Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Woman on the Run

Woman on the Run - [Norman Foster - 1950]

This is a very good 1950 San Francisco noir - some would say crime drama - with Ann Sheridan in a loveless marriage who has to try to find her missing husband before the killer does. The opening and closing scenes are definitely noir; The opening scene a man [Ross Elliott] witnesses a murder while walking his dog late at night and just avoids being shot himself; the killer shoots at his shadow. The final scene takes place in an amusement part and involves a really terrific edited sequence with Sheridan on a rollercoaster when she realizes the killer is on the way to kill her husband whom she can see right below the coaster. In between is essentially a really cool travelogue of San Francisco and a lot of wise cracks by Sheridan toward the dogged inspector played by Robert Keith and Dennis O'Keefe - who plays an eager newspaperman accompanying her as she tries to find her husband.

Considering this is a prominent San Francisco noir it is ironic that the two best scenes were not shot in San Francisco - the first scene was shot on Bunker Hill in Los Angeles, and the final scene was shot in Santa Monica at the Ocean Park Pier.

Ann Sheridan was a big star at Warner Bros. but was overshadowed by such stars as Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland; plus she had a reputation for turning down roles. Once she left Warner's she went to independent film companies to make films. Woman on the Run was made by Fidelity Pictures, a small production company, which released the film through Universal as a B-crime drama. Sheridan - showing she had plenty of talent - does a terrific job in this film as a woman who goes from incredulous to caring in the course of searching for her husband.

What is particularly notable about the film is the scarcity, for many years, of a good quality print. Eddie Muller, the head of the Film Noir Foundation, who was a big fan of the movie went in search of a print many years ago. With some work he stumbled across one in the Universal archives. He was startled by how good the print was and after showing it at a festival he implored Universal to send the print to the UCLA Film and Television Archive not only to house it in a world class archive but because, technically, they didn't own the rights. Then in 2008 there was a studio lot fire, which destroyed a number of videos and prints including Woman on the Run.

Muller managed to find a 35mm print at the British Film Institute in London. He immediately had them ship their 35mm nitrate composite print to UCLA where it was used restore a new copy by Scott MacQueen along with a 35mm nitrate dupe picture negative and a 35mm acetate composite print.

The image quality of most all DVD's and online copies of the film are atrocious. The only good print is available at UCLA, which just showed the film at their Festival of Preservation; it will show again at the Noir City Festival April 3rd at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

A [presumably] good quality DVD IS available from France and includes a 70 page book on the film written by Eddie Muller. But if you don't have $40.00 to spare and an all region DVD player then you should try to get to the Egyptian.

Some links.

Film Noir of the Week

San Francisco Movie Locations

Interview with Eddie Muller about his dealings with Universal.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Really Short reviews

A few recent older movies I've seen.

Heaven Knows, Mr Allison
Nun But the Marines. Good solid Hollywood film by John Huston with Deborah Kehr and Robert Mitchum stuck on an island in the South Pacific together as they hide from the Japanese and await the war to end. It darn near almost gets hokey and heavy handed but ends on the right tone.

Bitter Victory
Bitter Misery. Nicholas Ray takes on war by pitting two men against each other who love the same woman. The perfect one, [Richard Burton], is too cowardly to love a woman and the far from perfect one, Curt Jürgens, is too cowardly to kill a man - except his rival when it suits him. Set in the forbidding desert the film is action packed but more memorable as a psychological study of the two men.

Will Penny
Penny for Your Naughts. Tom Gries directed Charlton Heston in one of his best performances. Here he is a cowboy who can fight anyone, herd cattle anywhere but when it comes to the love of a woman he bows out; also a coward. Joan Hackett, who has similar features to Jean Arthur, is terrific as the tough woman who almost gets her man.

The Sun Shines Bright
The Judge Aligns Right. Rarely seen John Ford film set in the Confederate south after the civil war involving a judge running for re-election. He encounters a lynch mob and - in his laid back southern way - finds a way to keep the peace and maintain his popularity. The film would be called politically incorrect today but it's pretty evident that Ford is not making a value or judgement call toward the African American characters. But the personalities they exude would not be portrayed in the same way by actors today.