Home Video Hovel: Woman on the Run, by David Bax
Norman Foster’s Woman on the Run is one of those films noir stuffed with verbose characters, people who talk constantly and cleverly, with a cynical aside always at the ready to distract your attention and theirs from the pain of life.
Ann Sheridan stars as Eleanor Johnson, a woman who is only on the run in the sense that her husband is and she wants to find him. Having witnessed a mob killing, Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) is on the lam, avoiding both the mob and the cops, led by Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith), who failed to protect the previous witness. A reporter (Dennis O’Keefe) has agreed to help Eleanor track Frank down in return for the exclusive rights to the story. While we work with them to find out what’s really going on, we’re treated to a tour of the city and often accompanied by a top-tier movie dog named Rembrandt.
As mentioned already, and despite the title, Ann is not actually the one on the run; at least, not in the most straightforward sense. As the screenplay, by Foster and Alan Campbell from a story by Sylvia Tate, makes almost immediately clear, Ann and Frank’s marriage is not exactly one of bliss. Though they loved each other once, their lives are now defined less by romance than by passiveness and resignation. As she drags the reporter from place to place, looking for her husband everywhere she knows they used to be happy, Ann is also reliving the history of their relationship, falling in love with Frank all over again.
It’s a beautiful journey but, if you prefer historical sightseeing to sentimentality, Woman on the Run has got you covered. The film is not just an overview of a love affair, it’s also one of San Francisco as it existed more than 60 years ago. From Chinatown to Fisherman’s Wharf to Telegraph Hill, the location shooting is abundant in this brisk movie. It’s worth pointing out, though, that the rollercoaster finale, ostensibly set at San Francisco’s now defunct Playland, was actually shot at the Santa Monica pier. Still, whether it’s noir, love or locales you’re seeking, Woman on the Run has it.
The sharp transfer is on par with the one for Too Late for Tears from a similar restoration by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Film Noir Foundation. The movie sounds great, too, which is essential near the end when you need to be able to make out screams and gunshots over a roaring rollercoaster.
Special features include a commentary by film historian Eddie Muller, a making-of documentary, a featurette on the restoration, a great look at the San Francisco locations then and now, a short documentary about the Noir City film festival and an extensive booklet.