NOTW Archive: 4/10/2007:
Woman on the Run (1950)
Woman On The Run (1950)
Director: Norman Foster (Kiss The Blood Off My Hands; Journey Into Fear)
Photographer: Hal Mohr (The Lineup; Underworld USA)
Writers: Alan Campbell, Norman Foster
Dennis O’Keefe (The Leopard Man; Raw Deal; T-Men; Abandoned)
Ann Sheridan (They Made Me A Criminal; Nora Prentiss)
Robert Keith (The Lineup)
Ross Elliott (Gun Crazy; Affair In Trinidad)
Frank Jenks (High Wall; Highway Dragnet; Sudden Danger; Slightly Scarlet)
Plot Summary (Warning: Spoilers ahead! This film contains a very nice plot twist. If you have not viewed it, stop now and view a copy before reading the summary or review).
Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott), department store window trimmer and failed artist, is walking his dog, Rembrandt, on a dark, cold San Francisco night. He witnesses a brutal “hit” of a potential grand jury witness. Learning that his life will be in danger, Johnson eludes the police and takes it on the lam. The police, represented by Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith) and Detective Shaw (Frank Jenks), grill his apparently uncaring wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan), as to his whereabouts. She is uncooperative and so they put a tail on her. The Johnsons are in a loveless marriage but Eleanor wants to help Frank escape. She is approached by a charmingly abrasive tabloid reporter, Danny Leggett (Dennis O’Keefe), who offers to help her find her husband and offers her $3,000.00 for an exclusive interview. Unknown to Eleanor, Leggett is (you guessed it) the killer and is using Eleanor to bird dog her husband so that he can kill him and eliminate the only eyewitness to the murder. It turns out that Leggett had taken money to cover up evidence that would have convicted a local mob figure and was being blackmailed by the man he killed.
The body of the film follows these two as they elude the police (who manage to catch up with them several times, only to lose them again!) and search the City for Frank, who Eleanor learns has a heart condition for which he desperately needs medication. Meanwhile, Frank has sent a letter to Eleanor with a cryptic clue as to his whereabouts. As they roam the City, Leggett begins to fall for Eleanor, who does not return the feeling. At a Chinese restaurant/bar, which Frank had visited the previous evening, a dancer privately tells Leggett that he looks familiar, like a drawing of a man that Frank had drawn and given to her. Leggett leaves with Eleanor but returns to kill the dancer and destroy the drawing, which would have identified him as the killer.
Eleanor finally solves the riddle and takes Leggett to a wharf amusement park where Frank is hiding. Leggett convinces her to lead Frank to a secluded spot under the rollercoaster so that he can interview him ‘in private’ (i.e.- kill him). The police have trailed them to the park and are hunting for Frank, Eleanor and Leggett. Leggett and Eleanor take refuge on the roller coaster and this is where Leggett slips, betraying facts about the murder that only the police, Frank, Eleanor and the killer would know. Eleanor, stuck on the coaster, frantically tries to signal Frank who meets with Leggett. To cover himself, Leggett tries to frighten Frank into having a heart attack, not knowing that the police and Eleanor already know of his guilt. Ferris intercedes and kills Leggett. The estranged couple are reunited as the camera pans to a raucously-laughing harlequin.
1950 was a good year for noirs. Records indicate that more noirs were released during that year than in any other single year. WOMAN ON THE RUN is one of the 1950 noirs and is my NOTW. The merits of this film are its strong cast (led by one of my favorite noir actors, Dennis O’Keefe) and a good script containing several good plot twists and surprises. Coming at the end of the second noir phase (Schrader), it could be placed in the noir subcategory of police thriller. It also seems to fit Spicer’s definition of an "homme fatale" noir. Compared to "The Sniper", David’s NOTW last week, WOTR seems, at times, almost lighthearted. Nevertheless, the dark and violent opening scene and the finale in the nighttime amusement park provide the viewer with some shocking and exciting moments. The film’s pacing is fast and furious as wife, police and killer scour the City for the husband/witness/prey.
The San Francisco locale is used to great effect by director Norman Foster and cinematographer Hal Mohr. In fact, the middle part of the film is almost a travelogue of the City-By-The-Bay and makes one wonder if the S.F. Chamber of Commerce had a hand in financing the project! But Mohr’s skill gives a menacing look even to the daytime shots once the viewer realizes that Eleanor is unwittingly touring the city with the killer.
The best part of the film for me is the dialogue. Ann Sheridan has some wonderfully acerbic, wisecracking lines that she uses to skewer Inspector Ferris and anyone else who comes in range! O’Keefe has his share of good lines as well including one particularly perceptive comment near the end of the film. Danny and Eleanor are standing in the dark under the park rollercoaster, the place where Danny is to meet Frank. Danny tells her that he used to bring girls there for romantic trysts when he was younger. Eleanor remarks that the dark, remote spot is more frightening than romantic to which Danny rejoins: “That’s how love is when you’re young … and life is when you’re older.”
This is definitely a minor noir and one that would probably not score high on the noir elements rankings. But I find it to be an enjoyable, exciting and engaging movie. The noir elements are there in the characters (the immoral, violent Leggett inexorably hunting his victim; the hard, pessimistic Eleanor, trapped in a loveless marriage to a man she doesn’t understand; the hapless Frank, a frustrated failure at love, art and life; and the hardcase Inspector Ferris, concerned only with solving the case and not with the welfare of the people he supposedly serves).