevitable that Connell's story would be adapted to the screen and in 1932 Joel McCrea, Leslie Banks and Fay Wray starred in a version for RKO produced by Merian C. Cooper and co-directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Irving Pichel on some of the same sets as Cooper and Schoedsack's King Kong (1933). Though it is still widely regarded as the best and most faithful version of Connell's story, that didn't stop filmmakers from remaking it or stealing plot elements from it over the past century. One of the most curious versions of "The Most Dangerous Game," which was shot in black and white and budgeted as a B-film, is Run for the Sun (1956) which, unlike the RKO original, was filmed in color, featured an A-list cast including Richard Widmark, Jane Greer, Trevor Howard and Peter van Eyck, and was directed by Roy Boulting, who with his twin brother John, enjoyed international acclaim for their collaborations on such award-winning British films as Thunder Rock [1943], Seven Days to Noon [1950], and The Magic Box [1951].

In what was once a terse and economic narrative, Run for the Sun embellishes Connell's original story with a romantic subplot, protracted back-stories on the main characters and even allows for the inclusion of two songs, "Taco" and "Triste Ranchero", as background music in two scenes. Count Zaroff is now the mysterious Mr. Browne (Trevor Howard), a traitor to his native England during World War II, who is living in seclusion with his brother-in-law, Van Anders (Peter van Eyck), a wanted Nazi war criminal. Rainsford, the story's original hero, is now Mike Latimer (Richard Widmark), a Hemingwayesque writer suffering from writers' block and a failed marriage. Jane Greer plays Katy Connors, a Confidential magazine-like reporter, who pretends to be an adventurous tourist while she secretly prepares a tabloid expose on the reclusive and once-famous writer. Like the Fay Wray character in the 1932 film version, Katy didn't exist in the original Connell story; in fact, there were no female characters.

With high production values and so much talent in front of and behind the camera, Run for the Sun had the potential to be a first-rate adventure thriller but the film, though it does manage to generate some tension and suspense during the climactic hunt sequences, is a disappointing attempt to capture the excitement of the original. Part of the blame can be put on the extraneous romantic subplot (Widmark and Greer lack the necessary screen chemistry together to pull this off) but director Roy Boulting also seems to sabotage his own pacing with unnecessary exposition scenes involving the secret identities of Browne and Van Anders. The most interesting aspects of Run for the Sun have little to do with the finished film and revolve around the pre- and post-production details.

Filmed on location in Mexico, Run for the Sun marked a return to the screen for Jane Greer who had retired from movies in 1953 to have children and be a housewife. It was Roy Boulting's first American picture and an opportunity for a breakout commercial success on his own without his brother's involvement. For Trevor Howard, who was experiencing a mid-career slump after enjoying such early acclaim for his performances in Brief Encounter [1945] and The Third Man [1949], it was the chance to distinguish himself in a memorable part (even though he was not the first choice for the role - it was Leo Genn).

Greer was surprised when she arrived on the set and realized that only she and Richard Widmark had dressing rooms but not Trevor Howard. Appalled at the lack of respect being shown an actor of Howard's reputation, she convinced producer Harry Tatelman to give Howard his own dressing room which led to a lifelong friendship between Greer and Howard. Greer's stand-in, Marge Guterman, also became close friends with Howard during production which led to rumors of an affair between them. It wasn't true and the gossip ended after Marge meet Howard's wife Helen and was warmly welcomed into their inner social circle.

The real problems that developed during the filming of Run for the Sun had little to do with actors' egos and everything to do with the difficult location and the action sequences. In the latter half of the movie, "...Greer and Widmark - running, jumping, climbing - make like foxes fleeing bloodhounds. Jane threw herself into the fray, eager to prove she hadn't gone soft. Dragged through the rapids by Widmark, she smashed her tailbone on a rock beneath the surface. Skin broke, and a bad bruise rose, but Jane soldiered on, next day wading through take after take in fetid swamp water. Four days later her back was horribly swollen. She was flown to Mexico City, where doctors debated over diagnoses while a five-headed growth erupted on her spine." (from Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir by Eddie Muller).

Greer temporarily recovered from her illness in time to make her next feature opposite James Cagney, Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), but her medical condition soon proved to be more insidious and life-threatening to the actress than originally diagnosed. "Jane's Run for the Sun swamp scene, it turned out, had indeed exposed her to a rare virus known as Coxsaci B - only recently isolated and identified. The virus had lain dormant for five years, slowly, insidiously marshaling its attack. Coxsaci's singular purpose is to erode the pericardium, the heart's protective membrane."

Greer was soon sent to Houston where Dr. Michael DeBakey, a renowned heart transplant pioneer, monitored her condition over a three-month period prior to the necessary surgery. "Her chest was laid open, a sternum saw cutting through the breastbone. DeBakey delicately endeavored, over four hours, to remove all remnants of the infected membrane without stopping her heart." Fortunately, the operation was completely successful and Greer recovered though she wouldn't make another film until 1964 (Where Love Has Gone). Greer, of course, was lucky to be alive but her career never recovered from the hiatus caused by Run for the Sun. To almost die for your art is one thing but to almost die from appearing in a mediocre film is enough to give any actor pause about a career in the movies.

Producer: Harry Tatelman, Robert Waterfield, Jane Russell
Director: Roy Boulting
Screenplay: Roy Boulting, Dudley Nichols, Richard Connell (story)
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Film Editing: Frederic Knudtson
Art Direction: Alfred Ybarra
Music: Frederick Steiner
Cast: Richard Widmark (Michael Latimer), Trevor Howard (Browne), Jane Greer (Katherine Connors), Peter van Eyck (Dr. Van Anders), Juan Garcia (Fernandez), Jose Antonio Carbajal (Paco).
C-99m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford

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