The Loneliest Runner (1976 TV Movie)
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Is it credible and well acted? Definitely. Does Landon demonstrate startling balls and emotion in his blazingly frank depiction of the material? Unquestionably. Is this studiously observed treatise on the ultimate in childhood embarrassment and ridicule going to be uncomfortable and maybe even a bit of a bummer for you? Probably.
The mother and ostensible villain of the piece is overly caricatured and some of the attitudes of the 1940s are oversimplified but still, I have to admit I was moved by the story. The ending packs power and Landon the writer provides Landon the actor (looking very Bruce Jenner-like in his Olympics clothing) with a wonderful line when Rafer Johnson asks him how he got into running and Landon responds by saying he owes it to his parents. That line cuts in several directions at once. Good movie for fans of Landon or Keith, who both turn in excellent work and whose lives were both ironically cut short years later.
I saw this TV movie when it first aired back in 1976. Lance Kerwin, in some really good acting, plays early teen John Curtis who has a bed wetting problem. The movie lures you in with sympathy for the boy and it is very effective. Michael Landon plays John Curtis as an adult, an ace runner, who we see breaking through the finish line at the start of the film . While pondering the question of his track abilities during an interview, he stares into a wall clock that triggers a childhood flashback. The story unfolds as we witness young John Curtis rising early and scampering to gather his bedsheets for washing. Johns father(Brian Keith)who internally wants to help his son, lives in a household where he appears to be verbally dominated by his wife. As a father with a secret, he tries with heavy machismo to reach and cure his son. At the age of 12 or 13, John's fear of being ridiculed for bed-wetting by his parents and friends is monumental, and understandably so. He desperately tries though shear will and lack of sleep to end or hide his condition to please his parents. You really feel his pain.
This may all sound like a boring or outdated topic, but stay with it to see a family dynamic exposed and some great acting as well by Brian Keith. John obviously has a condition that can't be helped. You could almost apply any embarrassing ailment, or even an addiction to the story and get a good message from it. His mother is downright mean and determined to embarrass her son by hanging his urine stained bed sheets out the window for all his friends and neighbors to see. The film takes place in the 50s so you can somewhat understand the naivete'. To avoid ridicule John bolts home from school everyday to take the sheets in before they can be seen. Doing this daily, he develops great speed and is recognized by the school track coach as a standout. A wonderful and eventually forceful showing of compassion by dad makes it all worthwhile. As we return to the adult John Curtis at the films end, he makes a bittersweet and humbling statement (in true Landon fashion). The Loneliest Runner is a surprisingly interesting and entertaining movie. If your in the mood to stir up emotions, this well done and probably forgotten seventies TV movie will do it. Watching it as a parent by yourself could be a learning experience. The Loneliest Runner deserves a quality DVD release.
How many times have we, as parents or just people, criticized another person without thinking of how our criticism can hurt? Maybe it's something the person can control and maybe it's not. But our criticism can last and hurt for years, as has my memory of this movie.
I don't remember if the mother in this film took her child to a doctor. Even if she had, she wouldn't have gotten much help. Fortunately now, medical science can relieve the problems of bed-wetting in adolescents and adults with a simple nasal spray of the hormones lacking in the person, hormones which shut down the kidneys when sleeping.
a true generational flick.
only recently when one peer said, "hey, 'james at 15' played the kid." was i able to track down the name of it.
yay for the internet!
Back to the film, it charts a 14 year old who runs home each day to retrieve his soiled sheet which his Mother hangs out of the window as a punishment. This running ability eventually lands him a gold medal at the Olympics. All totally unbelievable. Why didn't the boy just remove the sheet himself in the morning when he got up ? Michael Landon described the film as semi autobiographical. I'd have loved to have seen him running on his 4 packs of smokes per day.
Not very good and certainly not a true story.
The mother made me sick, how she mentally, verbally, and psychologically tortured that boy. Anyone with half a brain knows that no sane kindergarten child, let alone a teenager, would wet the bed on purpose and subject himself to all that crap day after day.
The father made me even sicker, how he failed to stand up for his son, and how he lied to the doctor. "No, I didn't wet the bed when I was a child." In the end it turned out he had. Why didn't he tell the doctor the truth? Because he didn't want to be embarrassed? He'd rather let his son carry the full load of embarrassment himself? Especially knowing exactly what his son was going through, Dad should have been supportive. Furthermore, I kept waiting for that wimpazoid to grow some you-know-whats and tell his abusive wife off, but I waited the length of the entire movie for nothing more than, "Alice, will you shut up?" Shut up? Is that all? How about shut up, pack your bags, hit the road, and never come near this boy again unless you want to be arrested for child abuse?
The late, great, Michael Landon went on to write and direct much better work than this. Perhaps it's just because it was an early work that it falls so far short of his standard. Even Leonardo DaVinci had to start out scribbling.