Nothing gives me a warmer and fuzzy feeling than a previously rare Film Noir restored in HD. Woman on the Run firstly as said in the short documentary on the disc should be titled “Man on the Run”. The film until fairly recently has been pretty much lost with the occasional screening at Noir festivals and crappy public domain dvds. Thanks to work of Arrow and Flicker Alley in the States it has gotten the releases it deserves on both sides of the pond.
Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) is the only witness to a murder. The police want to put him into witness protection but he flees the scene. They think he is trying to run from possible retaliation but could he be running from his failing marriage from wife Eleanor (Ann Sheridan) which is what she suspects. She goes on the hunt for him along with a reporter but of course the killers are also looking out for him.
Woman on the Run was directed by Orson Welles protegé Norman Foster best known to Welles buffs as the director of Journey into Fear. It’s often believed Welles directed that film but mainly down to the fact Welles said the following in an interview with Peter Bogdanovich “Well, we all did—whoever was nearest the camera, there was no other way to get it made, because of the difficulties”. Welles later on said it was completely Foster’s film and he had very little creative input.
The film has a distinctive style which certainly owes some to Welles’ own work and especially the climax is reminiscent of The Lady from Shanghai. Both films actually played as a double bill in noir strand in Detroit dubbed “Noir City”. However Woman on the Run has a distinctive feel down to its expert use of urban San Francisco locations (not the grandiose locations used in Vertigo) and its pacing is exceptional it’s a in and out noir without any baggage of 80 minutes.
The film’s star Ann Sherida had been in some noir classics like They Drive by Night but the general public knew her mainly for her comedic roles in fare like I Was a Male War Bride. She had been wanting to back into more meaty roles and Woman on the Run she saw as her chance to get back into the limelight but it wasn’t a big success commercial or critically and basically faded away into obscurity. She is however fantastic and succeeds at the more comedic elements which of course was a rarity in noir. Her co-star Dennis O’Keefe is also one of the great forgotten noir leading men who deserves a reappraisal.
It’s may not be the high-water mark of film noir or even in the top 100 but due to the combinations of strong direction, editing and performances it’s not one to be missed. Most of the special features are headed by San Franciscan “Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller. He records the commentary and is featured heavily in the featurette on the SF festival Noir City which he co-programs and also the feature on the film itself. He admits he grew obsessed with the film over the years and his own top 25 noir films is as good of a list as anyone else has compiled.