Sunday, May 31, 2015

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for June on TCM

1950s Woman on the Run is many stories. It is the story of a reluctant witness to a crime fleeing out of fear. It is the story of a police manhunt. It is the story of a reporter on the trail of a story and a murderer to silence a witness. It is the story of a woman's discovery of the truth of her existence. It is the story of a marriage.

Inspector Ferris:  Married?
Frank Johnson:  In a way.

Ross Elliott (The Loretta Young Show, The Jack Benny Program, The Virginian) plays Frank Johnson, an aspiring artist in a failing marriage with a dog to walk. On one of these walks, as he smokes his pipe and contemplates life, Frank is witness to a gangland slaying. Instinctively, he reaches out to the police, but when it becomes clear that his testimony before a grand jury will place him directly in the hit man's sight lines, Frank bolts.

Inspector Ferris:  Who are his friends?
Eleanor Johnson:  I don't know his friends.  The dog is our only mutual friend.

Robert Keith (Here Comes the Groom, Ransom!, Love Me or Leave Me) plays Inspector Ferris who should have a fairly routine task in tracking Johnson. However, the prickly nature of Frank and his wife's relationship leave the police with few immediate avenues to explore. The couple share a name, an apartment and a dog, but precious little else. Ann Sheridan (Angels With Dirty Faces, Nora Prentiss, Come Next Spring) plays the sharp-tongued Eleanor who actively impedes the police, leaving the decision of co-operation entirely up to Frank.

Dan:  To the speedy conclusion of all our troubles - yours, your husband's and mine.
Eleanor:  You've got troubles?  You don't look it.
Dan:  None that I can't solve now that we're partners.

Eleanor is about to learn some things about her husband that will surprise her. The police discover that Frank has a heart condition that requires medication. Knowing Frank kept this information from her has the effect on Eleanor of surprise and guilt. She sets out find him and attracts an unexpected ally. Dennis O'Keefe (Brewster's Millions, Walk a Crooked Mile, T-Men) plays Dan Legget, a reporter wanting to crack the story. Early on the audience becomes aware that Dan is also the hitman, adding to the suspense in the search for Frank.

Eleanor:  Is that the way he sees me?
Mr. Maibus:  Well, it may be a little severe, but it shows he was thinking about you anyway.

Filmed on location in San Francisco, the physical journey takes us up and down the hills, to the waterfront, to bars and to the department store where Frank earns his living. A Chinatown dance team who perform at the Johnson's favourite restaurant played by Victor Sen Yung (The Letter, Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, Across the Pacific) and Reiko Sato (Flower Drum Song, The Ugly American, Kismet) figure prominently and tragically in the search for Frank.

From a co-worker played by John Qualen (The Grapes of Wrath, Casablanca, A Big Hand for the Little Lady), Eleanor learns of the regard with which Frank is held by others, by a life of kindnesses shared. She sees Frank through other eyes and herself through Frank's eyes; the good and the bad.  Her part in their estrangement becomes clear and Eleanor is surprised to realize that Frank still loves her.

Eleanor Johnson takes risks on the streets of San Francisco.

Keeping herself dangerously one step ahead of the police and much too close to Legget brings Eleanor closer to Frank emotionally and able to follow his thinking to his hiding in plain sight at a waterside amusement park (location: Ocean Park Pier, Santa Monica). The false and heightened emotions of a midway at night bring the tensions of the separately motivated manhunts to an exciting climax in Woman on the Run.

Sally Blane and Norman Foster
(1935 - 1976)

Based on a short story by Sylvia Tate called Man on the Run, director Norman Foster co-wrote the screenplay with Alan Campbell. Married to Sally Blane for 41 years, we can assume that Mr. Foster and his wife were able to work out the issues that arise between people who live together.

Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell
(1933 - 1947, 1950 - 1963)

At the time of this picture, Alan Campbell was in between his marriages to the notably acerbic writer Dorothy Parker. As a successful screenwriting team perhaps we can glimpse something of their actual relationship in films like A Star is Born and Sweethearts. I can't help but wonder at possible parallels in Woman on the Run, produced just before they married for the second time.

Woman on the Run is one of those films that fell into the public domain and the only prints I have seen and owned over the years are of dismal quality. Hopefully, TCM's screening on Friday, June 5th at 10:15 pm, the evening kicking off the Summer of Darkness spotlight, will be of finer condition. At any rate, it is not to be missed.

EDIT 6/6/2015:  These lamps of mine have never before beheld anything as beautiful as the restored Woman on the Run.


  1. Great review. It is a passage of discovery for Ann Sheridan's character. And a good part for Robert Keith, a fine actor.
    Funny to see Ann with a bust of herself - she also had one in The Unfaithful.

    1. I wonder if Ann had dibs on either of the busts.

      Robert Keith seems born wearing a fedora and questioning suspects. He could also be quite funny. A boon for casting directors.

  2. Ooooh, great pick! I happened to catch this at the Noir Foundation Festival and it was fantastic. That rollercoaster scene—YOWZA!

    1. It jumped right out at me as June's choice. I'm crazy about this film, and impressed at your having seen this at the Festival.

  3. I love your recommendation! This is one of several Dennis O'Keefe films I've seen for the first time this year and loved. The restored print shown at the Noir City Fest was beautiful, and my understanding is TCM should be showing it in that condition. Fingers crossed!

    I also adored ABANDONED, COVER UP, and LAS VEGAS SHAKEDOWN -- more of his films need to be out on DVD! Hope your readers will follow your recommendation and check out this very well-written film.

    Best wishes,

    1. Laura, I can hardly wait for Friday night to see this film in pristine condition (fingers crossed). It is a tribute to its power that it reached me through the grainy, blurry print.

      I think maybe we can put about a half dozen folks together to start a Dennis O'Keefe cult!

  4. Sounds great. New to me, so I'll look forward to it.

    1. One of my favourite parts of the movie is that there is a very nice part for Victor Sen Yung. He and Norman Foster worked on 7 movies from 1937-1940, including 3 top-notch Chan pictures. It is nice to see him get a break at a time when roles were not easy to come by.

  5. I've never seen WOMAN ON THE RUN, but I love the cast and am intrigued by the interlocking story structure.

    1. It's a fine piece of work - exciting and entertaining. I'm sure when you catch up with "Woman on the Run", you'll be a fan.



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