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Woman on the Run
Directed by Norman Foster in 1950, Woman On The Run begins with a scene where a man named Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) is out walking his dog one night on the streets of San Francisco. Completely by chance, he witnesses a mob hit go down. Once he learns that the victim was a witness to an important trial, Frank goes into hiding. The police know he saw it happen and want to talk to him in hopes of convincing him to testify against not only the hitman but his mob boss employer as well.
Hoping to find him, the cops question Frank's wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan), but learn that she and he aren't exactly the epitome of marital bliss. She assumes his disappearance is because he wants to get away from her. Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith) does what he can to find out what happened to Frank, while Eleanor hits it off with Danny Leggett (Dennis O'Keefe), a nosey reporter working the story for the local newspaper, who offers to pay her for information leading to Frank if she can pony it up. As the different threads of the story are woven into a cohesive whole, the killer closes in on a few people that would be much easier to deal with if they disappeared, permanently. Frank, however, is no fool and he's left a few clues that only his wife will be able to deciper.
Woman On The Run is an interesting movie. Eleanor may, at first, seem a bit cold, cruel even, in her feelings towards Frank and his situation but really, she's a good person in a bad situation. Her marriage has been rocky for a while and anyone who has been involved in a relationship that has gone sour will be able to at least partially relate to her here. Her emotions are understandably conflicted and the part is very well played by Ann Sheridan. Once Ferris starts grilling her, her answers are flippant and cocky. She's intentionally giving the cop attitude and intentionally trying to convince him, and in turn herself, that she doesn't care about Frank. This changes as she winds up working alongside Leggett, at first rather begrudgingly, to find her missing beau. It's then that she realizes there's a very real possibility they won't find him first and that he'll be killed because of what he saw. As this aspect of the movie changes, Sheridan's performance shifts accordingly and it's interesting to watch her work here.
The rest of the cast do fine work here too. Robert Keith is as reliable as ever cast as the cop in charge of the case. He's tough, a bit gruff, but likeable in a surly sort of way. Believable too. Ross Elliott does a fine job bringing Frank to life. He knows he's in trouble and he's pretty convincing in his nervousness. Once we realize how serious his situation is, we feel for the guy no matter how hard Sheridan's character may be working to convince us that he's no good. Throw in Dennis O'Keefe as Sheridan's ally and you wind up with a talented bunch of people in front of the camera. This complements Foster's direction nicely. The script sets your expectations pretty early on but of course, there's a twist that comes later in the film that is, if you've never seen the movie before, a pretty good one that isn't so obviously phoned in the way that twists often are. The story is clever enough to defy our expectations here, not just in terms of what a genre film like this should provide, but just as importantly how it is provided to us. If that sounds vague, well, you'll just have to live with it because there's no need to post spoilers here out of respect to those who haven't yet seen the film. Let it suffice to say that the ending to Woman On The Run is a very good one indeed and if it takes a bit of time to get there, it's worth it.
The film wisely uses a lot of actual location footage shot in the heart of early fifties San Francisco. This gives it a bit of grit and a lot of authenticity, qualities that end to serve noir pictures like this quite well. In particular, the sequences that take place at an amusement park on the wharf really stand out… what a great setting for such an important part in the movie. The cinematography from Hal Mohr captures all of this quite effectively and the movie is helped as well by a pretty rousing score from Arthur Lange and Emil Newman. The film opens and closes with some pretty dark stuff, putting some deceptively lighthearted material into the middle stretch. This might turn some viewers off, as it's not as hardboiled as other film noir entries, but don't let that dissuade. This is all there for a reason and by the time it's over with, the picture proves to be quite gripping.
Woman On The Run arrives on Blu-ray from Flicker Alley in a 1.33.1 fullframe transfer presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition taken from a restoration down by UCLA. The picture fell into the public domain and previous versions, the easiest one to find being the DVD release from Alpha Video, have been in very poor shape. According to Flicker Alley, the only American print of this was burned in a fire but it has been "completely restored by the Film Noir Foundation in conjunction with UCLA Film & Television Archive, with special thanks to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Charitable Grant Trust and the British Film Institute."
Detail here is quite strong though some print damage is present throughout, mostly just some small scratches and specks but it is there from start to finish and you will notice it. There are some scratches that run from top to bottom over a few scenes and some other age and element related defects inherent in the source that clearly could not be eliminated. Grain is present throughout the presentation but it never gets so heavy as to distract from the generally solid detail and texture that the HD transfer offers. Black levels are really nice, quite strong, and contrast looks spot on. All in all this is a sharp and crisp image offering surprisingly good texture and contrast along with strong shadow detail. The movie looks quite good in HD, though. The elements couldn't be brought into pristine, perfect condition but compared to previous DVD releases this is a very big improvement.
The English language LPCM Mono Audio track on the disc is pretty good. The score sounds quite strong here and helps to really ramp up the tension in the last twenty minutes or so. The dialogue stays crisp and clear, it's never a problem understanding any of the characters. There's a little bit of hiss here and there but odds are pretty good that if you're not specifically listening for it you won't really notice it. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
Noir expert Eddie Muller delivers a great commentary track that serves as the disc's primary extra. Here he puts the film into context alongside other entries in the noir cannon made around the same time. He also offers up plenty of trivia about the director and the cast and offers up details about the sets, locations, the production team and quite a bit more. Muller knows his stuff, his commentaries are always informative and enjoyable and this latest one is no exception.
There are a few featurettes included here too, starting with the seventeen minute Love Is A Rollercoaster: Woman On The Run Revisited which was produced by Steven Smith and the Film Noir Foundation. This is quite an interesting piece that offers up a pretty comprehensive history of the film, covering its origins through to its completion and theatrical run. Muller covers some of the same ground in his track, but there's enough new information along with some great visuals from various archival sources, that you'll want to take the time to check it out. A Wild Ride: Restoring Woman On The Run is a five minute piece, again from Smith and the Noir Foundation, that explains how and why the movie came to be restored when it was cleaned up and reissued after the UCLA's efforts. Woman On The Run: Locations Then And Now is a seven minute piece where we zip around the streets of San Francisco and visit the different locations that were used in the feature. Also included is the ten minute Noir City which is a quick but interesting piece that shows off what goes on at the Noir City Film Festival.
Included inside the clear plastic keepcase along with the Blu-ray disc is a DVD version of the movie and a twenty-four page insert booklet that contains an essay on the picture from Muller as well as a plethora of great archival stills and artwork.
Woman On The Run takes a little bit of time to get going but once it does, the film proves to be a pretty solid thriller. Not only does it feature a few strong performances but it's got plenty of fantastic location footage too. It builds to a satisfying conclusion and offers some decent tension along the way. Flicker Alley's Blu-ray release of the restored version shows plenty of imperfections that simply could not be eliminated from the source, but it clearly presents the best version currently available. On top of that, there extras are plentiful and interesting. Recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.