Frank's Faves: Running movies

Frank's Faves: Running movies

This week: "You can go the distance, we'll find out in the long run ..." — The Eagles

As most folks hereabouts are no doubt well aware, the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon is this weekend, with some 17,300 or more registered to hit the streets of Champaign-Urbana on Friday and Saturday. Sorry to say, I won't be joining them.

OK, that's not entirely true. I'm not THAT sorry, although my twice-surgically-repaired left knee certainly would be if I tried it. And I'm definitely not sorry that I'm not having to undergo the serious training it would now take to get me back into the physical shape necessary to run a marathon.

But I am sorry that neither my knees nor the rest of me are up to such an endeavor at this point in my life. I wish they were, as I do miss being able to run substantial distances any more, whether for the exercise or the sense of accomplishment — or purely for the fun of it. I don't just envy those of you who will be pounding the pavement this weekend; I admire you. It takes no small amount of self-discipline and perseverance to run a marathon, and those are qualities that translate well to virtually every other major pursuit in life — as well as to a good many minor ones.

So, in lieu of actually lining up alongside you intrepid marathoners at the starting line, allow me to salute you from the comfort of my recliner with the next best thing for those of us unable to match you stride for stride, yet still able to experience vicariously the thrill you will enjoy when crossing that finish line, thanks to Hollywood's long-running fascination with the fit and fleet of foot. I am, of course, talking faves here, so if you're ready ... On your mark, get set — and let's go with:


"Chariots of Fire" (1981). This British fact-based drama about two athletes competing in the 1924 Olympics won four Academy Awards, including best picture and best original screenplay, but is arguably best-remembered for its electronic theme tune by Vangelis, who also took home an Oscar for best original score. More importantly, the film's lead characters present several lofty motivations for running — Ben Cross as an English Jew runs to overcome prejudice; Ian Charleson as a devout Scottish Christian runs for the glory of God (he delivers one of the movie's best lines when he explains to his disapproving sister that he feels divinely inspired when running: "I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.") Yet both men are also driven by their competitive spirit, each pushing the other to train harder — first as rivals, and eventually as friends.

"Forrest Gump" (1994). "Run, Forrest, run!" became one of several iconic lines to emerge from this Oscar-winning comedy-drama, and boy, does he ever. After the love of his life walks out on him, Tom Hanks in the title role goes for a cathartic run that lasts nearly 31/2 years and zig-zags across the country three or four times. Now that's endurance!

"Marathon Man" (1976). Dustin Hoffman stars as a grad student and avid runner who runs afoul of a sinister Laurence Olivier as an exiled Nazi dentist (modeled after real-life Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele), a role for which Olivier won the best supporting actor Oscar. Although this suspense-thriller is best-remembered for its excruciating torture scene in which Olivier drills into Hoffman's teeth in an attempt to elicit an answer to his question, "Is it safe?"— then continues drilling regardless of his answers — it does have a critical connection to running as well, since it's the Hoffman character's skills as a marathon runner which enable him to escape his tormentors — but not before scarring my view of dentistry forever.

"The Running Man" (1987). Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in this sci-fi actioner loosely based on a Stephen King novel. Coincidentally, the film begins in 2017 when, after a global economic collapse, the United States has become a police state, censoring all cultural activity but pacifying the populace by broadcasting a game show, hosted by Richard Dawson, in which convicted criminal "runners" attempt to escape death at the hands of mercenary killers, or "stalkers." Hey, every runner needs motivation, right?

"Meatballs" (1979). Bill Murray's first starring film role is the main reason to watch this summer camp flick, but there's also a fun running-related subplot involving Chris Makepeace as a lonely teen named Rudy whom Murray befriends and takes jogging with him every morning. Before you can say, "It just doesn't matter!", the irreverent head counselor has volunteered his shy young charge for the pivotal 4-mile cross-country event in the annual intercamp Olympiad and is motivating him to victory with the mantra: "I'm Wudy the Wabbit, Wudy the Wabbit."

Topics (1):Film