The Associated Press is reporting that Ann Savage, an indelible presence in several low budget classics of the 1940s and 50s, died on Christmas Day from complications following a series of strokes. Savage will always be known for the attic intensity of her performance in Edgar G. Ulmer’s“Detour,” which elevates the film noir convention of the femme fatale to mythological levels of implacable, impersonal fury. But she was also memorable in a number of other films: Lew Landers’s 1944 “Two Man Submarine” (her first appearance with the Tracy to her Hepburn, Tom Neal); as a wisecracking reporter with something extra in the Paramount Pine-Thomas b-picture “Midnight Manhunt” (1945); her steely reinterpretation of the Barbara Stanwyck role in “Apology for Murder,” Sam Newfield’s 1945 virtual remake of “Double Indemnity; as a victim of fate herself in Newfield’s 1946 “Lady Chaser”; leading a band of Civil War raiders in William Berke’s “Renegade Girl” (1946); as a dance hall girl in Allan Dwan’s 1953 dominatrix western “The Woman They Almost Lynched.” Neglected for decades, she received some long overdue recognition with her return to the screen as the unyielding mother in Guy Maddin’s 2007 “docu-fantasia” “My Winnipeg.”
“I wasn’t aware of the term film noir until the Seventies. When they gave a retrospective on Edgar Ulmer at UCLA in the Eighties, I read up on it. It was a revelation to me when I learned Detour was a film noir. At the time, I just thought it was wonderful what he did with the story, and also I loved working with him because he was an actor’s director and he could get wonderful performances out of you. I was very young and ignorant of the facts, but Edgar certainly knew what he was doing. I must also give Martin Goldsmith credit for his characterization, because it was all there in the script. I met with Mr. Ulmer on the set while he was directing another film. I had signed a two–picture deal with Mr. (Leon) Fromkess… by the way, are you related? No, different spelling, though he produced several noirs, and I’d love to know more about him. I don’t believe I had seen the script when I met Edgar. I only worked three, three–and–a–half days [her first appearance is 32 minutes into the film].
To me, Edgar was very pleasant. I was well prepared, and this is what you had to be with Edgar. In terms of directing, he had a certain tempo he liked to keep. The car scenes were done on set, at PRC. My first scene was in the car, when she tells Haskell he’s not who he pretends to be. I read the lines and he corrected the tempo, and that was the last bit of coaching he gave me. He had given me the key, which was the tempo. It was difficult to speak that quickly, but it helped give the character her craziness–it was just right. I didn’t see the rushes, so I had no idea I was coming over as hard as I was.
Concerning my line reading of “A rope…” [which prefigures her demise in the movie], my voice does that. I have that gravely little… whatever it is. Edgar liked that quality, and as a matter of fact, I think he did ask me to please try to say the line in that manner.
I came back later and we did a copy of Double Indemnity for PRC, called Apology for Murder, It was such a copy–and I’m certainly no Barbara Stanwyck–that it was out–and–out cloning. It opened at Grauman’s Chinese, played for two days, and I was told Paramount forced them to yank it, and it was shelved for a long time.
But that was the last I ever saw of Edgar and Tom Neal. My husband and I later moved to New York for 12 years, and I lost touch with the film business. In the November 16, 1987 issue of Time magazine, I was named in a list of famous femmes fatales, along with Jessica Walter in Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me, and Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. They called me a “hag,” which was very complimentary because they were talking about the character and not me.
Today, with all the gore, noir films might seem tame. And I don’t know if you can do noir in color? when I saw the nitrate print of Detour, the warmth, and the moods, and the… “color” of the black–and–white was so magnificent. I don’t know how the genre can really be done today.”
Roy H.Frumkes, “The Perfect Vision 15”, (Fall 1992): 142,
Michael Mills (in http://www.moderntimes.com/savage/)
Ann Savage site