Too Late for Tears, 1949
Classic Movie Reviews
Directed by Byron Haskin
Starring Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, and Arthur Kennedy
by Carey Lewis
Through a fluke circumstance a ruthless woman stumbles across a suitcase filled with $60,000, and she is determined to hold onto it even it if means murder.
Too Late for Tears is a film noir movie most likely overlooked by the majority but has the most ruthless femme fatale Iíve yet to come across.
The film starts out with Jane and Alan Palmer (Lizabeth Scott and Arthur Kennedy) driving to a cocktail party that Jane doesnít particularly want to go to. While driving, a bag is thrown into the backseat of their convertible. When they pull over to investigate, they discover itís full of money. After a quick chase with the person that should have gotten the money, they arrive back at their apartment.
Alan wants to turn the money over to the police, but Jane is able to convince him to hold on to it for a while. This begins to show us how manipulative she will become, and boy does she become manipulative! They put the satchel of money at Union Station and agree to go on a date mimicking the first date they had.
Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea) shows up to the apartment while Alan isnít home, at first pretending to be a detective, but quickly exposing himself as a person that was involved in the erred transaction and wanting the money. Jane lies and manipulates Danny at first to buy time, but then tells him where to meet her to get the money.
Jane and Alan go out on their date which is a boat ride on a lake. This is also where Danny is to meet her to get the money. Jane seemingly loses her nerve for her plan and asks Alan to turn around. He declines and when he tries to go into her bag for a cigarette, she tries to stop him, and Alan gets accidentally shot by the gun Jane was keeping in there. As we watch the film, and see the true nature of Jane, you canít help but wonder how accidental the shooting really was.
Danny then poses as Alan to fool witnesses into thinking they saw the same couple get off the boat as who got on. Danny drives the car back to the apartment so the garage attendant can see Mr. and Mrs. Palmer come home together. Jane even goes so far as to invite Alanís sister, Kathy (Kristine Miller) who lives across the hall, over for a nightcap as Alan has gone out for booze. Of course, Alan never comes back, so Jane really turns the acting on, pretending Alan ran away. Kathy becomes suspicious quite quickly as she wonders why Alan would go out for liquor when the apartment has plenty.
The next day, a mysterious stranger arrives with the name Don Blake (Don DeFore) who claims he was an old friend of Alanís back when they were in the air force together stationed in England during the war. Kathy confides her suspicions in him, but Jane is doubtful the man is who he says he is, and tests him upon their first meeting.
The rest of the film is a white knuckle twister as Jane manipulates situation after situation as it all comes closing in on her. She manages to keep the cops away, uses Danny to get what she wants out of him, and tries her best to keep Don and Kathy at bay now that they have teamed up against her. In fact, I loved the Jane character so much, I was rooting for her to get away with everything!
The femme fatale character has always been an empowered woman to me, and Jane might be the best femme fatale character Iíve come across yet. In a time when women were to stay at home and tend to her mans needs, the femme fatale uses these stereotypes of being weak and feeble to her advantage. Jane manages to put lie on top of lie and uses her feminine wiles to get what she wants. I was simply awestruck at what she would do to get away with the money.
To make a good movie, it always comes down to the story. Roy Huggins script (based on his Saturday Evening Post serial) delivers on both the story and the dialogue. I was smiling with glee during this film. Film noir seems to be a great genre for unleashing some great dialogue. Take this for example when Danny returns to Jane after buying poison at her request.
Danny: you know what the man said who sold me this? He said, I didnít look like the type of guy he was used to dealing with. I looked him right in the eye and I said, ďyou mean I donít look like a killer huh?Ē and you know what he said? He said, ďno, you donít.Ē I wonder what he wouldíve said if you bought the stuff. Tiger.
Of course it takes some good actors to bring the script to its full potential, and hats off to Dan Duryea for portraying a bad guy that makes you feel bad for him. He knows how much trouble Jane is, and that he canít come close to matching her ruthlessness, but yet he makes it believable that he canít help himself. Of course, Lizabeth Scott does a great job as the conniving, manipulative, ruthless Jane; whose performance makes the film. She plays the character of Jane as innocent and helpless, yet her actions prove otherwise.
Watching this film actually made me sad. Before the film, a title comes up saying that the transfer came from an old print, and film deteriorates over time, but was attempted to be cleaned up. Indeed the version I saw was in rough shape. There are scratches, vignetting, flickering, grease pencil marks, and gate weave. There are many jump cuts where Iím assuming frames were too badly damaged or broken. Parts of the film are very dark and hard to see; especially the opening that looks like it may have been shot day-for-night, or if it was just shot with no lights. Again, this could be the fault of the deteriorating film, which may have lost its contrast.
Another reason that I felt sad is because I am doubtful that this film will be transferred to whatever the next cinema watching medium is. Whether itís HD DVD or Blu-Ray, or rentable hard drives, or direct downloads, Iím not sure if this film will make it over to that step. Based on the transfer I watched, it hasnít been well maintained through the 50 + years of existence and will only get worse. Yes, the film could now be on a hard drive somewhere, but when a transfer is done, itís preferable to get the original print. Also, this movie is pretty hard to find on DVD (I got it on the Ultimate Film Noir Collection). Not all movies that were available on VHS made it over to DVD, and this might be a film that was available on DVD but not on the next format.
Too Late for Tears is definitely a must watch for any film noir fan. Yes, the transfer does have its problems, but I think it adds to the charm of the movie watching experience. It reminded me of another time I wasnít part of; the fact that I was watching an old treasure when movies were made with completely different technology than now.