Review of Woman on the Run (1950)
Seen in 2021.
An unsuccessful artist takes off from the police rather than risk his life as a witness against the mob. The artist’s wife spends the next day looking for him, hampered by the fact that they have grown apart over the years.
The woman is not on the run. This is one of those rare occasions when the Swedish title (Vittnet som försvann, The Witness Who Disappeared) is actually better, although the woman is more central than her husband, the witness. He was the subject of a working title, Man on the Run.
The narrative is tightly compressed, but pleasantly so. There is not a wasted shot, yet both the criminal mystery and the story of a marriage are satisfactorily resolved over the course of a tour through San Francisco. It isn’t canonically San Francisco, but those streets are easy to recognize, even with a few extra Dutch angles and cozy back-projection cab rides.
The story ends at a seaside amusement park, shot in Santa Monica. That finale is an excellent set piece: The “Skyrocket” roller coaster extrapolates from the earlier bumpy cab rides, and a ride on it is indeed shot with back projection, which is really cute. The roller coaster is a screaming metaphor for the apex of tension and the two ordinary people caught up in violent circumstances beyond their control; it is the film itself. Husband and wife are pressed between ruthless gangsters and the noir genre’s barely-moral police, and yet, there is a Hays Code wholesomeness to the reignition of their marriage through the ordeal. It isn’t overtly feminist, but it’s nice to see old-school noir with a woman who is the main character, isn’t young, is able to operate on her own, and is definitely not a femme fatale.