It’s almost forgotten. A quickie from 1950, one of those magical years in Hollywood.
The studio system was tottering but still dominant, and film noir in general was very much in decent, watchable shape. As you may have noticed, we’ve included below some of our top noir picks (one from the 1950’s), and while Woman On The Run doesn’t meet this high threshold, it’s certainly worth another look-see.
A man (Ross Elliott) in a shaky marriage witnesses a brutal murder, and, fearing the killer will come after him too, takes it on the lam. A police hunt ensues initially without the aid of the man’s wife (Ann Sheridan), who harbors mixed feelings about her husband. Finally, she realizes the danger of the situation and cooperates with police Inspector Ferris (played by the fine character actor Robert Keith, the father of actor Brian) and puts herself into danger.
We realize that we’re giving away a plot secret, but the fellow the wife thinks is a good guy — isn’t. He’s played by Dennis O’Keefe, a film noir hero who usually portrays stalwarts very much on the good side of the law (check him out in 1947’s T-Men).
This tidy (77-minutes) thriller was co-scripted and directed by Norman Foster, who eight years before co-directed (with Orson Welles) the magnificent Joseph Cotten thriller Journey Into Fear. It was filmed largely in San Francisco, and was backed by Universal-International, a major studio then and now. Good for Universal.
Now to some of our top noir picks:
—Stranger on the Third Floor (Remastered Edition), RKO, 1940. This tidy gem (running time, a zippy 64 minutes) stars Peter Lorre, one of the genre’s founding stalwarts, as a crepuscular creep who slits the throats of two victims. The script for this designated programmer is a bit wobbly, and concerns an upstanding news reporter (also a police suspect) and his clear-eyed fiancee. The visually impressive film is justifiably praised by cinephiles today for its many technical attributes that would later be adopted by Welles and (producer-creator) Val Lewton. It is considered the first true film noir.
— The Set-Up (1949), RKO, 1949. Film noirs are most often distinguished by the suitability of their stars (say, Robert Mitchum versus a stodgy Robert Montgomery or Humphrey Bogart versus a wiseacre Dick Powell). The star of this one, Robert Ryan, is terrific as an aging boxer brutally beset by mobsters because he wouldn’t take a dive. Ryan, in great shape, is utterly believable as the fighter, and noir notable Audrey Totter is on hand as the wife back in the shabby hotel room. Trivia: the ringside bell is struck by “timekeeper” Arthur Fellig, better known as Forties crime photographer Weegee.
— Detour, PRC, 1945. Tracking down a decent print of this one is well worth the challenge. Hollywood bad boy Tom Neal (who slugged actor Franchot Tone over the hand of party girl Barbara Payton) and Ann Savage give surprisingly convincing performances as a piano player (Neal) on his way to the coast and the murderous female hitchhiker who abducts him. (that’s them above) — Tense, tough, densely plotted and building to a downbeat, fatalistic conclusion. Who said film noir was for the faint of spirit?
— Too Late For Tears, United Artists, 1949. As we noted yesterday, Lizabeth Scott (born Emma Matso in Scranton, Pa.) is one of the most accomplished of noir actresses, appearing in many genre titles almost all good. She’s a big favorite of both Frank’s and Joe’s. She’s here in spades in this picture which mixes all the elements: 60-thousand G’s in a duffel bag tossed by chance into a passing convertible, a detective on the take (Dan Duryea, one of noir’s most talented regulars), illicit sexual doings, duplicity, double-crosses, guns and an unexpected fall from a balcony.
— The Hitch-Hiker, RKO, 1953. Two likable blokes (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) on the road pick up the wrong man, and all hell breaks loose. This one is based on a true-life incident, and was the only noir directed by a woman, Ida Lupino, who graced many a genre title as a superbly sultry actress. What pulls the movie together is the evil performance of working actor William Tallman as the murderous psychotic waving that pistol in the back seat. Tense, psychological drama. Get this and several others from this post on Classic Film Noir (The Man Who Cheated Himself / The Hitchhiker / Detour / D.O.A / Too Late for Tears / The Stranger / Strange Love of Martha Ivers / Quicksand / The Scar).
— T-Men, Eagle Lion Films, 1948. A cops-and-robbers saga, specifically about U.S. Treasury agents breaking up an especially brutal counterfeiting ring. There are creditworthy performances from Dennis O’Keefe and Alfred Ryder, among others, directed by Anthony Mann. What made this tense police hunt for us is the presence of one of our favorite working actors, Charles McGraw, as the sadistic nasty who slowly slays a stool pigeon (a hapless Wallace Ford) by locking him in a steam bath and then running up the temperature. Marvelous. Get this film and several others on John Alton Film Noir Collection (T-Men / Raw Deal / He Walked by Night) – The ClassicFlix Restorations on Blu-ray.
Finally, this bonus choice: Shoot the Piano Player (English Subtitled) (Tirez Sur Le Pianiste) 1960. French filmmaker Francois Truffaut’s second movie with Charles Aznavour starring as a cabaret pianist with a past beset by a criminal gang thanks to the antics of an inept brother. This one is not technically a film noir — strictly an American art form — but is more a hommage to the genre and a most enjoyable one at that.