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Sam Laker is an American industrialist, working in Britain, who has just been awarded an international award for industrial design. He is planning to travel to East Germany to attend a trade show and show off his invention, taking his 10 year old son with him for a holiday. Meanwhile a British Intelligence officer who served with Laker in the Second World War decides to use the opportunity of Laker's trip and his lack of an intelligence profile to coerce him into carrying out an assassination. Written by
Sean Brennan <email@example.com>
Frank Sinatra seemed to be in a thriller mood during the mid-to-late 1960s: in fact, he did five such genre efforts in quick succession – beginning with the caper ASSAULT ON A QUEEN (1966; which I’ve lost more times on Italian TV than I care to remember!) and concluding with LADY IN CEMENT (1968; with which I’ll be ending my Sinatra marathon in tribute to the 10th anniversary of his passing).
THE NAKED RUNNER (needless to say, the title is metaphorical) was different in that it was a British production and dealt in espionage (a heavy-going brand of thriller prevalent during the Cold War); in that respect, the film’s humorlessness is matched by the bleakness of its locations…but, unfortunately, the plot itself doesn’t ignite great involvement from the viewer either – so that director Furie’s trademark stylistics largely fall flat! Furie had just had a hit with the similar THE IPCRESS FILE (1965) – which started off Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer series of spy thrillers; that character was noted for being the antithesis of James Bond (obviously, the prototype of the secret agent) – being pretty much a normal ‘bloke’ as opposed to an invincible stud (incidentally, I’ve just acquired a couple of Matt Helm titles which actually follow the Bond mould and, curiously enough, star Sinatra’s old chum Dean Martin)!
This one, then, goes even further by making its hero a complete outsider – not only having been out of practice for over twenty years but he’s also a foreigner (and a family man to boot!); thrust into a situation he can’t really grasp, rather than emerge as some kind of victor by the end of it, he realizes he’s been duped all along…and, just as cynically, the director cuts things off abruptly without so much as an explanation or an apology from his ‘employers’ or even a proper coda! Some have singled out this finale as being responsible for the film’s lack of popularity; however, as I said, it never really takes off and Sinatra himself seems uncomfortable within this environment – despite expert cinematography by Otto Heller (who lensed a good many films of this type) and a suitably melancholic score from Harry Sukman. Perhaps it needed a stronger female role than Nadia Gray, the Sinatra character’s old flame from the war years, who disappears after only a couple of brief scenes – and his son, too, is treated more than anything like a prop! That said, the supporting cast includes a number of dependable British actors who all pull their weight – even if their characters aren’t always clearly defined (another deliberate attitude common to spy stuff from this era): Peter Vaughn, Derren Nesbitt, Cyril Luckham and a young Edward Fox.
Incidentally, the producer of this film was actor Brad Dexter, the least-known member of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960); he was a personal friend of Sinatra’s whom he actually saved from drowning while filming Sinatra’s sole directorial stint, NONE BUT THE BRAVE (1965). I’ve recently come across conflicting reports on the reason why Sinatra severed his friendship with Dexter i.e. Sinatra didn’t want to be reminded of his indebtedness to Dexter or because Dexter tried to talk Sinatra out of marrying the much-younger Mia Farrow. Well, another valid reason could well have been because Dexter had saddled Sinatra with this lame thriller!!
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