It takes a while for The Runaround to get started… actually, I suppose it’d more accurate to say it stalls out after the first fifteen minutes, then takes another twenty or so to get started again. The film starts out strong with Frank McHugh in a sidekick role–McHugh’s perfect in that role–and lead Rod Cameron is appealing (even if he’s not the most emotive actor). The first fifteen minutes are a comedic chase between Cameron and opponent (they’re private detectives competing–whoever brings home the missing heiress wins) Broderick Crawford. Crawford’s really broad in this role, so broad it got me thinking about the use of the term to describe performances. It doesn’t hurt the film much (though, obviously, a really good performance would have been nice), but it is a surprise coming from Crawford. There’s not much in the script, but it’s open enough he could have done something with it.
Then Ella Raines shows up (as the missing heiress) and the movie stalls out. The script tries to force her in to the existing chance and competition sequences already going and it starts getting tiresome around the forty minute mark. The characters had been moving east–from California–for a few minutes with the same gags going on, then there’s a wonderfully choreographed chase scene involving a dozen taxis and… the movie changes. A lot has to do with Raines’s character developing, but it also changes tone. The Runaround changes, almost immediately, in to a great road movie. There’s still the competition and chase elements, but they become third and fourth, behind the romance and the road movie.
Lamont is a particularly good fight scene director–I’m pretty sure the scene where Crawford knocks the door shut with a jump kick is really him–and he has some other nice sequences. Most of them are on the road… It’s nice how the movie can skirt taking too long to get where it’s going and putting in some substandard minutes and not call attention to the obvious quality shift (oddly, the less McHugh is in the story, the better the movie). It plays like it needed a rewrite, like the writers figured out certain aspects of the story when writing the script, then never went back to tighten up the scenes.
There are also quite a few good more traditional comedy moments (particularly the hotel with the annoyingly friendly employees or the husband and wife who are supposed to be acting like newlyweds, but after six years and three kids, find the idea repugnant) and they contribute to The Runaround’s success. But most of the credit belongs to Cameron and Raines’s chemistry, even if she’s done far better work in other films (though, like I said before, the script works against her for her first fifteen minutes or so).
Directed by Charles Lamont; screenplay by Sam Hellman and Arthur T. Horman, based on a story by Horman and Walter Wise; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Joseph Gershenson; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Ella Raines (Penelope), Rod Cameron (Kildane), Broderick Crawford (Louis Prentiss), Frank McHugh (Wally Quayle), George Cleveland (Feenan the cabbie), Joan Shawlee (Baby Willis), Samuel S. Hinds (Norman Hampton), Joe Sawyer (Hutchins), Nana Bryant (Mrs. Mildred Hampton), Dave Willock (Willis), Charles Coleman (Butler) and Jack Overman (Cusack).