Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ann Sheridan's Little Known Gem

Inspector (Robert Keith): Don't you eat anything but dog food?

Eleanor (Ann Sheridan): He's not particular, and I'm lazy, so we eat out.

With its snappy dialogue, I'm kind of surprised that "Woman on the Run," which debuted on this date in 1950, didn't receive an Oscar nomination for its writing.

But not really. A film noir seldom seems to have been recognized by Oscar in those days — unless a big name was involved.

It was still a good story. When the movie began, a fellow was out at night walking his dog, and he saw someone in a car talking about a crime. That person was shot at point–blank range by the driver of the car, who then saw the shadow of the fellow and fired at it twice, thinking it was a person and, consequently, missing both times. Unseen by the audience, the killer then drove off in a hurry.

Turned out that the person who was shot had been planning to testify in court against a gangster. He wisely went into hiding.

The police then tried to get information from his barely wife (Ann Sheridan), who didn't seem to have much love left for her husband but did appear to be loyal to him. When he called her and the police tried to trace the call, the wife warned him and he promptly hung up.

Dennis O'Keefe played a newspaperman who was after an exclusive story, and he managed to enlist the wife in helping him search for her husband.

And thus was launched a kind of competition between the wife (with the newspaperman) and the police.

As the story went on, Sheridan's character learned that her husband was still in love with her — and the audience learned that O'Keefe's character was really the killer, trying to find — and silence — Sheridan's husband with her help.

At one point, the police thought they had found Sheridan's husband — or what was left of him. The body had been badly beaten, and the police had to ask Sheridan to come in to make an identification. When she saw the body, she got weak at the knees and had to be helped from the room. But she later confided to O'Keefe that the corpse had not been her husband.

And, in a scene that foretold an event early in Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train," which made its debut the following year, Sheridan and O'Keefe found themselves in a seaside amusement park at night — and Sheridan took a harrowing roller coaster ride.

Before Sheridan rode that roller coaster, the movie had one of my favorite dialogue exchanges. It's the kind of snappy dialogue that was sprinkled throughout "Woman on the Run," so much so that it may well have been overlooked by audiences then — and now — simply because it came late in a movie in which that kind of dialogue was commonplace.
Eleanor: I don't like this place.

Danny (Dennis O'Keefe): It's a good spot. I used to come here with my girl when I was a kid.

Eleanor: It's more frightening than romantic.

Danny: It's the way love is when you're young ... life is when you're older.

Sheridan's character was a hardened woman of her times who probably would be uncomfortable in the modern world. In a conversation with the police early in the movie, she spoke of how her husband was a drifter who drifted from job to job and city to city. When she was asked if she had ever gotten a job to help the couple through the rough patches, she observed that supporting the family was his responsibility, not hers.

Saying that her role in "Woman on the Run" may have been the best of Sheridan's career probably doesn't mean much to modern viewers. Few have ever heard of her. If they have seen any of her movies, it was purely by accident, and they may not even remember seeing her.

But if "Woman on the Run" had been recognized at the time, Sheridan might be better known today.

As I say, a film noir typically does not receive that kind of recognition. But "Woman on the Run" wasn't a typical film noir.