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TV Terror Guide: Runaway! (1973)


Air Date: Sept. 29, 1973 (ABC)

Production Companies: Universal Television

Running Time: 73 min.

Available on: YouTube

Written by: Gerald Di Pego

Directed by: David Lowell Rich

Cast: Ben Johsnon, Ben Murphy, Ed Nelson, Darleen Carr, Lee Montgomery, Martin Milner, Vera Miles

On the TV-movie side of the 1970s disaster film craze came this one about a runaway train, appropriately titled, Runaway! (1973.) The title comes with the exclamation point; I didn’t add it. It’s typical in every way, although its obligatory character drama is a little lighter than usual, focusing on fewer characters. Somehow, though, it evolves into something quite suspenseful.

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I guess you’d have to be pretty unemotional to not feel at least a little charge of excitement as an out-of-control train approaches Jackson City station at 75 mph, while a newer, faster engine tries to reach it from behind to pull it to a stop. It gets really close as the people standing on the back of the runaway (!) cheer for it to make it, then gasp as the distance instead increases.

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There’s a common theme to the character drama: fear. Engineer Holly Gibson (Ben Johnson) has none. He’s cool as a cucumber sitting in the engine watching the speedometer rise. John Shedd (Martin Milner) is supposedly fearless. He chastises his son, Mark (Lee Montgomery,) for being afraid of skiing. Guess what? He’ll get an opportunity to empathize with him.

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Nick Staffo (Ed Nelson) and his wife, Ellen (Vera Miles,) fear they’ll never see their children again, even as they prepare to divorce. Carol Lerner (Darleen Carr) is immobilized by fear when Prof. Jack Dunn (Ray Danton), with whom she’s having an affair, shuns her in the middle of a disaster to take care of his family.

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This is all personified by “Man in Shock” (Than Wyenn,) travelling on his own, crying and moaning unconsolably. This annoys the selfish passengers more concerned with their own fates than his, except for Ellen Staffo, who’s able to compassionately calm him. This makes you wonder how you’d react when you know you’re 18 minutes from death. Then nine… then five…

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Being a 70’s disaster movie, you’re secretly hoping for a crash at the station… you know, no deaths, but a little mayhem at least. Spoiler alert, you’re going to be disappointed. I laugh while I write this, but maybe it’s really mean-spirited to say you’re sorry the train stops mere inches from the dead end. Couldn’t the engine have at least bumped it?

Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Runaway! as well as all the great movies from this series...

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