Cast & Crew
After San Francisco artist Frank Johnson witnesses the gangland murder of informant Joe Gordon while walking his dog, Inspector Ferris attempts to take him into protective custody. Afraid that he will be killed if he testifies against the murderer, Frank instead runs away. Ferris questions Eleanor, Frank's estranged wife, about her husband, but she offers little help. Ferris does convince Eleanor, however, that Frank would be safer in police custody than alone on the streets. Later that night, Eleanor sneaks out of her apartment and goes to a nightclub in Chinatown. She is followed there by tabloid reporter Dan Leggett, who offers to pay her $1,000 for exclusive rights to Frank's story. Upon returning home, Eleanor is told by Ferris that Frank has a serious heart condition, and without the necessary medication, could suffer a fatal heart attack. The next morning, Eleanor sees Dr. Hohler, who tells her that Frank's heart condition is complicated by hypertension, which Eleanor assumes has been caused by the stress of their troubled marriage. She then goes to the department store where Frank works as a window dresser, and learns how well liked he is by his co-workers. Afterward, Eleanor evades police surveillance with the help of Danny, who gives her a cryptic letter from her husband. In the letter, Frank asks Eleanor to meet him at the spot "where I first lost you," but she is unable to figure out the exact location. Eleanor and Danny then visit various locations where the married couple had argued, but are unsuccessful in finding Frank. Later, Eleanor and Danny go back to the Chinatown nightclub, where Suzie, a dancer, tells Danny that Frank gave her a picture of a man that looked very much like Danny. While Eleanor questions Sullivan, a bartender at a nearby saloon, about her husband, Danny goes back into the nightclub, kills Suzie and takes the picture. Later, while back at the department store, with Danny, Eleanor notices various mannequins made in her likeness and remembers a trip to Carmel, during which Frank first "lost her" when his mermaid sculpture of her was destroyed by an ocean wave. Soon thereafter, Eleanor and Danny are taken by Ferris to the morgue, and she falsely identifies another murder victim as Frank. The two then head to Carmel, where they see Frank making sand sculptures near an amusement park. Danny then asks Eleanor to send Frank to meet him alone under the roller coaster, where he plans to kill him. While evading the police, Eleanor suddenly realizes that Danny is the killer, but she is stuck on the roller coaster and is unable to warn her husband. Rather than shooting him, Danny tries to induce Frank into having a heart attack, but is shot and killed by Ferris. Eleanor and Frank are then reconciled, determined to give their marriage another try.
J. Farrell Mcdonald
Victor Sen Yung
Thomas P. Dillon
Maurie M. Suess
Woman on the Run -
Director Norman Foster trained as a journeyman filmmaker in the thirties, learning how to make the most of a low budget and move a modest picture along while toiling on Charlie Chan pictures and other B-movies. Orson Welles hired him as an assistant on the ill-fated It's All True and promoted him to helm the exotic spy thriller Journey Into Fear, the only Mercury film that Welles didn't direct himself. Woman on the Run returns Foster to the shadowy world of killers and the city at night, but this time the city is San Francisco and Foster makes excellent use of location shooting, from the dynamic murder that opens the film to a striking montage sequence of Sheridan and O'Keefe in front of San Francisco landmarks. The low angles and tilted framing gives the shots a dramatic punch, but also suggests a world off balance, an appropriate state of affairs for her character. The climax takes the characters to a waterfront amusement park, a favorite film noir location to show characters uprooted from their familiar lives and thrust into chaos and confusion and alienated craziness. The rollercoaster in particular becomes a marvelous metaphor for the panic, helplessness, and emotional turmoil of the rider trapped on the ride.
Ann Sheridan was nicknamed "The Oomph Girl" (a name that she detested) by studio publicists to promote her as a Hollywood bombshell but she's better known by classic movie fans as a talented dramatic actress (They Drive By Night, 1940; King's Row, 1942) with a knack for both comedy and hardboiled toughness. This role showcases all three elements, with Sheridan dishing out sardonic cracks with deadpan snap and then softening as she discovers new dimensions of her estranged husband on her odyssey. It's refreshing to see in a film noir, a genre known for predatory relationships, one-sided love affairs and sexual obsession, a story about a rediscovery of affection that has been ground to indifference and resentment over time.
Dennis O'Keefe made the transition from light leading man to hard-boiled tough guy in low-budget crime movies in the forties and he combines the two for his character, a newspaperman with a mercenary streak and a snappy patter that could have come from the lively newspaper pictures of the early 1930s. This dogged, fast-talking reporter matches Sheridan's smart remarks with snappy repartee delivered with an all-American grin. Film historian and Film Noir Foundation founder Eddie Muller calls it "the best Dennis O'Keefe movie there is, in my estimation."
Filling in the supporting cast is a collection of memorable character actors: Robert Keith, a familiar face specializing in authority figures, as the cynical, seen-it-all police inspector; soft-spoken John Ford regular John Qualen as an affable co-worker at Frank's department store; J. Farrell MacDonald as a gruffly friendly retired sailor bumming around the boardwalk; Steven Geray, a diminutive Hungarian import who specialized in Eastern European characters both sympathetic and sinister, as Frank's concerned doctor; and Victor Sen Yung, who played Charlie Chan's "number two son" Jimmy in 11 movies and Tommy Chan in another five features, has a small role as a Chinese-American dancer who helps Eleanor's search.
Woman on the Run was distributed by Universal Pictures but it was independently produced and it became something of an orphan after its release, when the rights fell into the public domain. Since no studio had a financial incentive to preserve the picture, there was no one to take care of the elements. Muller tracked down a print in the Universal vault and screened it in 2003 at the Noir City festival, describing it as "a revelation--partly because it offered a travelogue of the city in all its mid-20th century glory, and partly because it was thrilling to find something so completely unknown that was so good." He was planning a full restoration when the sole known surviving 35mm print was destroyed in a fire at the Universal Studio lot. When he discovered pre-print elements in the vaults of the British Film Institute a decade later, he embarked on a campaign to finally restore the film and preserve a 35mm copy for future screenings. The restoration was undertaken by the UCLA Film Archive and premiered in 2015 at Noir City 13, fittingly enough back in San Francisco.
"Rescued From the Ashes," Eddie Muller. Noir City Magazine, Winter 2015. Interview with Eddie Muller, conducted by the author in 2010.
"When a Woman Could Be an Oomph Girl," Art Rogen. The New York Times, September 12, 1988.
By Sean Axmaker
Woman on the Run -
Some scenes in this film were shot on location in San Francisco, CA. According to contemporary sources, in 1953, writers Manuel Seff and Paul Yawitz sued Fidelity Pictures, producer Howard Welsch and Universal-International for $75,000, charging breach of contract and unauthorized use of dramatic material. The authors claimed that their story "Pay the Piper" was the basis for Woman on the Run. The suit was settled privately. Modern sources add actor Sammee Tong to the cast.