Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) is just an ordinary man walking his dog at night on the streets of San Francisco when he witnesses a murder. When he realises he will have to come under police protection to bring the murderer to justice, he quickly disappears from the crime scene.
At this stage you’d expect to see the murderer and his gangster friends competing with the police to track him down, but instead the film turns to the man’s domestic situation. Police Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith) finds that Frank’s wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan) is totally disinterested. She doesn’t know who his friends are, or where he goes, or what he does, her refrain is “how would I know?”. There are not even any pictures of him; they have simply shared a home after four years of marriage. The only leads are that he is an artist, and as revealed by their kitchen shelves that are only full of tins of dog food, she acknowledges “I’m lazy, we eat out.”
Eleanor takes it on herself to find her husband, in both a literal and metaphorical manner. Shadowed by the police and befriended by Dan Legget (Dennis O’Keefe) a persistent newspaper reporter, Eleanor is shocked to discover that Frank has a critical heart condition - a physical condition that symbolically reflects the fact that he still loves his wife.
At the department store where Frank works as a window dresser, his colleague Mr Maibus (John Qualen) enthusiastically extolls the virtues of Frank and admires how adventurous he is and admits “He makes my life exciting”. In addition, the mannequins in the shop window made by Frank show the many faces and moods of Eleanor. Eleanor never thought Frank continued to have such deep feelings for her, and a cryptic letter left by him helps her to eventually re-discover the man she first met.
The cinematography by Hal Mohr wonderfully captures the bustling working class districts of San Francisco by day and night (often in real locations), and Norman Foster directs with as much verve as Hitchcock, especially in the final scene in the amusement park. (indeed, Hitchcock also uses San Francisco as a city that symbolises the inner turmoil of the main characters in Vertigo.) The amusement park is a visual feast that feeds on the deeper meaning that life is a roller coaster where pleasure, pain and death jostle with your senses.
The title should be Man on the Run, but you can argue that Eleanor was a woman on the run from her own feelings from Frank. Ann Sheridan co-produced and invested in this project in an attempt to establish a more serious screen persona. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very well promoted on its release in 1950, and it is only in recent years that it has been rightly re-evaluated as a Film Noir gem.
The DVD includes several extras, including a commentary by historian Eddie Muller, stills gallery, Locations: Then and Now, Woman on the Run: Revisited, Restoring Woman on the Run.
WOMAN ON THE RUN / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: NORMAN FOSTER / SCREENPLAY: ALAN CAMPBELL, NORMAN FOSTER / STARRING: ANN SHERIDAN, DENNIS O’KEEFE, ROBERT KEITH, ROSS ELLIOTT, / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW