Blog Directory CineVerse: There's no such thing as bad pizza, sex, or noir

There's no such thing as bad pizza, sex, or noir

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

In the 1940s and 1950s, Hollywood studios cranked out noirish fare regularly. Many of these cheap quickies rapidly evaporated from the public consciousness, being the disposable entertainments they were, but others were ripe for rediscovery generations later – despite their cut-rate pedigree.

One such example is Woman on the Run, directed by Norman Foster. CineVerse identified this movie’s multiple merits last week, as summarized below (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

How is Woman on the Run different from or similar to other noir films you’ve seen?

  • It does not feature an evil femme fatale spider woman who leads men into danger. However, it does spotlight one of the three major noir character types: the middle-class victim who gets pulled into a dangerous situation by a stroke of fate – in this case, a bystander who witnesses a mob murder.
  • Like many films noir, it’s set in a large city; here, it’s San Francisco. But different from many other noirs, which are often low-budget affairs shot on confined studio sets, Woman on the Run often features memorable outdoor location shooting across San Francisco and Northern California, using famous landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, and the Ocean Park Pier amusement park in Santa Monica.
  • It has the visual aesthetics of classic noir, by virtue of its use of canted angles, tracking shots, and chiaroscuro lighting. But consider the many daytime scenes shot; when you think of noir, you often imagine dark, shadowy nighttime sequences.
  • This film also has a slightly more comedic and lighthearted tone then many hard-boiled and gritty noirs.
    • Film blogger Eric Hillis wrote: “It stands out from the crowd by just how comedic it is. The dialogue by Ross Hunter is some of the wittiest you’ll find in noir, and Sheridan is the perfect vessel for this particular brand of snark.”
  • Interestingly, this film adopts a different approach than expected. Here, neither the police investigator nor witness husband are the primary character we follow; alternatively, the filmmakers spotlight his wife, a relatively safe character who isn’t being chased by the police or the mob. We come to care more about her as we realize, as she does, that she and Frank have stronger feelings for each other than previously thought.
    • Per film historian Philippa Gates, Woman on the Run is one of the few noir films foregrounding a heroine's quest, and especially one where "the heroine's quest is not necessarily complicated by [heterosexual romance ..., in fact] the love interests are absent for the majority of the story."
    • “While the film has the trappings of a classic film noir mystery, the murder and chase almost take a backseat to the psychological examination of Eleanor and her husband,” wrote film blogger Morgan Lewis.

What are some possible missed opportunities or questionable decisions related to this film?

  • The title is misleading. Eleanor, the wife, is not technically “on the run.” She’s trying to find and warn her husband. More accurately, it’s her husband who is on the run – or, to be specific, hiding out.
  • Arguably, the major twist reveal, that Dan is not a reporter but actually a hitman for the mob out to kill Frank, occurs a bit too early and, at least for modern audiences, can be a bit easy to sniff out ahead of time. The advantage, however, of revealing his duplicitous nature early on is that it builds suspense about whether or not Eleanor will unwittingly guide Dan to her husband and his demise.
  • Although the climactic amusement park scene is relatively well-staged, edited, and executed, it could have been even more tense and gripping if the filmmakers had included a well-edited sequence showing the cops reaching Frank in time and killing Dan before he can murder Frank. Likewise, instead of showing the floating body in the water and then quickly revealing that the dead man is Dan, it would’ve been better if the disembodied hand of Frank reached in from out of frame to touch Eleanor on the shoulder as she looked down at the dead man, giving us a brief moment of suspense as to who survived. That would have been a Hitchcockian touch.

Films or other works that come to mind after watching Woman on the Run

  • Strangers on a Train and Lady From Shanghai, two noirish pictures that each feature amusement parks or funhouses as a pivotal setting
  • The Third Man, which also has us follow an evasive figure who does not emerge until well into the film.

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