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.
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.