Incredible film noir. Everything fits together smoothly: the pacing builds suspense, tension pulls together the interlocking plots, and the performances give us characters to think about and care for. Like the best noirs, Woman On The Run has its hero Frank (Ross Elliot) unwillingly thrust into a dangerous maze, dodging criminals, police, and his own emotional and physical hang-ups. His redemption, coming so late, is nonetheless complete, as he regains his wife, his confidence, and his safety. Among other ironies, his wife Eleanor (Anne Sheridan), while gradually realizing that she still loves Frank, is shadowed constantly by the murderer Dan (Dennis O’Keefe), whom she thinks is a friendly reporter.
For most of the movie she’s at odds with the nosy police Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith), and pretty much leads Dan to his prey, Frank. Ferris definitely sets himself up as the bad guy by denying Frank the heart medicine he needs unless he turns himself in. The fact that Frank is only wanted as a witness to a murder–committed by the superficially nice guy Dan, is an apt noir twist of fate. Dan isn’t revealed as the bad guy until the end–during the long, lurid amusement park scene. Until the restaurant owner provides the incriminating clues, we don’t know about Dan’s almost successful ruse.
Fortunately, Frank makes use of a buddy–another noir character device–to throw Dan off his trail long enough for the police to intervene. Not before the very disorienting piers and pilings find Frank ambushed by Dan. Meanwhile, in the nightmare mode of noir, Eleanor can only look on helplessly, trapped on the careering roller coaster as the hideous funhouse figure cackles in the night.
Slotted into this menacing atmosphere is some of the best comic relief in this or any genre. The dog, in its cute way, does plenty to advance the plot–providing an emotional link between Frank and Eleanor, amusing the Inspector, distracting him, then helping him–Rembrandt generally keeps our disbelief suspended. His role is naive, of course, but therefore it’s completely authentic.
The overall impression, however, is of a very dark movie. Things seems to get more complicated, more intense; Eleanor’s wise-cracking is so well-thrown together that the delivery masks its very negative content. But after her ironic mis-identification of the corpse, she lets up considerably. About the only facet of this gem that seemed a bit obscure was Maibus’s (John Qualen’s) role. Like the seaman, Maibus is a buddy/helper figure, contributing somewhat to Eleanor’s quest to find her husband. His revelations about Frank’s travel stories don’t seem to have any purpose, however. The Chinese restaurant owner and staff are more directly helpful.
In addition to the superb entertainment value this excellent noir movie, a bit of philosophical value emerges in Woman On The Run. Frank and Eleanor face confusing, disorienting, unfair, and downright dangerous situations, but they come out of it ok; they’ve found out that they must be a pretty good couple after all. 10/10.