At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

WOMAN ON THE RUN

By • Jun 18th, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

There was a time when I would go to a movie based on which actors were in it (Sean Connery, Albert Finney, Marlon Brando, etc.) or what director was at the helm (Sam Peckinpah, Roman Polanski, Ken Russell, etc.) I never watch coming attractions. I don’t read advance reviews. I ask people who have seen it, or who know a lot about it, not to tell me anything more than what genre it falls under.

Now that DVD and BluRay are the major sources when choosing a film to watch or buy, there’s been another criteria added: who is doing the commentary track? If it’s Eddie Muller or Tom Weaver, for example, I’ll go for the disc whether I know anything about it or not, or even if word of mouth has been negative. If these personalities are giving it their imprimatur, than that’s enough reason for me to shell out the cabbage.

Case in point – WOMAN ON THE RUN. The restoration of this title has been a major project of noir czar Eddie Muller. He must have been pleased to accompany it with his commentary. The enclosed booklet features his essay explaining the arduous task of locating good elements, both sound and image, and bringing the title back into its glory. Also, there’s a little supplemental doc, which goes over the same ground, this time with restorationists like Scott McQueen providing testimony.

Muller’s research, interestingly, reveals the extent to which the production was conceived and controlled by lead actress Ann Sheridan. Looking for better material for herself, and burnt out by the roles she was offered at Warner Bros, she bought herself out of her contract for $35,000. of her own cash. Apparently she was fast-witted with a cynical POV on life, and that world view is present in her characterization, wicked, improvisational, adding much to the basic script. In fact, she surrounded herself with actors like Robert Keith, Dennis O’Keefe, and director/co-author Norman Foster who could keep up with her in the improv department. Even DP Hal Mohr was known for his inventiveness, and possibly was sought out by her for this quality.

The score by Arthur Lange and Emil Newman is particularly effective, including a passionate front title composition that revs you up for the rollercoaster ride ahead (literally and figuratively).

Did Sheridan also choose Ross Hunter as the film’s Dialogue Coach? Hunter went on to the highest echelon at Universal, producing such films as AIRPORT, PILLOW TALK, IMITATION OF LIFE and MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, before coming a cropper with the Columbia Pictures release of LOST HORIZON, an inconceivably misguided mega-musical version of Frank Capra’s 1937 classic, starring – and whose first choice for a musical about Shangri-La wouldn’t she be – Liv Ullmann?? Hunter revealed a tad too much here of his terminally dubious taste, the film tanked exactly as it should have, and his career was never again the same. Ann – take a bow.

At 35, Sheridan’s face was starting to get a bit soft, and she played into it. Oddly, on some of the poster art included with the BluRay/DVD release, she looks very much like Lucille Ball. Doug Pratt, in his DVD Newsletter, says that on first glance he took her for a guy. I didn’t get that impression, but it actually does fit the tone of the film. Her husband, who ducks out of sight when he is informed by the police that he has to identify a murderer on the stand, is skittish and weak, whereas she is weathered, not intimidated, and stands up to anything the cops can throw at her.

There’s a heck of a reveal about half-way through, one that the critics of the time didn’t like. Muller calls them all idiots. He’s right.

Sadly, this indie production did not find wide distribution and failed to generate much profit, if any. It must have been a terrible disappointment to Sheridan, who cobbled together such a fine cast of characters, both behind and in front of the camera, and then went from city to city promoting the film. Not only that but the script has real social value, illuminating through subtext an analysis of post-war marriages on the rocks.

It’s a fine film, getting its due late better than never. And it’s a good mastering. In some shots the blacks aren’t dense enough, but that’s my only gripe. Well, and that I can’t read the print on the back of the box easily because the background and the lettering are too similar. It’s easier to read on their other Noir release, TOO LATE FOR TEARS. But it’s otherwise a lovely packaging, right up there with Criterion’s efforts.

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