“I like mercenary women.”
It’s a dark foggy night in San Francisco, and Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) is out walking his dog, Rembrandt in the park. A car pulls up, Frank hears gunshots, and a body falls from the car. At that point, Rembrandt starts barking, and the killer, realizing there’s a witness, takes a few shots at Frank before speeding off.
Inspector Martin Ferris (Robert Keith) arrives and explains to Johnson that the murdered man was a valuable witness, and since Frank saw the shooter, that makes him valuable too. At that news, Frank panics, and goes on the run.
Once Frank disappears, Inspector Ferris goes to Frank’s wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan) with the idea that she’ll know the whereabouts of her husband. And this is where the film gets really interesting–Eleanor is sour, full of great one-liners, and she doesn’t particularly care where her husband is. Gradually it’s revealed that most of the tension in their unhappy marriage is based in Frank’s artistic endeavors. The result of Frank’s talent is that after 4 years of marriage, the little money the Johnsons had is gone, but there’s a room full of unsold paintings.
While Inspector Ferris pesters Eleanor for answers, nosy newspaperman Danny Leggett (Dennis O’Keefe) befriends her. He has a talent for breaking through her sour, prickly facade, and so manages to strike up a quasi-relationship with Eleanor. Eleanor is feeling more than a bit bruised. Not only has her husband ditched her entirely, but the Police imply that she must have been a bad wife. Teaming up, Eleanor and Leggett search San Francisco together for clues to Frank’s whereabouts, and it gradually becomes clear that Eleanor–the one person in the world who should know Frank the best–doesn’t know her husband well at all.
Woman on the Run from director Norman Foster is a surprisingly good, well-paced noir film with a tight, no-scenes-wasted plot, and a tense, terrific conclusion. The character of Eleanor also adds a great deal to the film, and Ann Sheridan is great fun in this role. One of the best scenes occurs between Eleanor and Leggett in a taxicab. She’s reached the end point when it comes to implied criticism of her wifely performance: “In the past ten hours, I’ve met three men–three men who put together haven’t known Frank for a fraction of the length of time I’ve known him, yet they know him better than I do.” The Alpha DVD is acceptable–although some of the night scenes are too dark and this blots out detail. Also the film skips in a couple of spots–chopping off a word or two. But for film noir fans, this obscure title deserves a viewing.