Unsung Classics 8: Woman On The Run (1950)

I came across this Noir film purely by chance a few days ago. I had never heard of this film before, but I really loved the sound of the story and so I made the decision to check it out. I am so happy that I watched this. It is a real gem. 

Woman On The Run is quite a unique Noir film. Originally titled Man On The Run, the films title was changed to what it is now, and the focus was taken off of the pursued man on the run and shifted instead onto his wife. I think this change helps make the film as good as it is. By shifting the focus away from him and instead directing it onto his wife, the film becomes an out of the ordinary depiction of this type of story.

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Ann Sheridan as Eleanor. Screenshot by me.

The film is notable for having a female lead. It was pretty rare for a woman to have the main lead role in a Noir film; women certainly got big and interesting roles in these films, but the main character still generally tended to be male.

Lead actress Ann Sheridan also co-produced the film. Her character is one tough and independent gal. I wish that Ann had been given more roles like this in her career because she is absolutely terrific in this. 

This is a film which has always flown under the radar for some reason. It is also a film that we recently came very close to losing forever. In 2008 a fire burned down part of the Universal Studios lot, in the process there were a lot of films destroyed that were stored in the film vault there. The print of Woman On The Run was among the films lost in this blaze.

The interesting story of how a copy of the film came to be found and restored is included in a booklet with the Blu-ray release of the film. It is an amazing story, and I for one am very grateful that this film was able to be restored.

Another aspect of the film which is interesting to me, is that it was shot out on location in San Francisco. The locations which feature in Woman On The Run are less well known areas of San Francisco, rather than the more instantly recognisable landmarks featured so often in other films and series set in that city.

I also really like the marriage depicted in this film. What we see here is a marriage which feels very modern, and it is also one which is far from ideal. I dig how Ann’s character, Eleanor Johnson, doesn’t cook for her husband and doesn’t see it as a duty to do nothing other than make his life happy and easy at the expense of her own. When asked what the couple do for food, she coolly replies “we eat out.” This gal is not content to sit at home cooking a three course meal for her man.  Good on her is what I say. 

The two married characters have fallen out of love with one another. The pair still like and tolerate one another, but they have no desire or romantic interest for each other any longer. The only thing keeping this couple together is their shared love for their pet dog, and the fact that their shared life is fairly comfortable.

The film tells the story of Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott). He is out at night walking his dog. While doing so, he witnesses a gangland execution. The killer spots him, shoots at him, and then drives off. Frank is unharmed and calls the Police. The Police ask him if he can identity the killer, he says that he can. The Police immediately want him in protective custody, but he doesn’t like the sound of that, so he makes off into the night to take a chance looking after his own back.

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Inspector Ferris and Eleanor. Screenshot by me.

Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith) persuades Frank’s wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan)to help them look for her husband to try and save him. She is wary of leading them to him in case the gang should get to him if the Police get him to testify at the trial.

Teaming up with the charming and determined reporter Danny Legget(Dennis O’Keefe), Eleanor sets out herself to look for her husband. Legget agrees to help Eleanor in her search. Legget swears that he will keep his silence as to Frank’s location in exchange for an exclusive interview with the couple. There are some surprising twists late in the story, which lead to a thrilling and suspenseful finale set in an amusement park.

This is a very good film and it is one in which the characters and actors are the real stars. There is also some very funny dialogue throughout the film to enjoy. The wisecracks being thrown back and forth between Dennis O’Keefe and Ann Sheridan are class. I also love the dialogue and scenes between Robert Keith and Ann. I love how Eleanor and the Inspector rub each other up the wrong way, but they both come to develop a mutual respect for one another and even start to like each other.

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Danny and Eleanor searching the city. Screenshot by me.

Ann Sheridan is very good as the tough woman who discovers herself falling back in love with a man she thought she was over. Dennis O’Keefe is a highlight in the film, I think this is one of the best performances he ever gave.

I really like how Dennis conveys Danny’s growing feelings for Eleanor to us. Robert Keith (father of Brian Keith)steals all the scenes he is in, I love his character and the way he delivers his lines.  

The film clocks in at 1 hour and 18 minutes, but boy does it manage to pack a lot in during such a short space of time. This one reminds me a bit of The Narrow Margin, with both films being compact Noir films that pack quite a punch, have gripping plots, and some cracking dialogue.

My favourite scenes are the following. The skylight sequence between Danny and Eleanor. The finale in the amusement park. Ferris speaking to Eleanor for the first time and looking around her apartment. Danny and Eleanor escaping a Police officer tailing them.

This film also contains a very funny exchange between a drunk woman and Eleanor. It’s one that is funnier when you see it, rather than when you read the dialogue.

Woman:”Say, why don’t you wear a hat?”

Eleanor: “I look funny in hats”

Woman: “You’re not wrong!”  Haha.  🙂

Cracking little flick that deserves to be much better known. Do you love Film Noir? Then this is a film for you.

7 thoughts on “Unsung Classics 8: Woman On The Run (1950)

  1. Paul S

    Oh I agree, this film is a gem. What with incredibly snappy dialogue, great San Francisco locations, and a truly nightmarish finale. With this one and so many other titles being released in the same year, I’m beginning to think 1950 was film noir’s finest year.

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  2. Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman)

    I discovered Woman on the Run a few years ago; a terrible copy in a bargain bin. However, it was such a good movie that I foisted it on friends and family, and despite the dismal quality of the film I have yet to meet anyone who saw this movie and didn’t think of it highly. Spread the word!

    Liked by 1 person

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