Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Woman On The Run (1950)

And The Police Man and Killer, Dan,
Were Searching Everyone....

- While women tend to be at the apex of evil in many a film noir plot (the famous "femme fatale" roles), one can hardly call the genre a "man's genre." Film noir has empowered women on screen, albeit often times empowered to do bad things to the male stars. Still, while women have been essential to the genre, classic film noir rarely featured a woman protagonist. Directed by Norman Foster's (known primarily for helming a number of Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan serials), the 1950 film noir Woman On The Run is notable for its female protagonist but also for being a well-made movie.

Headstrong housewife Eleanor Johnson (Ann Sheridan) and struggling artist Frank Johnson (Ross Elliot) are, "in a way," married. Having grown apart, Frank and Eleanor live practically separate lives together in San Francisco as their marriage crumbles. But their lives are forever changed when Frank narrowly escapes death and goes on the run from the cops and the mob for witnessing a murder. Motivated by pure obligation, Eleanor searches for him, aided by an unusually helpful reporter (Dennis O'Keefe), and begins to realize more about the man she thought she knew and the extent of gravity in his current situation.

Working in Hollywood since she was 18, contracted to Paramount after winning a beauty contest, Ann Sheridan was by no means new to film by 1950. In fact, by the 1950s Sheridan's career had been falling after being a WWII pinup girl and starring a number of films in the 1930s (Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)) and 1940s (I Was A Male Order Bride (1949)). Although her blockbuster successes would forever be behind her by 1950, Ann Sheridan is terrific as Eleanor Johnson in Woman On The Run. In an age of Hollywood were actresses outlived their welcome even faster than they do in the 21st Century, Sheridan commands the screen creating a dimensional, engaging character with the killer beauty, strong screen presence and sharp frankness that defined her entire career. She never misses a beat and never backs down. Even as Sheridan convincingly allows for frequent vulnerability in Eleanor as the story progresses she never allows for any creampuff cliche or objectifying weakness, instilling a strong identity and confidence in her character. Supporting performers Dennis O'Keefe, Ross Elliot and Robert Keith are serviceable but Sheridan simply owns the whole show.

But Woman On The Run is a good show in its entirety. Carefully handling the tension and twists as well as constructing some particularly clever and memorable individual scenes, director Norman Foster forms an engrossing story and remarkable picture out of his and Alan Campbell's screenplay. The visuals, especially the shadowing and camera movements, are excellent and the film's San Francisco setting is also well captured. San Francisco has been portrayed beautifully on screen in such greats as Dirty Harry (1971), Dark Passage (1947) and Vertigo (1958) and Woman On The Run also does the City by the Bay justice. Woman On The Run is quite the film noir all-around; most noteworthy in the genre, on paper, for its memorable film noir female protagonist but ends up impressive and exciting in its own right from the eerie opening to the literal roller coaster ride of a climax.

CBC Rating: 8/10

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