STREAMING SATURDAYS! The Fabulous Ann Sheridan Is a WOMAN ON THE RUN
Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we embed a free, fabulous movie for you to watch right here!
This week, Ann Sheridan and Dennis O’Keefe star in the noir thriller Woman on the Run, with star-worthy support from Robert Keith and an adorable mutt named Rembrandt.
Sheridan co-produced the film not long after buying out her contract from Warner Bros., where they strapped her into a series of ever-tighter sweaters and dubbed her the Oomph Girl—a nickname she detested. (“‘Oomph’ is what a fat man says when he leans over to tie his shoelace in a phone booth.”) She stars as Eleanor Johnson, a bitter, jaded wife whose husband Frank (Ross Elliott) goes on the lam after witnessing a gangland slaying. Which turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to their miserable marriage.
When an inspector (Keith) arrives at the murder scene, he asks Frank if he’s married. “In a way,” he mutters half-heartedly. And that’s actually more enthusiastic than his wife is when the cops show up at their dingy flat, where the only sign of domesticity is a cupboard full of Ken-L Ration. (Like a lot of depressives, they may have given up on their marriage, their lives and themselves, but dammit, they take care of their dog.)
When Frank calls, Eleanor warns him that the police are tapping the line, so he hangs up and hits the road. But she soon learns from the cops—everyone seems to know more about her husband than she does—that he needs heart medicine he may not be able to survive without.
As Eleanor scours San Francisco in search of Frank, she discovers facets of his life she’d never known about: He went to the mat with his boss to save a friend’s job. He inspired a massive crush in a young secretary. He lived like Gaugin in Tahiti and Hemingway in Mexico. And he still loves his wife. That last bit of news comes as a something of a welcome shock to Eleanor. When the inspector tells her that a letter Frank wrote “sounds like a man in love,” she’s knocked a bit backwards with relief—almost allowing herself to feel hopeful. Then she leans in for a closer listen, as if she needs to hear it again.
Helping her on her quest to find her husband is noir regular O’Keefe as an obnoxious-but-charming reporter eager to snag an exclusive (and maybe Eleanor in the bargain). Sheridan has a crackly chemistry with him and with Keith, who seems to have been born craggy.
The whip-smart, cynically romantic script was written by Alan Campbell with an assist from director Norman Foster, who soaked up everything he could about mood, light and shadow from his mentor, Orson Welles. (Foster’s Journey Into Fear, featuring Welles, was so effective that Welles had to reassure skeptics he didn’t direct it himself.)
Campbell knew a thing or two about brittle, wearily witty women, having recently divorced Dorothy Parker. (They remarried afterward; film as couples therapy?) And for his part, Foster endured a rather… complicated marriage to Claudette Colbert (she lived with her mother; he didn’t).
Anyone else notice more than a passing resemblance between Foster and the guy he chose to play the husband?
Woman on the Run is lovingly shot all over San Francisco, which becomes a character in the film. And this isn’t Hitchcock’s glistening city by the bay: it’s docks and dives and dime stores, with the occasional edifying bit of architecture thrown in for good measure. (City Hall doubles as an art gallery.) The film climaxes with a harrowing chase through a spooky seaside amusement park (its one faithless locale: logistics dictated that they shoot at Ocean Park Pier in Santa Monica).
Even The New York Times‘ Bosley Crowther liked the film, kinda: “Since it never pretends to be more than it is, Woman on the Run… is melodrama of solid if not spectacular proportions. Working on what obviously was a modest budget, its independent producers may not have achieved a superior chase in this yarn about the search by the police and the fugitive’s wife for a missing witness to a gangland killing. But as a combination of sincere characterizations, plausible dialogue, suspense and the added documentary attribute of a scenic tour through San Francisco, Woman on the Run may be set several notches above the usual cops-and-corpses contributions from the Coast… will not win prizes but does make crime enjoyable.”
As usual with Crowther’s work, you’re tempted to write “he sniffed” at the end. As best I can figure, there was once some kind of annual prize for who could drip the most condescension, and he was determined to snag it every year running. But I think you’ll like Woman on the Run much more than he did.
STREAMING SATURDAYS is a semi-regular feature on Sister Celluloid, bringing you free fun film! You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark the page to make sure you never miss another?
- Posted in: classic film ♦ Movie Briefs ♦ Streaming Saturdays! ♦ The Story Behind the Film
- Tagged: Alan Campbell, alfred hitchcock, ann sheridan, bosley crowther, classic film, claudette colbert, dennis o'keefe, dorothy parker, journey into fear, new york times, norman foster, orson welles, robert keith, san francisco, streaming saturdays, warner bros., woman on the run