Woman on the Run, directed by Journey Into Fear‘s Norman Foster, had its TCM debut on the first night of “Summer of Darkness,” following Nora Prentiss. Both starred Ann Sheridan and was a wake up call for me – I need to see more Ann Sheridan.
In his introduction, noir expert Eddie Muller said that Sheridan hoped that Woman on the Run would revive her career. Even though she was only 35 at the time, her career was practically over when Warner Bros. dropped her. Even though the San Francisco-set Woman on the Run is actually a forgotten noir gem, I have no idea how she thought this movie would help her. It’s practically a B-movie, running 75 minutes and featuring no big stars. Sure, Dennis O’Keefe was a workhorse, but he isn’t exactly a major star. And the film’s plot isn’t exactly something to be proud of. But it does highlight her acting skills. She spends about 90 percent of the movie in a trenchcoat, so we don’t get distracted by the body that made her the “oomph girl.” However, she looks a lot like Rita Hayworth in The Lady From Shanghai.
The story – written by Foster and Alan Campbell – begins with a random guy witnessing a murder. When police arrive, Frank (Ross Elliott) learns that he saw a witness who could have put a gangster in jail. Nervous for his own life, Frank runs off. The police hope to enlist his wife, Eleanor (Sheridan) to find him, but she’s uncooperative. Instead, she would rather help reporter Daniel (O’Keefe) find her husband because he’s going to pay her. Along the way, Daniel tries to woo Eleanor, but she’s falling back in love with Frank as she solves the clues he’s left for her. It’s a good thing that she didn’t fall in love with Daniel though… but I won’t spoil it.
Even though Sheridan wanted this to be a showcase for her, the best part of it is Robert Keith’s hilarious performance as Inspector Ferris, who is on the case. His back-and-forth with Sheridan is often priceless and his scenes with Eleanor’s dog provide the movie with some much-needed comic relief. I’d have rather seen a movie where Eleanor was forced to work with Ferris the whole time.
Like the best of film noir, Woman features a really interesting finale. Everyone in the film gets together at an amusement park, with a horrific roller coaster ride as the climax. Sadly, in an effort to get this movie over with as soon as possible we don’t get to see Ferris’ ultimate victory.
Again, I can’t say for certain why Sheridan thought this incredibly unglamorous role would revive her career. Perhaps she thought it would do for her what Mildred Pierce did for Joan Crawford and what Double Indemnity did for Barbara Stanwyck. Sadly it didn’t work. She only lived until 1967, dying after a battle with cancer and appeared in very few films after Woman on the Run.
Hopefully the film will now be part of TCM’s regular noir days outside the “Summer of Darkness.” You can watch the full film below: