Film Noir Returns To Hollywood

Woman on the Run still

What fun it is to attend the Noir City Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood every spring. It’s hard to believe that it’s been seventeen years since Eddie Muller first programmed this exhilarating event with the American Cinematheque. He and his partner-in-noir Alan K. Rode host the screenings that bring a large and diverse audience to the Egyptian for classics, discoveries, and bread-and-butter pictures that otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to be projected in 35mm on the big screen.

Last Friday’s opening bill paid tribute to Ann Sheridan with a double-bill: Woman on the Run (1950), recently restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Film Noir Foundation with funding from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and the 1947 Warner Bros. drama The Unfaithful

Woman on the Run is particularly enjoyable, thanks to a snappy screenplay by director Norman Foster and writer Alan Campbell (Dorothy Parker’s husband), based on a magazine story by Sylvia Tate. The story has a dog-walker witnessing a murder one night. When he learns that the dead man was about to inform on an underworld figure, and the cops now need him to testify, he takes it on the lam. The police approach his wife (Sheridan) to help them find her missing spouse but she is surprisingly sullen and uncooperative; it seems they have become estranged and she knows very little about him.

Almost every scene in this tense little thriller is heightened by sharp, colorful dialogue. What’s more, cinematographer Hal Mohr’s filming of San Francisco locations is exceptional …even though the opening scene was shot at Bunker Hill and L.A. and the amusement-park finale is Santa Monica’s Pacific Ocean Park. (That’s Hollywood for you…)

Woman on the Run poster

Sheridan and Dennis O’Keefe are very good in the leads, while every supporting role is filled by an experienced character actor. It’s fun to see Robert Keith, Ross Elliott, Frank Jenks, John Qualen, Steven Geray, Victor Sen Yung, Syd Saylor, J. Farrell MacDonald, and Joan Shawlee (then known as Joan Fulton) make the most of their screen time, no matter how brief.

Woman on the Run was in need of preservation because the last surviving 35mm print was destroyed in a fire at Universal some years ago and the studio no longer owns the picture, which it originally distributed. It was independently produced under the Fidelity Pictures banner by Howard Welsch (who made Fritz Lang’s House by the River the same year) and, according to Eddie Muller, coproduced by Sheridan herself.

Thank goodness the Film Noir Foundation has expanded its reach and become actively involved in locating and saving such orphaned films. (It’s thanks to them that we can enjoy The Prowler on DVD.) If you’re not already a member of the FNF, I encourage you to visit their website, purchase some of their fine publications, and become involved. 

The Unfaithful one sheet

The Unfaithful is a disguised and somewhat diluted post-World War II remake of  The Letter, without the bite of the original W. Somerset Maugham story. It’s also not what I would call a legitimate film noir. But I never quibble with that definition when Noir City rolls around, because I welcome any excuse to see interesting and rare old movies on the huge Egyptian Theatre screen. If you haven’t caught the fever, check out this year’s calendar HERE.

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