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John Howard Reid

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Frank Sinatra's Best British Film
by John Howard Reid   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, August 01, 2009
Posted: Saturday, August 01, 2009

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In fact, "The Naked Runner" is Frank Sinatra's only British movie. (Some people think "The List of Adrian Messenger" was filmed in Britain. Not so, it is a Hollywood production, although Ted Scaife did lens some background locations in Europe and an extremely large number of British character players were assembled, including Anita Sharp-Bolster, Delphi Lawrence and Noel Purcell). Sinatra had intended to make more films in England, but this plan did not eventuate. "The Naked Runner" is but one of the over 200 films covered in detail in "AMERICA'S BEST, BRITAIN'S FINEST: A Survey of Mixed Movies" by John Howard Reid. In the film trade, a "mixed movie" is defined as a film that features both British and American players.

The Naked Runner

Frank Sinatra (Sam Laker), Peter Vaughan (Slattery), Derren Nesbitt (Colonel Hartmann), Nadia Gray (Karen), Toby Robins (Ruth), Inger Stratton (Anna), Cyril Luckham (cabinet minister), Edward Fox (Ritchie Jackson), J. Dubin-Berhmann (Joseph), Michael Newport (Patrick Laker).

Directed by SIDNEY J. FURIE. Screenplay by Stanley Mann. Based on the 1966 novel by Francis Clifford. Director of photography: Otto Heller. In Technicolor and Techniscope. Art director: Peter Proud. Film editor: Barry Vince. Continuity: Pat Moon. Furniture by Hille of London Ltd. Titles by Don Record. Production manager: Fred Slark. Music by Harry Sukman. Assistant art director: Bill Alexander. Sound recordists: Maurice Askew, Peter Davies. Sound editors: Arthur Ridot, Alan Bell. Camera operator: Godfrey Godar. Hairdresser: Barbara Ritchie. Assistant director: Michael Dryhurst. Produced by Brad Dexter.

Copyright 31 December 1966 by Artanis Productions [a wholly-owned U.K. subsidiary of Frank Sinatra Enterprises]. A Sinatra Enterprises Production. Released through Warner Bros. New York opening simultaneously at the Murray Hill and the Forum: 19 July 1967. U.K. release: 20 August 1967. Australian release: 30 November 1967. Running times: 104 minutes (USA), 102 minutes (UK), 101 minutes (including censor classification footage) (Aust).

SYNOPSIS: Sam Laker (Frank Sinatra), an American widower who designs furniture in England, is planning to take his 14-year-old son, Patrick (Michael Newport), on a business trip to the Leipzig Fair behind the Iron Curtain. Before he leaves, Laker gets a call from a wartime buddy, Martin Slattery (Peter Vaughan), with whom Laker served in Special Operations in Germany. Slattery, who is with British Intelligence, wants Laker to deliver a message in Leipzig. Reluctantly, Laker agrees when Slattery says it will help Karen Gisevius (Nadia Gray), an underground member who had helped him during the war.

Laker arrives in East Germany and makes contact with Karen. Upon returning to his hotel, he learns that his son has had an “accident” and is lured to a forest hideout where he meets Hartmann (Derren Nesbitt), a colonel in the East German State Security Service.

COMMENT: Whatever happened to Sidney J. Furie? Once hailed as the brightest spark to hit British films in the 60s, his reputation has suffered a general eclipse. None of his films have been shown on TV for decades — and those that were aired couldn’t be described as “presented” anyway. I mean, there’s no way — short of CinemaScope formatting (an absolute no-no for the commercial stations) — you can air Furie’s major movies on TV. They’re all so tightly composed, no amount of juggling will make them fit. Angry customers swamp the station switchboards with complaints: “Something’s wrong with your projectionist. Half of Michael Caine’s head keeps gettin’ cut off. Tell the clowns to wake up!”

As a program manager told me about twenty years ago: “Yes, The Ipcress File is in our library. And yes, we do occasionally get requests to schedule it. But no, as long as I’m manager here, we’ll never show it again. It’s just not worth the flack.”

Another problem of course is that Furie lost favor with the critics. The Naked Runner was roundly jeered at and counted out in every newspaper from Bangkok to Bourke. For once, their lettered and unwashed readers agreed with editorial judgments. Despite a massive advertising campaign, The Naked Runner wound up as a large red-ink entry in Sinatra’s accounts.

Personally, I regard The Naked Runner as the best spy film to come out of England. Even more suspense, surprises and twists than Pimpernel Smith or Night Train to Munich. Edge-of-the-seat excitement all the way, thanks to the inventive Sid Furie mixing in the Cold War and one of the finest supporting casts ever seen. Furie achieves most of his effects by editing rather than camera movement and his compositions are continually engrossing. The script is a model of gripping suspense. Only the final few seconds are a bit of a let-down. Otto Heller’s brilliant cinematography, the fine sets and effective music score make a notable contribution to the film’s success.

OTHER VIEWS: I remember Peter Vaughan. It’s 35 years since I’ve seen The Naked Runner but the ominously looming image of Peter Vaughan is firmly engraved on my memory. I’ve seen him in other parts, including the TV adaptation of Our Mutual Friend, but none of them made the same highly forceful impression. The same goes for Derren Nesbitt. Best part he ever played too. Exotic Nadia Gray has presence, as always. Though her part here is rather small, you can’t forget her first encounter with Sinatra. While producer Frankie himself does a brilliant job of dramatic work as the harassed, “ordinary” businessman, worn down by and inextricably caught up in spirallingly hideous events over which he has no control.

— G.A.

Web Site: New Movie Books

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