Even if you’re not a film noir fan, Woman on the Run (1950) deserves your attention.
Yes, director Norman Foster’s movie is a mystery played out in a shadowy world of hardened crooks, hard-nosed detectives, and some eccentric characters. And it has an existential concern, as film noir movies often do.
But Woman on the Run is far more than a specimen of an old genre or style.
Here are three things this movie offers more than 70 years later.
A strong woman protagonist
Ann Sheridan plays Eleanor Johnson, whose husband Frank (Ross Elliott) is avoiding the police after he witnesses a gangster execution.
As Eleanor searches for Frank, we get to know a woman deeply disappointed by life. She is cynical and sharp-witted, and often quite funny.
She’s also smart and tough. She takes initiative and does most of the real detective work. She even tires out the undercover police agents trailing her!
Exciting, visually striking climactic action
I enjoy my share of Marvel movies. But there’s much to be said for “old-fashioned” action sequences that couldn’t rely on digital wizardry.
Woman on the Run’s fast-moving plot comes to a head in an amusement park—a setting always rich with unusual, even unsettling imagery.
Eleanor ends up with the killer on a roller coaster. Their high-speed trip through the night feels dangerous thanks to fast cuts and first-person camera work.
Hope for human relationships
Many film noir movies are cynical about the human condition. But Woman on the Run chooses to acknowledge its complexity, and holds out hope we can make it better.
Were the screenplay written today, it would doubtless deal with the ways both Eleanor and Frank neglected their marriage. The movie doesn’t sufficiently challenge the notion that Eleanor alone is to blame.
But ultimately, the movie shows compassion for us ordinary people as we muddle through life. As Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith) says early on, noting a psychology book in the Johnsons’ apartment, “Maybe he’s confused. Aren’t we all?”
Woman on the Run urges us to start sorting out that confusion by paying attention to each other more consistently, and to give ourselves to each other more generously.