GIRL ON THE RUN. Astor Pictures, 1953. Richard Coogan, Rosemary Pettit, Frank Albertson, Harry Bannister, Edith King, Charles Bolender, Renee De Milo. Directors: Arthur J. Beckhard & Joseph Lee.

   I didn’t mention him in the credits above, since he was onscreen all of five to ten seconds, but one of the reasons this film may even have survived today is that Girl on the Run is known to be the first screen appearance of Steve McQueen. He’s a guy trying to show off his strength to his girl friend, trying to ring the bell at a carnival game. (I’ll have to watch the movie again. I’m told that he appears again later, again very briefly, walking around the midway with his arm around the girl.)

   But the star of the film, Richard Coogan, is almost as well known, but only if you grew up watching Captain Video in the late 1940s — Coogan being the first actor to play the title role. And please note, title of the film to the contrary, he’s the one who’s actually on the run. He’s a reporter accused of the murder he didn’t commit, that of his boss, the newspaper editor who was getting too close to a vice ring working in and around a local carnival.

   Not to say that the title is completely wrong. Coogan’s girl friend, played by Rosemary Pettit, is on the run with him — she’s a witness who could clear him. Their refuge is at the carnival where the entire movie takes place, where they also hope to find the person really responsible for the editor’s death.

   So we get to see a lot of what goes on behind the scenes, in the dark passageways between and behind the concession booths and the various games of chance. And the hootchy-kootchy tent. Every carnival in the 1950s had one, including the one that came to my small town in upper Michigan every fall when I was a lad.

   What wonders lay behind the curtained gateway I (and my friends) could only imagine.

   I learned a new word watching Jeopardy, the TV game show, this week. It’s “Rubenesque,” which is a polite way (I think) of saying that what hidden delights lay behind that curtained door in Michigan are (I suspect) the same as are revealed in Girl on the Run.

   I will not pursue this thought further — you may, of course, use your own imagination — but one exception to the rest of the ladies and their tired and somewhat weary dance routines is the presence of Renee De Milo, whose first and last film appearance this was. I hope to add a photo of the lady. (And I have, as you can plainly see, below.)

   The movie is surprisingly fun to watch, much better than it had any right to be. Shot on a low budget and in an exceedingly cramped location, the production values are on a par of what passed for TV drama in 1953. Nonetheless, what’s also seen is the best of what noir films can display, in pure black and white imagery, with a cast of semi-stars (at best) and extras that fit one’s concepts of carney life to perfection.

   The story itself isn’t much. It is little more than a tease and an excuse. Maybe if you enter hoping only to see the dancing girls will you get your money’s worth, but once inside, you’ll see more than you expect, and no, that isn’t what I mean.

   While the link lasts, you may watch the entire movie online here.