30 Days of Noir #22: Woman On The Run (dir by Norman Foster)


Like many film noirs, this 1950 film opens with a murder.

On a dark night in San Francisco, a man attempts to blackmail an unseen person called “Danny Boy” and gets shot for his trouble.  The gunshot is heard by a frustrated painter, named Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott), who is out walking his dog.  Frank sees the dead body being pushed out of a car and then catches a shadowy glimpse of the killer.  When the killer open fires on him, Frank runs for it.

Like a good citizen, Frank goes to the police but, when he learns that the victim was due to testify against a local gangster, Frank panics and vanishes.  When Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith) goes to see Frank’s wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan), he’s shocked to discover that Eleanor isn’t shocked by Frank’s disappearance and that she doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.  As Eleanor explains it, Frank is a notorious coward and, years ago, their once strong marriage became a loveless charade.  Frank’s vanished and Eleanor doesn’t care.

Or does she?

While it quickly becomes obvious that Eleanor is telling the truth about not knowing where Frank is, she’s not being totally honest about no longer caring about him.  For instance, when she learns that Frank has been hiding a heart condition from her, Eleanor goes to the doctor to pick up his medicine, just in case he should happen to come by the house.  Of course, it’s not always easy to get out of the house, especially now that the police are watching Eleanor.

Eleanor wants to track down Frank without involving the police and it seems like there’s only one person who is interested in helping he do that..  Played by Dennis O’Keefe, this person is a tough reporter and he says that he wants to do an exclusive story on Frank.  He offers to help Eleanor track him down and he even says that he’ll pay $1,000 for the chance to interview Frank.  The reporter and Eleanor are soon searching San Francisco, retracing Frank’s day-to-day life and discovering that Frank loved Eleanor more than she ever realized….

What’s that?  Oh, did I forget to mention the reporter’s name?

His name is Danny.

That’s right.  Eleanor is trying to find Frank so that she can save his life and working with her is the one man who wants to kill him!

Needless to say, this leads to a great deal of suspense.  On the one hand, you’re happy that Eleanor is rediscovering how much she loves Frank.  On the other hand, you spend almost the entire movie worried that Eleanor is going to lead Danny right to him.  Shot on location in San Francisco and featuring all of the dark shadows and tough dialogue that one could possibly hope to get in a film noir, Woman On The Run is an underrated suspense gem.  Full of atmosphere and steadily building suspense, Woman on the Run features a great and acerbic performance from Ann Sheridan and a genuinely exciting climax that’s set at a local amusement park.  Seriously, roller coasters are super scary!

Woman on the Run was directed by Norman Foster.  If you’ve recently watched The Other Side of the Wind on Netflix, you might recognize the name.  A longtime friend of Orson Welles, Foster played the role of Billy Boyle in Welles’s final film.

Cleaning Out The DVR #22: The Good Earth (dir by Sidney Franklin)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by this Friday.  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

Good_earth_(1937)

The 1937 film The Good Earth is a strange one.

It’s a big, epic film about life in China in the years before World War I.  It opens with a poor farmer named Wang (Paul Muni) marrying a servant girl named O-Lan (Luise Rainer).  O-Lan is quiet but strong and, with her support, Wang eventually starts to prosper.  He buys land and they have children.  Together, Wang and O-Lan manage to survive both famine and a political upheaval.  In fact, it’s China’s volatile politics that occasionally allow the family to survive.  When a revolutionary mob loots a mansion, O-Lan joins in just long enough to come across a bag of diamonds that the Wang uses to eventually buy the biggest house in town.  Once he’s become wealthy and complacent, Wang ends up taking on a younger, second wife (Tilly Losch) and O-Lan finds herself competing for his attention.  Ultimately, it’s only when Wang is again forced to tend to the Earth that he understands what is really important.

So, here’s the weird thing about The Good Earth.  It’s a film about China.  It covers several years of Chinese history and the story itself is rooted in Chinese culture.  All of the characters are meant to be Chinese.  When the movie was filmed, China was at war with Japan so it’s not surprising that the film was shot in California.  But what is interesting (though not really surprising when you consider the history of Hollywood) is that there are very few Chinese people in the cast and none of them play any of the major roles.

Instead, Wang was played by Austria-born, Chicago-raised Paul Muni.  O-Lan was played by German Luise Rainer.  Wang’s comic relief uncle was played by American character actor Walter Connolly while his father was played by a former vaudeville star from Ohio named Charley Grapewin.  All of the actors are heavily made up so that they’ll look Chinese but none of them act or sound Chinese.  It makes for a very strange viewing experience.

And it’s a bit unfortunate because there are some very good scenes in The Good Earth.  Technically, it’s a very strong film.  Towards the end, there’s a locust invasion that is still thrilling to watch.  The sets look great.  The costumes look great.  If you’re a history nerd like me, the story has the potential to be interesting.  But, whenever you start to get sucked into the film’s story, Wang starts to speak and sounds totally like a guy from Chicago and it takes you out of the movie.  The uneven mix of quality and miscast actors makes for a rather disjointed viewing experience.

As a big epic, it’s probably not surprising that The Good Earth was nominated for best picture.  However, it lost to another Paul Muni film, The Life of Emile Zola.