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When heavy fog prevents all aircraft from leaving London airport, a group of passengers take an airline bus to get them to an alternative airport. However, one among their number is the mastermind behind a bullion robbery at the airport... and particularly keen to escape the fog! Written by
One of the foundation stones of conventional movie wisdom is that only seven possible story scenarios are suitable for a mass audience. Recently, screenwriter Blake Snyder has expanded this concept to ten: Monster in the House, Dude with a Problem, Fool Triumphant, Superhero, Buddy Love, Out of a Bottle, Institution, Golden Fleece, Rights-of-Passage, and Whydunit.
You'd think that Mr Snyder had taken The Runaway Bus as his model, for Val Guest was inspired to use all but one of the above basics in constructing his heavily-laced plot: Monster in the House? Yes, we do have a major variation on a haunted house sequence. Dude with a Problem? Yes, a big problem. He's lost his way in the fog with a bus-load of eccentric passengers. Fool Triumphant? I'll say! Superhero? No, I'm glad to declare, but it's the only one we miss out on. Buddy Love? Yes, there's a girl on the bus. Two girls to be precise: perky, petite-as-a-picture Petula Clark and emptyheaded-but-wow-of-a-figure Belinda Lee! Out of a Bottle? Not quite the sort of addiction that Snyder implies, but cranky-as-a-hoot-owl Margaret Rutherford certainly gives that impression. Institution? Definitely! The characters find themselves in a "prison", and even the airport itself is virtually cut off and isolated. Golden Fleece? A major strand of the plot. Rights-of-Passage? That's also what it's all about. And Whydunit is actually a Whodunit here and this is the number one element of Guest's scenario. In fact, comedy really takes a second place to the mystery.
For what is to all intents and purposes his movie debut, Frankie Howard seems most fortunate to have gained a big assist from writer/producer/director Val Guest who has surrounded him with a fine cast and great production values. Oddly, although the movie won critical praise, it did only moderately well at the British box office. For once, the critics were right, and picturegoers wrong. Howard's comic gifts are considerable and he comes across as a comedian with a genuinely original and amusing style.
Producer Guest was taking no chances, however. In addition to Frankie, he has cast Margaret Rutherford at her eccentric best, Petula Clark (no, fans, she doesn't sing in The Runaway Bus, but you can't have everything), Belinda Lee (inclined to over-enthusiastically over-act in this, her first feature film, but who's complaining?), Toke Townley (a first-class character actor who spent most of his career playing bit parts), and perennial Hollywood heavy, George Coulouris. Although he doesn't share a single scene with his wife, Margaret Rutherford's real-life husband, Stringer Davis, has a small role as an airport official and one of the funniest lines. Explaining that the emergency bus can only be used in an emergency, he's told that at the reception desk an old lady is haranguing the staff with an umbrella. I love his laconic reply: "That's an emergency!"
Producer/writer/director Guest has also hedged his bets with the screenplay itself by making the mystery and thriller angles of the story as intriguing and suspenseful as other episodes are chucklesome and amusing. The identity of the mystery "Banker" is cleverly disguised, whilst superbly film noirish photography and grand-scale art direction (that must have strained Southall's comparatively small studio space to the limit) contribute splendidly to the spooky atmosphere.
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