Friday, April 03, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Woman on the Run (1950) at the Noir City Film Festival

The 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival had a great launch tonight with a double bill honoring actress Ann Sheridan.

The first movie of the evening was WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950), which was restored after a pristine print of the film burned in the Universal Studios fire a few years ago. The Film Noir Foundation put together a print found in Britain with a soundtrack Eddie Muller happened to have recorded from the copy which burned. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association made a significant donation for UCLA to restore the film.

WOMAN ON THE RUN was directed by Norman Foster from a screenplay by Foster and Alan Campbell, based on a story by Sylvia Tate. It proved to be quite a delicious surprise, with sharp dialogue, excellent location work, and a twist I didn't see coming -- my lips are sealed! There's even a really cute dog as the cherry on top of the proverbial sundae.

One evening Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) is walking his dog when he has the bad luck to see a potential witness in an important criminal case bumped off. Frank gets a good look at the murderer, who fires at him a couple of times without success before speeding away.

When the police (Robert Keith and Frank Jenks) casually make clear that Frank is now a key witness whose own life is in danger, he hits the road. The police and an intrepid reporter (Dennis O'Keefe) stick to Johnson's unhappy wife Eleanor (Sheridan) like glue, with the reporter promising the struggling couple a cash payment in return for an exclusive interview with Frank.

That's pretty much all there is to this 77-minute story, with several people with varying motivations trying to find the missing Frank. The pleasure is in the terrific execution, starting with Sheridan's rapid-fire sarcastic dialogue as the impatient wife who's gradually experienced her marriage falling apart. Her snappy lines made me think of the style of Roy Huggins (THE ROCKFORD FILES), who did such a great job on TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949) the previous year.

Sheridan has a great verbal sparring partner in Robert Keith's police inspector, who annoys her but has a soft spot for dogs, and Dennis O'Keefe is always a welcome film noir presence.

The lightning-fast plot is well constructed, gradually revealing the story of Frank and Eleanor's marriage alongside the hunt for Frank. It develops into quite an exciting thriller, including a couple of wild roller coaster rides at the story winds to a close.

The movie, shot in black and white by Hal Mohr, looks great, with extensive San Francisco location work. The opening murder scene, however, was shot in the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles, and the amusement park finale was also filmed in Southern California, at Pacific Ocean Park, which was also featured prominently in MAN IN THE DARK (1953). I really need to pick up the book on the park which was published last year.

The supporting cast includes John Qualen, Steven Geray, J. Farrell MacDonald, Victor Sen Yung, and Reiko Sato.

WOMAN ON THE RUN can be streamed numerous places, including Amazon, but I understand most prints are quite poor compared to the beauty we watched this evening. Hopefully the restored print will come to DVD at some point so this gem of a film noir can be appreciated by a wider audience.

Update: Here's Leonard Maltin on WOMAN ON THE RUN.

February 2016 Update: WOMAN ON THE RUN will be out this spring in a dual-format DVD/Blu-ray release from Flicker Alley which includes extensive extras.

May 2016 Update: My review of the Flicker Alley set is here.

10 Comments:

OpenID annsheridanfanclub said...

I'll admit that it has been a while since I've seen Woman on the Run. I picked it up on DVD a few years ago but with all of this talk about it at the festival it makes me want to see it again!

11:56 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Hi Laura!
Like others I have a pretty scrappy print of this film and although it makes full enjoyment of it difficult, nevertheless one can see the movie is certainly worthwhile.
I envy you seeing a great restored print, and on big screen, and hope it arrives on DVD sometime.

What an amazing story of how they were able to source a copy and then put it together with its soundtrack. Otherwise, in a sense, it would have been a "lost" film and we would all have been that bit poorer.

Your adventures at both the TCM and Noir City festivals are making vivid and wonderful reading!

12:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've watched Woman on the Run a couple of times - Amazon & YT. The copies there are dark & grainy. Very glad to hear that a restoration print has been made.

I think WoTR is a really good, crisp, sharp little piece of film noir. I'm pleased that it has been featured at couple of film noir festivals recently.

I've read that Ann Sheridan helped develop & produce this film with no credit. If true, I think that makes it even more special.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Kristina Dijan said...

Sounds great! I have a poor copy of this but want to get to it anyway after reading this rave.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much to all of you for the feedback! Let's all cross our fingers this one comes out in a really nice DVD -- it deserves it.

It's true that Ann Sheridan was an unbilled coproducer of the film!

Best wishes,
Laura

6:28 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wonderful to discover you and your blog, Laura. Thanks for the great review of WOMAN ON THE RUN. So pleased you liked it! A dear, departed friend of mine had the fun part of the pesky barfly who keeps interrupting Ann Sheridan and Dennis O'Keefe's questioning of Syd Saylor's Sullivan the barkeep. She had the great tagline to the scene: "It's no use, honey. When they're gone -- they're gone!" It was the last film in which she was credited as Joan Fulton. Discovered by Lou Costello, she was put under contract by Universal in the mid-'40s. She made a number of films there, including about five pictures for Howard Welsch, who exec-produced WOMAN ON THE RUN, one of which was the romantic lead opposite Desi Arnaz in a "B" programmer, CUBAN PETE. Joan said Ms. Sheridan couldn't have been nicer to her during the shooting of the bar sequence and made sure Joan was included in some of the shots. Joan wore a hat that a designer friend had created. Ms. Sheridan exclaimed, "Where did you get that hat?!?" Joan gave the hat to Ms. Sheridan at the end of the day's shoot. Was that "TMI?" :) All the best, David Johnson

10:49 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

David, thanks so much for sharing that information about Joan Fulton (aka Joan Shawlee). Really appreciate you adding a new dimension to our knowledge of the film with those personal anecdotes, they're terrific. And it's great to hear Ann was a good person to work with!

Best wishes,
Laura

12:37 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Laura, Thanks very much for writing back. I am so pleased that you liked the behind-the-scenes bits re WOMAN ON THE RUN and knew that Joan became Joan Shawlee. She married a man named Walter Shawlee, who insisted she change her name to Shawlee, professionally. It was like starting all over again. But, later, Billy Wilder discovered her and cast her as Sweet Sue, the bandleader, in SOME LIKE IT HOT. She became a member of the Wilder "stock company" after that. Wishing you all the best. I love your blog!! Regards, David Johnson

11:26 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi David!

I remember Joan from an episode of MAVERICK, my favorite TV series. Thanks to your comments I'll be watching for her to pop up in the future!

It's always very gratifying to hear that someone enjoys my blog -- thank you so much for sharing that. Hope you'll continue to enjoy visiting. :)

Best wishes,
Laura

2:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, Laura!
Yes, Joan Shawlee guest-starred in an episode of MAVERICK. It was a really fun episode -- and certainly a very fun series in all. So glad that you liked it as well. :)
Thanks too for saying you would look out for Joan in films you view in the future. :) That'd be great.
Oh, I am totally hooked on your blog. Ha!! Yes, I'll be writing again... :)
Regards, David Johnson

11:29 AM  

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