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Woman on the Run | Blu-ray Review

Norman Foster Woman on the RunFlicker Alley rescues the neglected 1950 San Francisco film noir Woman on the Run, previously victim of the public domain effect associated with debased prints, aligned unjustly with a myriad of bargain basement noir offerings. Directed ably by Norman Foster, who was responsible for the popular Mr. Moto detective series starring Peter Lorre, which began in 1937 with Think Fast, Mr. Moto, it would be his last noir. Coming out of his most prolific 1940s period, Foster would segue into a pair of notable Disney films on Davy Crockett and eventually find later success in television with “The Loretta Young Show.” Notably, this was the last screenplay written by Alan Campbell (who wrote the original A Star is Born, as well as a contributor to the adaptation of The Little Foxes), and the title is a bit of a misnomer as it concerns an unenthused housewife charged with tracking her fugitive husband in San Francisco as he evades testifying as a star witness against a hardened, vengeful criminal only he can identify.

When Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) accidentally witnesses a murder while walking his dog one night, he also happens to get a clear look at the killer’s mug. Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith) confirms the dead man was the star witness in a high profile case against a criminal kingpin, which means Johnson is now a key player in the ongoing investigation. Rather than sing for the police and risk the same fate as the man shot in front of his eyes, Johnson flees the scene, hiding somewhere in San Francisco. The police seek the help of Frank’s wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan), a purse-lipped woman hardly surprised at her husband’s absconding, claiming him to be a man unable to face problems. Uninterested in assisting the police or her husband, she’s goaded by a tenacious journalist (Dennis O’Keefe), who convinces Eleanor her husband is worth finding. Attempting to track Frank down at their old haunts, Eleanor discovers there’s much she didn’t realize about her husband, leading her believe there’s hope in salvaging their marriage. If only she can find him before he’s also gunned down by a bloodthirsty and desperate criminal.

For noir enthusiasts, the title remains a must see thanks to its lead performance from Ann Sheridan, also exiting her most lucrative decade (by the end of the 1950s she would be featured almost exclusively in television) and fresh off a pair of impressive (and equally underrated) Vincent Sherman noirs, Nora Prentiss and The Unfaithful (both 1947). Blustery and no-nonsense, Sheridan’s Eleanor Johnson successfully mirrors the numbed exasperation of someone trapped in a failing marriage gradually only to overcome her bitterness to appreciate a husband more dynamic than she supposed. Of course, Campbell rather bluntly formulates these emotional logistics for the sake of narrative efficiency, valiantly trying to address the incredulity by tasking another character with questioning the validity of her reawakened feelings.

Despite some melodramatic monologues Sheridan is forced to work through concerning the memories of a once vibrant relationship, she’s rueful and tough as nails, a jarring anomaly from the haus frau stereotype of the 50s. A sleazy Dennis O’Keefe is a nice counter to Sheridan, posing as an ‘ambulance chaser’ journalist supposedly interested in assisting her husband’s plight. Character actor Robert Keith provides a bit of comedic support as a world weary inspector (observe how he protests a bit too adamantly when approached as Sheridan’s husband upon escorting her to the veterinarian’s), and Campbell’s screenplay gets some scrappy mileage from canine character Rembrandt. The weak spot is Ross Elliott as Sheridan’s endangered husband, who’s thankfully off screen for most of the running time.

Disc Review:

New studio Flicker Alley continues to impress with their enhanced packaging and carefully attenuated transfers of neglected cinema. Woman on the Run is no exception, a lovingly presented restoration courtesy of the Film Noir Foundation in conjunction with UCLA Film & Television Archive. Those familiar with Foster’s film (which plays every now and then in noir retrospectives, most recently in Los Angeles in April, 2015) will immediately see the enhancements made to a title whose sole American print was burned in a 2008 fire. Lensed by two time Oscar winner Hal Mohr (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1935; Phantom of the Opera, 1943), the once murky and muddled streets of San Francisco come to life in this generous trek throughout the late 40’s metropolis, veering from Chinatown to the Bay, wherein lies a thrilling roller-coaster featured finale. A variety of delectable extras are not to miss on this DVD/Blu-ray combo, which features an audio commentary track from cinema historian Eddie Muller.

Love is a Rollercoaster – Woman on the Run Revisited:
This 17 minute feature finds Eddie Muller (president of the Film Noir Foundation) discussing his obsession with restoring the title, mentioning Sheridan’s role as producer on the feature, and several film historians discuss how the title is an atypical film noir.

A Wild Ride – Restoring Woman on the Run:
This brief five minute segment is a fascinating discussion on the considerable efforts it took to restore the film.

Woman on the Run – Locations Then and Now:
This near seven minute feature revisits several locales used, including Bunker Hill in Los Angeles, plus locales in Nob Hill and Pacific Heights in San Francisco.

Noir City:
This short documentary focuses on San Francisco’s Annual noir film festival, Noir City.

Final Thoughts:

Those in search of overlooked gems of film noir should be pleased with this cleaned-up Ann Sheridan headliner.

Film Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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