Rabbit, Run (1970)
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Rabbit Run, the movie, is unfairly neglected. The central role of Harry Angstrom is fully realized by James Caan as a guy you sympathize with and despise. The events of Harry's life are played out to suitably tacky late-60's pop music, and filmed in John Updike's hometown of Reading, Pa. Reading looks even sadder than Updike described it, but the gritty streets work well for the story. They are unpleasant and dangerous and claustrophobic, and if you were to live there, in this small industrial city walled in by high hills, you might feel like you're trapped, like Rabbit was.
James Caan was somewhat unique among actors of that time: I think of Dustin Hoffman and Elliot Gould as being the icons of the era, the not-really-handsome lovable Jewish schmos. James Caan is a Jewish schmo, but he's also a hunk, with broad shoulders and a big chest and a seductive face. He's conventionally sexy, and women fall for him easily, but he still is an outsider, he's got issues, lots of issues, just like Dustin and Elliot. A super-schmo.
There was one scene in the book, which I will NOT reveal here, that was harrowing and an amazing display of the author's power with his pen. That scene translates frighteningly to the screen, although I thought the filmmakers could have gone much further in depicting the horror. If ever a remake is made, THAT scene should be full-out Grand-Guignol.
It's a satisfying flick, and it makes you long for the sequel that was never made. I read elsewhere that this film never even opened in New York, the studio thought so little of it. If the éminences grises of the Film Forum or Anthology Film Archives or Film Society of Lincoln Center are reading this, please consider reviving this film, and giving it a proper New York opening.
The absolute, single WORST thing about this film is the soundtrack. Godawful, uninspired late sixties rock in place of film music. In 1969 I can assume the producers wanted the film to be 'hip' with current musical styles, but the songs and singers are so dreadful they nearly ruin the film for me. Not only is the music beyond terrible, but it often surges loudly into a quiet scene, adding nothing but irritation. The actors make and save this film. It's worth seeing for them. In finely played supporting roles are familiar faces from TV: Carmen Matthews, Don Keefer, Josephine Hutchinson, and Arthur Hill of course is excellent as always.
The movie version came out in 1970, ten years after the novel, and ten years too late for the plot to make sense: the sexual revolution of the 60's robs the story of its tension. By this point, Updike had already written the sequel, Rabbit Redux, taking his protagonist up to the moment.
Updike fans may want to see the movie as a curiosity piece, but I wouldn't recommend it.
As another reviewer remarked, the film was made 10 years too late--the mores and morals of the year 1960 had already completely shifted by 1970, so the film doesn't even make sense, and the film making and directorial style feel unpleasantly anachronistic.