Director: Norman Foster
Screenplay: Alan Campbell, Norman Foster
Based on an Original Story by: Sylvia Tate
Starring: Ann Sheridan, Dennis O'Keefe, Robert Keith, Ross Elliott
Running Time: 77 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
I love a good film noir. So much so I didn't scour my usual sources to see what the reviews were like for Woman on the Run before requesting a copy to write my own, I just asked for a screener because I knew I'd enjoy it to some extent due to the genre. Also, I wanted to help promote Arrow Academy's release of this (and Too Late For Tears which I'll also be reviewing soon) because I feel like the UK have had a bit of a raw deal for classic film noir releases over the years. I rarely see any titles other than the big names show up in my local HMV and many haven't made an appearance on DVD, let alone Blu-Ray, other than in horribly transferred cheap releases from those films now in the public domain. So I hope if Arrow sell a few copies of these they'll mine the vaults for more gems to polish up to their usual high quality.
Woman on the Run was released in 1950, right in the midst of the genre's heyday. It begins with Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) taking his dog out for a walk when he comes across an argument in a parked car. The argument soon becomes a murder and the trigger man takes a couple of pot shots at Frank before he drives away. Frank gives the police a brief statement on the scene, but when he learns that the man killed was due to testify against the notorious gangster Smiley Freeman, he gets scared and runs away. The police, on top of wanting his statement to help lock up Freeman, are worried for his safety so go to Frank's wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan), for help in finding the man. She's not keen on doing the police any favours though, as it's clear the couple aren't enjoying a happy marriage. However, she does want to find him herself, so heads off into the heart of the city (San Francisco) to track him down. The police of course put a tail on her and the tabloid journalist Dan Legget (Dennis O'Keefe) tags along to get a big scoop. The latter ends up helping Eleanor out as she gets further along in her investigation, but his intentions gradually become rather suspect.
I enjoyed this a lot. The cinematography isn't as regularly moody as in some noirs and it's fairly light on action or suspenseful set-pieces (other than a thrilling climax on a rollercoaster). In fact it's rather talky (which I guess is common to many entries to the genre). However, it maintains a snappy pace through a fast moving plot and the enjoyably hard-boiled, snarky dialogue you expect from a good film noir. The short running time helps too of course.
One aspect I found that set Woman on the Run apart from your run of the mill film noir however was the handling of the central husband/wife relationship. You often get couples reconciling in films, but it's nice to see this happen when the partners are separated from one another. Eleanor realises she didn't really know her husband Frank as well as she should. As she questions people about his whereabouts, she discovers what a good man he is and reignites the spark she once had at the start of their relationship. This works very well, adding heart to the usually cynical noir mood. It turns a standard missing hunt story into something more interesting and unique.
It's no masterpiece though. The performances and writing aren't quite as strong as in something like Double Indemnity perhaps, but it's a great example of what I love about the genre. It's a B-movie done right – making the most of its limitations to create something short, sharp and thoroughly entertaining. It's an easy recommendation to fans of the genre.
Woman on the Run is out on 13th June on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, released by Arrow Academy. I saw the Blu-Ray version and the picture and audio quality is decent. The image is fairly detailed and clear although there are quite a few flecks. These are light though and don't detract. It probably looks as good as an old B-movie like this is ever likely to look anyway.
You get a great selection of special features. Here's the full list:
- Audio Commentary by author, historian, and noirchaeologist Eddie Muller
- Love is a Rollercoaster: Woman on the Run Revisited a new featurette on the making of the film, from script to noir classic, produced by Steven Smith and the Film Noir Foundation
- A Wild Ride: Restoring Woman on the Run a stranger-than-fiction document of the film s restoration, produced by Steven Smith and the Film Noir Foundation
- Noir City a short documentary directed by Joe Talbot about the annual Noir City Film Festival presented by the Film Noir Foundation at San Francisco s historic Castro Theatre
- The Woman on the Run Locations Then... and now
- Gallery featuring rare photographs, poster art and original lobby cards
- Booklet featuring new writing by Eddie Muller
'Love is a Rollercoaster' is a fascinating watch. There are loads of interesting facts to hear about the making of the film. For instance, Ann Sheridan was a co-producer on the film, supposedly so that she could get a more interesting role made for herself. The commentary is strong too, adding more detail to these facts and giving further background to all involved in the production.
'Noir City', although clearly a promo for the festival, still makes for an interesting brief look at the film noir genre. 'A Wild Ride' is a surprisingly fun look at the story behind the restoration, including an amusing twist at the end. The locations featurette is nice I guess, if that kind of thing interests you.