It’s a bit soon for Philip Locke to be back after he was so memorable in Incident at Midnight, but he drops out of the story very early on anyway. He is one of two criminals breaking into an office and burgling a safe, getting away with some valuable bonds, but when the police show up on the scene they hide their spoils before they can be arrested. An unspoken question hangs over the proceedings. Where did they hide those bonds?
The other criminal, and an unusual hero of the film, is Frank Stewart, played very capably and likeably by Emrys Jones. Just to make it a bit easier to sympathise with Frank, it turns out that he was forced into committing the crime. In the prison where he is resident, everyone is surprised when he stages a successful breakout just a month before he is due to be released, but the reason is pretty obvious: his accomplice is due to be released soon as well, or so he thinks, and he wants to get to the hidden bonds first. Making a cameo appearance as a prison warder is Brian Wilde, obviously carving himself out a career in those kinds of roles, a decade before Porridge. This is a film that plays to the strengths of the actors, but from the actors’ point of view it was probably all a lot of frustrating typecasting, so we have Patrick Barr as a detective, Kevin Stoney as the gang leader, and the aforementioned Locke and Wilde in familiar roles. There is also a highly amusing cameo appearance from Bee Duffell as the very nosey Mrs Thomas, who tells Frank’s squeeze Helen that she “could have sworn I saw a gentleman in there”, while Frank is hiding out, craning her neck to see through the door while she is talking.
Kevin Stoney was born to play villains, and here he is Wally Lucas, the gang leader who double-crosses Frank. Although Frank is confused, Wally’s motivation is obvious. He organises the breakout from prison, tips off the police, and paves the way for Philip Locke’s Dave Hughes to get there first on his release, while Frank will be safely behind bars for a very long time, rather than just one more month. The only slight lapse of logic is the way Wally ignores the much simpler and better option, which would be to allow Frank his freedom and then tail him until he leads the gang to the bonds. In the end, that’s what he has to do.
The final third of the film is very exciting, but also quite tough to watch. A big strength of this one is the secondary characters, who help to build up a picture of Frank as a good man, but then we have to sit through Frank’s daughter being fooled by some fake policemen, who make her think her father has committed a violent crime; we have to watch Frank being beaten up for information, in front of a desperate Helen. Finally, we have a bizarre moment when Frank gets the bonds but instead of escaping follows Wally back down into the sewers to take his revenge, which leads to the inevitable sight of the bonds floating away while the two men fight. It’s a cautionary tale of the dangers of allowing anger to take control.
On the Run not only has a great cast, but also looks great too, with an unusual amount of location filming for this series of B movies. The choice of a large building site for the scenes of Frank and Dave escaping from the crime scene allows for some striking visuals, although I suspect it was chosen because it made for some impressive shots rather than because it worked best with the script. When we see the eventual location of the hidden loot, it might as well have been any street in any city, but I was expecting something clever to do with the building site that would have somehow preserved the secret for the intervening three years.
This one reminded me a bit of The White Trap, where an escaped criminal is very much the hero of the piece. Instead of a mystery to engage the brain, we root for Frank, but ultimately it has to make for a frustrating viewing experience in the end. However much we might like him, Frank is on the wrong side of the law, and there’s only one way that can go in an Edgar Wallace Mystery. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Return to Sender
Whether we like or dislike the criminal character in the story, certainly for an anthology episode, it can be the potential humanization of that criminal that earns all the watchable elements. From On The Run to The Usual Suspects, it’s an enduring traditional in our fictional entertainment, and even sometimes in films based on real criminals like Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can. It might therefore make us in the audience feel more humanized if we may have some kind of identification or sympathy for such characters. Thanks, RP, for your review and for reminding us all why we may still have places in our hearts for such dramatic thrillers.
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