Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Woman on the Run (2015 UCLA restoration)

Woman on the Run: Dennis O'Keefe and Ann Sheridan. Click to enlarge the images.
Il mistero del marito scomparso / Murhaaja etsii itseään / Vittnet som försvann. US © 1950 Fidelity Pictures Corporation. D: Norman Foster. Dal racconto [1948] di Sylvia Tate. SC: Alan Campbell, Norman Foster. DP: Hal Mohr. ED: Otto Ludwig. AD: Boris Leven. M: Arthur Lange, Emil Newman. C: Ann Sheridan (Eleanor Johnson), Dennis O’Keefe (Daniel Leggett), Robert Keith (ispettore Ferris), Ross Elliott (Frank Johnson), John Qualen (Maibus), Frank Jenks (detective Shaw), Victor Sen Yung (Sammy Chung), Jane Liddell (la ragazza), J. Farrell McDonald (il capitano), Steven Geray (dottor Hohler). P: Howard Welsch per Fidelity Pictures Corporation. 35 mm. 89’. B&w. English version. From: UCLA Film & Television Archive.
    Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding by the Film Noir Foundation. Preserved from a 35 mm nitrate dupe negative, a 35 mm nitrate composite print and a 35 mm acetate composite print. Laboratory services by Film Technology Company, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, and Simon Daniel Sound. Special thanks to BFI, The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Universal Pictures.
    Viewed at Cinema Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Ritrovati e Restaurati), introduced by Cecilia Cenciarelli and Yoram Kahana (The Hollywood Foreign Press Association), with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra, 1 July 2015.

Steven K. Hill (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website): "Shot largely among the gritty working class landscapes of mid-century San Francisco, Woman on the Run spotlights Ann Sheridan as an acerbic wise-cracking wife in search of her estranged husband who suddenly disappears after witnessing a gangland assassination. After suffering through a series of disappointing roles at Warner Bros., Sheridan bought out her remaining contract and turned to the upstart independent Fidelity Pictures in an attempt to re-establish her career as a leading lady. The resultant film was Woman on the Run, and Sheridan delivers a tour-de-force performance, aided by equally strong turns by Dennis O’Keefe, Robert Keith, and Ross Elliott in the supporting roles. Director Norman Foster, a former protégé of Orson Welles, had just returned to Hollywood after helming a successful string of features in Mexico and captured the anxiety-driven mood of Alan Campbell’s screenplay with seemingly effortless dexterity. The Bay Area location filming – in addition to the opening sequence shot in Bunker Hill and the dramatic climax staged at the Santa Monica Pier – was beautifully shot by esteemed cinematographer Hal Mohr and adds atmospheric realism to the production that studio-bound efforts of the era could not hope to match."

"Although the film opened strongly amidst positive critical reviews, attendance dwindled precipitously due in part to a bizarre advertising campaign that touted the movie as a woman’s picture: “a probing study of the failure of modern marriage”. Quickly falling into obscurity, the film has been long and unjustly neglected, compelling Film Noir Foundation founder and president Eddie Muller to remark that “If Woman on the Run had been directed by Raoul Walsh or Joseph H. Lewis or Don Siegel, it would have been rediscovered decades ago and heralded as a minor masterpiece”."

"For years it was believed that a restoration of Woman on the Run was impossible after the last known surviving print of this film was destroyed in a studio fire."

"An exhaustive worldwide search was eventually rewarded with the discovery of duplicate pre-print elements in the vaults of the British Film Institute."
(Steven K. Hill)

AA: This film noir is a chase story. Frank Johnson is chased by the mob because he has witnessed the killing of a key witness. But he does not want to get into police custody and is chased also by the police with the help of his wife Eleanor. Ominously, Eleanor is helped by Daniel Leggett who pretends to be a newspaperman for Graphic but is actually a hitman for the mob. Leggett manages to win Eleanor's confidence.

On another level, Eleanor fears that Frank has now left her and is actually escaping her. The clues Eleanor keeps getting from Frank during the chase affirm her trust in her husband's love.

On the deepest level, Woman on the Run is a vision of existential Angst. Nobody can be trusted, and even the trust in the nearest one can lead into a fatal trap.

The action is well directed, the dialogue is witty, and the film has been conceived in powerful visual terms thanks to the inspired location shooting by the old master Hal Mohr, a veteran who had started in Hollywood before WWI (Salomy Jane), often excelling in shooting on location.

Woman on the Run is in public domain which may explain why good theatrical prints have been hard to come by.  UCLA has done a fine job of restoration of this solid film noir.

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