Richard Dawson's movie moment in 'Running Man'
"Family Feud" host and "Match Game" panelist Richard Dawson, who passed away Saturday at 79, put his wry game-show prowess to use on the big screen in the 1987 hit "The Running Man." He played Damon Killian, evil mastermind/host of a 2017 reality survivalist game show called "The Running Man" in which criminals could win their freedom -- if they defeat the heavily armed killers who are guest "stars" on the show.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course, played an innocent man wrongly convicted of a crime who must choose "hard time or prime time." He chooses the latter, obviously, and becomes a contestant who must literally run for his life.
The sci-fi film satirized American entertainment, game shows, law-and-order reality programming and pro wrestling (Jesse Ventura made an appearance in the movie, too -- perhaps one of the few films to star not one but two future governors). In the movie, "The Running Man" show was not just on TV but beamed onto screens the size of billboards to the desperate millions too poor to live inside. (If you're a contemporary fan of "The Hunger Games" and are thinking this all sounds a bit familiar, well, you'd be correct.)
Reviews for the film were mixed to slightly positive, but Dawson drew consistent praise.
Roger Ebert said: "Playing himself, [Dawson] has at last found the role he was born to play. ... Playing a character who always seems three-quarters drunk, Dawson chain-smokes his way through backstage planning sessions and then pops up in front of the cameras as a cauldron of false jollity. Working the audience, milking the laughs and the tears, he is not really much different than most genuine game show hosts -- and that's the movie's private joke."
TV Guide's reviewer opined: "The sets are fairly simple, the effects are kept to a minimum, the crowd scenes are laughably sparse, the action scenes are repetitive and wholly unimaginative, and director Paul Michael Glaser simply lets his actors flounder. Only Richard Dawson -- brilliantly cast -- redeems this mess with a superior performance."
Click here for a link to the scene in which Dawson sends Schwarzenegger off on his prime-time run for his life. You'll notice Schwarzenegger reprises his "Terminator" catch-phrase, telling Dawson: "I'll be back." Dawson, who doesn't expect Schwarzenegger's character to survive the show, quips, "Only in a rerun."
-- Julie Makinen