Eye For Film >> Movies >> Woman On The Run (1950) Film Review
Film noir is often described as an atmosphere rather than a genre, a type of story often based on its dark tone rather than specific story conventions – of course, it can be argued that there are genre conventions such as hard-boiled detectives, doomed protagonists, and femme fetales, but though films defined as noir may share these elements, they will often be telling different types of stories. Mildred Pierce is noir in the sense that the narrative is driven by a murder by a femme fetale and, to paraphrase Paul Schrader, it is "defined by its hopeless tone", but even if Mildred Pierce can be described as noir, it is as much a family melodrama exploring the relationship between a mother and daughter.
The little heard of 1950 noir Woman On The Run shares a similar vein to Mildred Pierce, in that the narrative is driven by a crime while the film simultaneously explores a failed relationship. After witnessing the murder of a key police informant, innocent bystander Frank (Ross Elliott) is forced into hiding from the police, who now need him as a witness, and from the murderer. Frank’s ex-wife Eleanor (Ann Sheridan) is the only person who may be able to locate him, after receiving a letter with a cryptic clue based on an event from their relationship. With the help of reporter Danny Leggett (Dennis O’Keefe), she tries to find Frank without drawing attention from either the police or the killer.
The lean narrative runtime keeps the pace fast and though the main plotline is little more than a manhunt, it is given depth by Ann Sheridan’s nuanced performance as a hurt woman forced to confront her past feelings for the artist Frank. That the filmmakers often limit the dysfunctional relationship back-story to exposition heavy dialogue is slightly unsatisfying, meaning Woman On The Run is often guilty of telling but not showing the most interesting part of the narrative.
Despite this omission of Woman On The Run is a solid noir B-movie, backed up by strong performances and noir’s distinctive dark and shadowy style. The climax, however, is astonishing, making great use of the seaside fairground setting with a visually hallucinatory trip on a rollercoaster and introduces a satisfying twist that is logical but not telegraphed. If this standard was consistent throughout, Woman On The Run would be listed as one of the classic noir films but that is the film's major problem – it hints at a greatness that this B-movie production can’t deliver.Reviewed on: 14 Apr 2009