Given how attitudes toward the LGBTQI experience have changed for the better in the decades since this movie was made, it seems appropriate to offer two different reviews of Runaway, Runaway, sometimes known by the more succinct title The Runaway. From a 2017 perspective, the picture is problematic because it conveys a “straight is great” perspective. But from a 1972 perspective, the movie seems fairly sensitive. What’s more, I confess affinity for any film in which singular B-movie actor William Smith plays something other than a cretin. He’s only about the third-most-important character here, but he approaches a tricky role gently, adding a welcome nuance of evolved masculinity. To be clear, none of these remarks should suggest that Runaway, Runaway is something other than what it is, a low-budget melodrama with sensationalistic elements. The point is merely that it’s a better and more humane picture than it needed to be, despite trashy advertising materials suggesting something just shy of porn.
After Ricki (Gilda Texter) leaves her home in some ghastly Southwestern trash heap of a town, she hitches rides and gets abused and molested until meeting Frank (Smith), an East Coast private investigator traveling to California for work. He empathizes with her desire to find herself, and he never makes a pass at her because Ricki says she’s got a guy waiting for her in Los Angeles. Upon reaching L.A., Ricki searches for her boyfriend and falls in with various hippies until accepting an offer of lodging from Lorri (Rita Murray), a sophisticated prostitute. They embark on a hot-and-cold relationship that culminates with Ricki acquiescing to Lorri’s aggressive come-ons out of curiosity. How the story evolves from there further complicates the movie’s statements about gender identity.
Writer-director Bickford Otis Webber, who never made another movie—instead embarking on a career as a Hollywood music editor—doesn’t evince any special cinematic skill here. Nonetheless, he approaches elements that might have been sleazy with taste, for instance shooting a scene of Lorri and Ricki frolicking nude on a beach from a distance with a long lens. And while the story’x conclusion hits the aforementioned “straight is great” note in a disturbingly definitive way, Bickford otherwise avoids judgmental rhetoric. So even though this is far too minor a film to merit a place in cinematic history, Runaway, Runaway is refreshingly open-minded in many of its particulars—from a 1972 perspective.
Runaway, Runaway: FUNKY