AKA KILLER BAIT
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 102 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Jane and Alan Palmer unwittingly come into some money when someone in another car throws a suitcase containing a huge amount of cash into the back seat of their convertible. Jane wants to keep the money, but Alan wants to take it to the police. Alan places the suitcase and cash in a train station locker, hoping he can sway Jane into surrendering it to the police. A few days later while Alan is at work, a man shows up at the Palmers’ apartment, tells Jane he is a detective and quickly learns she has begun spending the money. Her husband Alan likewise becomes upset when he finds she has been running up bills, clearly spending the money they had agreed to store and leave untouched. Jane considers killing Danny….
Personal issues have meant that it’s taken me some time to get around to reviewing this film noir which was actually released two weeks ago by Arrow Video, but now that I have I can tell you that this is a cracking example of the genre, not quite up there with the its ultimate masterpieces like Double Indemnity and Out Of The Past, but memorable nonetheless in spite of an obviously very small budget, and it contains one of the greatest of all femme fatales; evil, cunning but with just a bit of vulnerability in what must be genre staple Lizabeth Scott’s best hour. Unusually, this film makes the femme fatale the most prominent character, following her around with only a few scenes not having her in it, resulting in an interesting reversal to the norm; whereas usually we don’t know everything the femme fatale is up to until at the end, here we know right from the offset what she’s doing do and it’s many of the other characters whose actions and motivations are ambiguous. Too Late For Tears is at its best when it subverts or at least plays with typical noir conventions.
The lateness of this review means that I’m not going to do my usual ‘background information’ paragraph, so let’s get carry on with the review proper, though I’m not going to describe as much of the plot as usual because there’s a shocker of a plot twist a quarter of the way through which totally changes the balance of the film. We are introduced to husband and wife Alan and Jane Palmer out in their car in a brilliantly concise bit of writing though lets us know what Jane is like and foreshadows most of her later actions. She doesn’t want to go to the party they’re headed for because she doesn’t like the attitudes of the rich people to her, and almost causes the car to crash until he turns it around. Why the far more decent Alan is married to this harpy is a mystery because she’s clearly not a nice person even at the beginning, but never mind. The suitcase with the money is thrown into their car, and Jane evades them in a dangerous car chase which she’s clearly excited to take part in. While he’s clearly excited by all this cash, notably in one moment where he just wants to look at it, he just wants to hand it in, but Jane has other ideas and even begins to spend it. Too Late For Tears would have worked fine even if it had focused primarily on Alan and Jane and the effect the money has on their relationship. In fact, that is the way I expected to go, but it had other ideas.
Archetypal noir sleazeball Dan Duryea soon shows up, playing a guy called Danny Fuller who initially pretends to be a detective but which we know immediately isn’t what he seems, and this is the first clue that things are going to get a whole lot more complicated. His first scene with Jane is astonishingly similar to one he had in The Woman In The Window with Joan Bennett. His scenes with Scott here have incredible tension and even a nasty edge of sexual violence about them; it’s implied, but about as strongly as a film from 1949 could do so. One of the things that is so interesting is that, as the focus becomes more on Danny and Jane rather than Alan and Jane, this utter scumbag actually becomes a bit sympathetic as Jane just becomes nastier and nastier. The plot becomes more and more complex but remains easy to follow as the film almost becomes like a stage farce with different characters constantly turning up at Alan and Jane’s apartment and much of the story playing out in dialogue [fans of Bound should enjoy this movie]. The tension is allowed to diminish rather too much but it’s all still great fun to watch as nearly everybody, including who initially seems to be the traditional romantic male lead, appears to be lying and Jane has to constantly squirm out of difficult situations. The only character who really seems to have nothing to hide is Alan’s sister Kathy who becomes the heroine of the piece, but of course the emphasis is on Jane.
The ending is a bit too contrived and if you think about it there are a few holes in the plot, but it’s all pretty well pieced together nonetheless. Apart from a well staged boat killing which prefigures a much more famous and elaborate set piece in A Place In The Sun a year later, Too Late For Tears isn’t really a film of set pieces and more could have been done with some moments, but it has enough of those memorable lines that you just don’t seem to get much of in modern movies [“There’s no one here”. “Really. That’s hard to believe, could I just touch you to make sure”?] to help keep what is in some ways a dark comedy cracking along nicely. It’s clear that, except for a couple of bits at a train station and two street scenes, the cast never left the studio and played the majority of the film out in the same set redressed a couple of times, and any outdoor shots are done with doubles or back projection which isn’t exactly the best of its kind, while visually the film lacks the stylish cinematography that many of the greatest noirs possess, but director Byron Haskin, best known for Arsenic And Old Lace and the first version of The War Of The Worlds and not always a particularly good director of actors but doing rather well here, keeps a tight hand on the proceedings and Roy Huggins’s screenplay, adapted from his own radio serial, keeps scenes short and to the point and lacks any filler whatsoever.
The weird thing about Lizabeth Scott is that I started out not liking her much in this film but she quickly grew on me and I ended up totally captivated by her performance. Refusing to ever go over the top like Joan Crawford – who was originally intended to play the role – would have done, she seems to be constantly turning over the possibilities in her head, like a card player figuring the odds. The way she’s able to casually lie, get stuck, backtrack, then find another lie is most convincing. Don DeFore is also very effective in another duplicitous part. R. Dale Butts’ average score doesn’t make much of an impression though this isn’t really a film that demands much in the way of prominent scoring. Packed with many of the tried and tested noir ingredients but also playing with some of them, Too Late For Tears could have done with ramping up the suspense a bit, but it has that defining noir fatalism in spades and is definitely an essential purchase for fans of this endlessly fascinating, and still much imitated, genre, while film lovers with a more casual interest in it should also find plenty to enjoy.
Because the original copyright holder failed to renew the copyright, Too Late For Tears fell into the public domain and was only available in very bad looking and much edited versions until last year. A complete print was found in France but due to poor quality some material had to be inserted from another version. This explains why Arrow’s Blu-ray of the film, which is apparently identical to Flicker Free’s Region ‘A’ release in film presentation and special features, isn’t exactly reference material. The quality of the picture frequently changes, sometimes even in the middle of scenes, and we even get the odd line running down the screen, but considering the difficult job the restorers had of putting together this version – they even had to create new titles – we’re lucky to have this film on Blu-ray at all. It’s still perfectly acceptable with considerable detail and those deep noir blacks looking very good indeed. The commentary seemed highly informative judging from the 15 mins I heard, while I also watched the Tiger Hunt featurette, a short but very interesting look at the hugely lengthy undertaking to restore this film.
*Audio Commentary by writer, historian, and film programmer Alan K. Rode
*Chance Of A Lifetime: The Making of Too Late For Tears a new behind-the-scenes examination of the film s original production produced by Steven Smith and the Film Noir Foundation and featuring noir experts Eddie Muller, Kim Morgan, and Julie Kirgo
*Tiger Hunt: Restoring Too Late For Tears a chronicle of the multi-year mission to rescue this lost noir classic produced by Steven Smith and the Film Noir Foundation
*Gallery featuring rare photographs, poster art and original lobby cards
*Booklet featuring new writing by writer and noir expert Brian Light