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  Man on the Run The Deserter Song
Year: 1949
Director: Lawrence Huntington
Stars: Joan Hopkins, Derek Farr, Edward Chapman, Laurence Harvey, Howard Marion-Crawford, Alfie Bass, John Bailey, John Stuart, Edward Underdown, Leslie Perrins, Kenneth More, Martin Miller, Cameron Hall, Eleanor Summerfield, Anthony Nicholls, Valentine Dyall
Genre: Drama, Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Peter Burden (Derek Farr) has been the barman in this quiet seaside pub for a couple of years now, and the regulars are accustomed to him and like him, but why does he look as if he has seen a ghost when a stranger (Kenneth More) happens to walk into the tavern and orders a drink? Peter gives nothing away, but on returning home he meets the stranger along the way, and it is clear he knows him from their Army days. The problem? Those Army days were truncated for Peter when after a particularly bad war he deserted before his duty was complete, and now he lives in the fear that he will be recognised and brought to trial by someone like this old colleague; worse, this man demands money to keep his mouth shut, money Peter does not have - he must go on the run once more.

Sometimes you can tell what inspired a film, as far as the script went, because the results look strongly like an issue movie, that is, a project designed to make a case for a specific issue or injustice: they used to call it special pleading. Here it was blatantly made because writer and director Lawrence Huntington had heard about the matter of the thousands of deserters in Britain, at large and unpardoned, who deserved a break and to have the charges against them dropped on largely compassionate grounds. To make this case, he concocted a tale of a man who was blameless in every other aspect of his life who becomes caught in a web of crime when he tries to pawn his Army revolver (unloaded) at a London jeweller's only to immediately hit an even worse run of ill fortune.

This is down to the fact that no sooner has he drawn his gun for non-violent purposes, two heavies burst in behind him and draw guns for quite the opposite - this is a stick-up! The jeweller is having none of this and refuses to comply, whereupon he is abruptly shot, and to make matters worse the thugs flee the scene and gun down a policeman in the process. Our hapless hero escapes too, but while the copper dies, the shopkeeper survives and believes Peter is one of the robbers: since he did not wear a mask and the others did, he can be identified. He lays low but realises he will have to collar the criminals himself, though this means avoiding the police and anyone on the lookout for him, which brings us to Farr's co-star and love interest, Joan Hopkins, playing lonely war widow Jean Adams.

Hopkins made a small handful of appearances around the second half of the nineteen-forties before retiring for her home life, so on this evidence was the screen robbed of a scintillating presence? Well, she was well-matched to Farr at least, for they were both rather stiff and uncharismatic here, speaking in terribly posh dialect that probably renders Man on the Run more creaky than it actually is. Fortunately their supporting cast was a lot more earthy, and location shooting around London and the seaside made this more vivid than if they had simply stayed in the studio, though the sets they do use are very effective in that regard. The post-war resentment that life did not get better fast enough after the Second World War is steeped in every frame, and lend it a real anger and edge: throughout we're asked why Peter should be made to suffer, and thousands like him, for a matter that should be forgiven. Even at the end, the conclusion is far from a happy one, though it could have been worse. Visually this was an atmospheric Brit noir, but thematically it was intriguing as well. Oh, and evidently Kenneth More always looked fifty years old. Music by Philip Green.

[Network's Blu-ray of this title is a big improvement on previous prints, and has an image gallery and alternate German ending as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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