AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 77 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Frank Johnson is walking his dog in the city at night. He sees a man in a car talking about a crime get shot, then is shot at himself before the killer flees. The police explain that the victim was going to testify in a court case against gangster Smiley Freeman. They now want Frank to testify as he saw the shooter, and wish to take him into protective custody, but Frank gives the police the slip. They think he is running to escape possible retaliation from the mob, and contact Frank’s wife, Eleanor, to solicit her help in finding him, but she suspects he is actually running away from their unsuccessful marriage….
I expected Woman On The Run, released by Arrow Video alongside Too Late For Tears, and another film that had to be painstakingly restored and was for sometime actually thought totally lost, to be a far inferior piece. For a start I hadn’t heard of anybody involved in it except star Ann Sheridan and cinematographer Hal Mohr. But to my surprise it turned out to be almost as good, its breezy approach, simple plot and genuine heart contrasting nicely with the murky, complex doings of the other film where it seemed everyone was up to something shady. There aren’t really many surprises in the story, which doesn’t have a whole lot to it really, but then this film is more than anything else a tale of a couple whose marriage has gone badly astray and needs repairing, if one or hopefully both parties will just make an effect. While this means that there aren’t many thrills, it also gives the film a surprising emotional dimension and causes the suspense to hinge as much on this as the more typical aspects.
The opening murder is rather grim, the victim pleading with ‘Danny Boy’ the killer as he falls out of the car and is then shot by Danny who is mostly shown in shadow, or not at all, except for one artfully composed shot which just shows his mouth. Despite the film’s title, it seems like Frank Johnson, the witness to this dastardly dead, is going to be the main character as he quickly goes on the run just like your typical Alfred Hitchcock hero, but then the focus switches to his wife Eleanor. The scenes of Inspector Ferris in their house contain a lot of humour what with his aggressive behaviour and Eleanor not seeming to give a damn about her husband being missing, but they also reveal a marriage that has gone cold. We’ve already had Frank reply, when asked if he’s married, “In a way”, but now we have a succession of moments which often manage to be funny and sad at the same time, a typical exchange being:
“You always go to sleep while he walks the dog”?
“No, sometimes he goes to sleep while I walk the dog”.
Another great moment is when Ferris gets her to open all the cupboards and what’s in there is….well….again it’s genuinely amusing and also very telling, and I won’t forget her comments about Rembrandt, their dog, for a long time.
So, much like secretary Ella Raines in the noir classic Phantom Lady, it’s the principle female character who is allowed to take centre stage and uncover what’s going on, though here Eleanor is not just trying to find her husband, she’s also trying to fix their relationship as she realises she didn’t know her husband much at all. There’s a truly lovely moment where, after at least half an hour of her being cynical, even cruel, and certainly not seeming to care about Frank much, she is told something very nice about him, and for the first time in the movie her eyes light up and some of the love she once had for him seems to come back. The moment is beautifully played by Sheridan. Ella escapes the cops through the roof and bumps into a reporter named Danny Leggett [favourite line – “this is the first time I’m helping a woman find her husband”] who decides to aid Eleanor in return for an exclusive to the story. I thought that he was going to become a romantic interest, but no, it’s all about Frank and Eleanor even if they spend nearly all the film apart. One major plot point has Eleanor have to delve into her past and the marriage’s happy beginnings to solve a riddle. The story remains very simple and the one major twist is given away about half way through, but the latter means that we now get suspense instead of surprise, as Hitchcock would have said.
While there isn’t much in the way of actual action until the last 15 mins, the short picture keeps moving forward and never sags. The script, written by Norman Foster and Alan Campbell, continues to provide laugh out loud lines and adds a few memorable touches that add flavour and contrast, like a woman in a bar bemoaning the disappearance of her husband three years before. As director, Foster, who seems to have spent his career doing ‘B’ movies and TV series episodes, gives us some stylish moments, like a searching montage shown in Dutch angles, and handles the fun fair climax very well indeed with great pacing and choice of shots. This scene is so well put together that one can forgive a bizarre bit where a still photograph of a character is used instead of an actual shot. Technically this film is pretty impressive. You get lots of San Francisco location footage blended very well with the studio stuff, and even the back projection, of which there isn’t that much, is of a better quality that was the norm at the time, while Mohr gives us lots of that lovely deep focus photography typical of film noir of the time. Considering how cheaply and quickly this movie was, it was constructed with a lot of care in many respects.
Sheridan looks rather older than her 35 years in this film – it’s almost as if the makeup department decided to make her look as unattractive as possible – but then this does seem appropriate as her character is supposed to be tired out from a dull marriage. In any case, her performance is very well balanced and subtle. Dennis O’ Keefe and Robert Keith give nice, if unremarkable support, while the music score by Arthur Lange and Emil Newman is much more pronounced than the score in Too Late For Tears. It sounds like one of the two wrote the romantic melody that is threaded throughout the picture, and the other handled the more dramatic scoring. It’s nicely done if nothing great. Straight and to the point but rather charming and handled with some intelligence, especially the way it basically gives us two stories – one a typical thriller plot and one about a marriage – at the same time, Woman On The Run may not hold up to repeated viewings as I think Too Late For Tears may do, but has considerable charm and I liked it a lot.
Woman On The Run doesn’t look too great throughout, being full of scratches and pops, though this was another film they had to restore from poor original elements so we shouldn’t complain too much. From what I understand, previous incarnations looked dreadful and this Blu-ray certainly isn’t that. There’s still plenty of depth and contrast. The selection of extras, though ported over from Flicker Free’s Region ‘A’ disc, is typically impressive. From what I heard of it, the commentary sounds a bit more like someone reading from their notes than the one on Too Late For Tears, but it’s packed with observation and information nonetheless. The featurette detailing the story of the restoration is a bit of a thriller in itself, and I checked out the ‘Then and Now’ location comparison which I also found interesting.
*Brand new restoration of original 35mm vault elements by UCLA Film & Television Archive
*Presented in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD
*Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
*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
*Locations: Then and Now
*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
*Gallery featuring rare photographs, poster art and original lobby cards
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin
*Booklet featuring new writing by Eddie Muller