Wednesday 24 January 2018

Cinema Reborn - The 3rd Selection - WOMAN ON THE RUN (Norman Foster, USA, 1950)

Editor's Note: Cinema Reborn (temporary website) is being developed by community of cinema enthusiasts who, although for the moment working on this project on an entirely voluntary basis are also experienced programmers, filmmakers, screen historians and critics.
Cinema Reborn's focus will be on screen heritage and preservation. In its start-up year of 2018, From 3-7 May 2018, Cinema Reborn will present twelve programs of either recently restored films or, rarer, film archived-sourced film prints. All will be presented following best practice in the presentation of archival or screen heritage titles, and will reflect the originally intended experience of their creators. Cinema Reborn is intended to shine a light on the long history of the art of the cinema, the world-wide activity of film restoration and the treasures that exist in the world’s film archives.

In order to present the event in properly certified projection conditions we have formed an informal partnership with the Australian Film Television and Radio School, the only venue in Sydney which is fully compliant with international archival standards in all projection formats. Because of the limited seating space and our desire for this to be conducted on a not-for-profit basis, we have devised an admission system which will admit AFTRS students, staff and financial supporters free of charge and charge a modest subscription fee to the general public. The subscription only model is based on the method once employed by Australia’s major capital city film festivals and the programs are intended to encompass a selection of films which would otherwise not be available as a cinema going experience. It is intended that the selection will be entirely drawn from films not otherwise available from any modern sources including on locally available DVD or on any local streaming service. Cinema Reborn will be a unique program. 

The festival will include panel discussion devoted to issues of interest to cinephiles, professionals, audio-visual archivists, film historians and the media.

This is the final pre-launch title announcement. The full program and ticketing details are expected to be announced in the first week of March. The previous two restorations announced were Sans Lendemain (Max Ophuls, France, 1939) and The Night of Counting the Years (Shadi Abdel Salam, Egypt, 1969). Click on the links for information about those films.

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Woman on the Run may be set several notches above the usual cops-and-corpses contributions from the Coast,” New York Times critic Bosley Crowther almost grudgingly concluded when this long-lost noir was first released in late November 1950, “but it does make crime enjoyable.”

That it does. Adapted by director Norman Foster and Alan Campbell, with dialogue punch-up from Ross Hunter (yes, the guy who went on to produce Airport, among many others) from a short story by Sylvia Tate, the action takes place in San Francisco, with a small number of scenes shot on Los Angeles locations.

After witnessing a shooting whilst walking his dog (and narrowly misses being shot himself because he sees the killer), Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) goes on the run. The police attempt to enlist his wife Eleanor (Ann Sheridan) to track him down and persuade her husband to testify against the killer, who turns out to be a gangster, but their marriage is on the rocks and she wants nothing to do with any of it.

Dennis O'Keefe, Ann Sheridan, Woman on the Run
But when charismatic newshound Danny Leggett (Dennis O’Keefe) offers her cash for an exclusive on the story, the pair are off on a search of San Francisco sites and dives to find Frank. The twist—and it’s a good one—takes place at an amusement park (actually the Santa Monica Pier) and doesn’t disappoint.

Since its restoration, Woman on the Run has garnered praise for the luminous black-and-white cinematography of mid-century San Francisco from Hal Mohr (who had already shot Captain Blood and would go on to do The Wild One and Baby Face Nelson, among others) and Foster’s no-nonsense yet expressive direction.

Publicity photo, Ann Sheridan, Producer/Star of
Woman on the Run
Yet what continues to come up in review after review of the film is the novel—for its time—challenges of marital stressors, and the ways in which such a stressful crisis can affect these private relations. Tate’s original story would undoubtedly be a major contributing influence of this dynamic (as is Sheridan’s tough, flinty performance), but credit the filmmakers for preserving a noir plotline that is unusual, to say the least.

Tangentially, Foster had earlier stepped in as director on Journey into Fear when producer/co-screenwriter Orson Welles ran over schedule on The Magnificent Ambersons and who was impressed enough with Foster’s script for the earlier It’s All True to give him the assignment.    

Notes on the restoration
The only extant American 35mm print of Woman on the Run was destroyed in a 2008 fire on the Universal lot. This beautiful restoration was accomplished by the distributor Flicker Alley and the great Film Noir Foundation, in conjunction with the UCLA Film & Television Archive with special thanks to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Charitable Grant Trust and the British Film Institute—which had subsequently discovered the 35mm dupe negative and master soundtrack on which this digital restoration was based.

Woman on the Run has previously been reviewed by Rod Bishop and David Hare on the Film Alert 101 blog. You can find Rod's notes if you click here and David's if you click here  You can also find a review of the film by Farran Smith  Niehme, along with notes on another another major noir of the time, Too Late for Tears (Byron Haskin, USA, 1950), in this online post in Film Comment

For a very comprehensive note on the career of director Norman Foster there is an excellent piece online at _Bright Lights Film Journal 

(Notes by Eddie Cockrell)
The movie title card

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