Saturday, February 27, 2010

#53: Woman on the Run (Norman Foster, 1950)

Released: November 29, 1950

Director: Norman Foster; Screenplay: Allan Campbell and Norman Foster based on a story by Sylvia Tate; Cinematography: Hal Mohr; Music: Arthur Lange and Emil Newman; Producer: Howard Welsch; Studio: Fidelity Pictures/Universal

Cast:
Ann Sheridan (Eleanor Johnson), Dennis O’Keefe (Daniel “Dannyboy” Leggett), Robert Keith (Inspector Martin Ferris), Ross Elliott (Frank Johnson), Frank Jenks (Detective Homer Shaw), John Qualen (Mr. Maibus), Steven Geray (Dr. Arthur Hohler), J. Farrell MacDonald (Sea Captain), Thomas P. Dillon (Joe “Bug” Gordon)

And now we come to Exhibit B (Exhibit A is #58 in this countdown) to reinforce the point that I made in my entry for Journey Into Fear. Orson Welles may have been the largest influence over that 1943 effort, but it was not because Norman Foster was incapable of directing a top-flight film noir. As outstanding as Kiss the Blood Off My Hands is, this release two years later remains my favorite that Foster directed. It is another noir-thriller hybrid that continuously amps up the tension until reaching a memorable finish at a beachside amusement park. Basically, this paragraph is a drawn out way of concluding that regardless of his actual role in Journey Into Fear, Foster released two outstanding noirs that cement his reputation as a preeminent director of noir.

Like other great B movies of the era, the action that kick-starts the entire adventure occurs very early. While taking his dog for an evening stroll, Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) witnesses a murder. Hearing the dog bark, the killer turns and takes a shot at Frank, but luckily misses. Fearing that the killer will come back to silence him, Frank slips away from police and goes into hiding. His wife Eleanor (Ann Sheridan) is enlisted to track down the fleeing Frank. Eleanor and Frank’s marriage had been deteriorating, but old passions are rekindled when Eleanor realizes how much trouble her husband is in. She is assisted in her search by ace reporter Daniel Leggett (Dennis O’Keefe), who shows a determination to see that Eleanor finds her husband. There is a major, if somewhat predictable, plot twist that occurs a little after the midway point that adds yet another layer to the intrigue. I see no reason to give it away, but it certainly works smoothly.


Dennis O’Keefe and Ann Sheridan were known commodities by 1950, so it is no great surprise that they both turn in outstanding performances. As good as O’Keefe always is, though, it is Sheridan that is the powerhouse of the film. Eleanor does a near complete transformation – at the start of the film she is completely uninterested in what happens to her husband and by the conclusion she is frantically scrambling to rescue him. It is a nuanced performance, as Sheridan moves easily from being an intimidated, disinterested wife to a wise-cracking, brash amateur sleuth hot on her husband’s trail. There is a lot to like visually in this B-picture as well, with Foster and cinematograph Hal Mohr taking full advantage of location shooting in San Francisco. They take the viewer throughout late night haunts, bars, and clubs throughout the City by the Bay, while also making full use of ink black nighttime exterior shots.

Much more discussion about the actual story will run the risk of revealing too much for those that haven’t seen it. What I will add is that this is a movie that is in the public domain and can be legally watched at various places online. The quality at places like Archive.org is not great, but it’s far from unwatchable, particularly if (like me) you have the capability of connecting the computer to your television. But however you get hold of it to watch, Woman on the Run is definitely an essential noir and in my opinion the best movie that Norman Foster ever made.

17 comments:

  1. Dave, I saw this one out of a Mill Creek Entertainment box set and it took me quite by surprise. The roller coaster finish is incredible and so is Sheridan. We can debate placement but Woman on the Run is definitely underrated as far as I can tell. I'm glad to see you confirm my good opinion of it.

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  2. A great b-thriller from Foster. Anne Sheridan is great in a role that moves from an indifferent wife in a failing marriage through a street-wise dame with a razor wit to the hysterical woman back in love desperately trying to save her husband’s life. The supporting b-cast performs well by playing stock characters with some considerable vitality and depth.

    The movie’s noir credentials come not only from low-key lighting and sharply angled night shots, but from an intelligent screenplay that explores the ennui of a disintegrating marriage and its revival after the protagonists learn more about each other from other people than they can have imagined. The savage murder of an innocent young cabaret dancer that gets in the way of the killer desperately trying to hide his identity, is off-screen, but poignantly handled to add a tragic undertone to the story.

    A truly engaging film, and an arguable ranking here, but I can't see it as better than many other films Dave has ranked as inferior.

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  3. I watched this one not really expecting much but was pleasantly surprised. Consistently entertaining right up to the end.

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  4. Got me stumped with this one Dave. I will have to check it out. Sound like it is worth seeing for Sheridan's performance for sure.

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  5. I am also stumped, though after reading what Dave and Tony say here I am in for a treat. Yes, Ms. Sheridan is an essential persona in the noir acting fraternity. I enjoyed this great essay and Tony's follow-up comment, which was magnificent. I'll seek this out, especially with this lofty positioning.

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  6. Samuel - I had a similar reaction... wasn't expecting much, but was very pleasantly surprised to enjoy this one as much as I did.

    Tony - Great stuff... your points here are spot on. This might be a bit of a stretch in terms of position, but it's just so entertaining to watch that I can't help but place it this high.

    Moremiles - Thanks for stopping in, and I agree completely with this assessment!

    John - Check it out, I think you'll enjoy it. It's one of those short (77 minutes), fast-paced, B-thrillers that really works.

    Sam - It's an overlooked gem, in my opinion. A great, great B-picture.

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  7. I have watched this movie many time, but I have not understood why As Eleanor finally gets off the roller coaster, Danny is on the verge of killing Frank, so I think that the final is a little be confused!!22dd

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  8. I really like this movie, my father has a collection of similar old movies, in my opinion the 50's were the golden year of the cine,I recommend this movie to all my friends!

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  14. A great film, it is one of my grandmother favorites, great review.

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