Friday Film Noir
Alan and Jane Palmer (Arthur Kennedy and Lizabeth Scott respectively) are driving up a lonely road one evening for a dinner party hosted by some of the husband’s friends. Jane, incessant in her pleads to turn around, has Alan stop the car for a moment at which point another vehicle heading in the opposite direction passes by. One of its occupants tosses a large duffle bag in their vehicle. Upon inspecting its contents the married couple discovers hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. A third vehicle fast approaches and gives them chase, and while the duo escape whomever it was that pursued them along the dusty road, it is clear that someone is after the hefty sum currently in their possession. Jane is over the moon with their discovery whereas Alan would prefer to have nothing of it. The former manages to convince her husband to secretly keep the money for a week, but when a discerning, duplicitous man named Danny (Dan Duryea) comes looking for the sum he claims is his, things get out of hand at an alarming rate.
For decades no studio saw fit to lend Bryan Haskin’s endeavor a proper cleanup for either theatrical or home video presentation. True enough, the film was and still is in the public domain, but other films, such as Orson Welles’ The Stranger, have benefited from top quality standard and high-definition disc releases despite no person or company directly owning distribution rights. It was only in January of 2014 that the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Film Noir Foundation presented a clean 35 print of the picture to the public, proof that its qualities were familiar to those who had seen the film. Too Late for Tears encompasses many of the quintessential elements of film noir whilst peppering some fresh elements into the mix that help it distinguish it a little bit from the fray. Much of the film falls directly in line with what ardent fans have come to expect from the genre, but not only does it offer few noticeably clever angles, it handles the familiar with enviable vim and verve to captivate and entertain.
Whereas in so many movies of the same ilk it is the male protagonist who willingly or otherwise strikes the match that sees his world crumble around him, in Too Late for Tears it is the wife, played without reserve by the lovely Lizabeth Scott, that plays the part of the instigator. Clearly there is something about her that encourages her uncanny thirst to keep the mysterious bag of money that has miraculously fallen into their laps. What exactly presses her to behave in so risky a fashion is not immediately revealed, but director Haskin and actress Scott imbue the character with a renegade side that belies her homely wife allure. In contrast, Alan, interpreted with brutal honesty by Arthur Kennedy, is reticent towards the idea of keeping a large sum money somebody is obviously on the prowl for. On the one hand his efforts to support the middle-class couple should, he argues, be enough to appease her, while on the other he recognizes the inherent danger in stealing something so valuable from someone they do not even know. Their mysterious pursuer can strike at any moment and neither of them would have a clue. In this example Jane, rather than Alan, is the go-getter, the risk-taker who puts everything on the line in order to keep her mittens on the unexpected prize. Too Late for Tears is not necessarily the only noir in which the female lead is painted as the force to be reckoned with. The iconic Gun Crazy, starring Peggy Cummings, is one fine example but even in that picture the male counterpart easily and rapidly accepts his role as a participant in his lover’s dangerous escapades. Here, the husband is the levelheaded half of the couple and by that nature, when pitted against more forceful noir characters, the meek one, thus subverting the expected power relations between man and woman.
Too Late for Tears is a Captivating Thriller, Sharply Directed, and Witty to Boot
Even disregarding what fresh ingredients Haskin’s film brings forth, Too Late for Tears is a captivating thriller, sharply directed and witty to boot. There is nary a moment when the multiple games of cat and mouse pause for the characters to take a breather, especially after the introduction of Danny, who initially fools Jane into believing his private eye credentials but soon reveals himself to be the very crook hunting down his lost bounty. Dan Duryea’s inimitable talents as a villain or, even in the best-case scenarios, an anti-hero, have been discussed many a time before. What strikes the viewer is the consistency with which he interprets the roles of total scumbags. What’s more, he hits the bull’s eye without fault each and every time. When the actor appears on screen one instinctively knows trouble is brewing and yet he purveys an alarming sense of charm. He knows how to deliver a searing line with no holds barred and to be quite funny while doing it.
Other excellent roles belong to Kristine Miller and Don Defore. Miller plays Kathy Palmer, Jane’s sister who lives down their hall their condo home. Of all the characters in the movie she is arguably given the least to do as her role is mostly limited to being the concerned sister who suspects that something is amiss although struggles to put her finger on it. Even so, the performance is honest and carries emotional heft. Don Defore is the charming fellow claiming to be Alan’s former WWII friend once the latter exits the picture. For lack of a better term, Defore gives his role a ‘fuddy-duddy’ quality on a surface level that masks a sharp intelligence. In reality he knows exactly how to go about swimming through the lies covering up the fate of his old army mate. He has his sights set squarely on Jane and their battle of wits is certainly the highlight of the entire picture.
Too Late for Tears will hopefully garner a bit more attention since the UCLA and the Film Noir Foundation have treated it with a bit more care and respect than had been the case for the longest time. It is rare enough already when such old pictures are rejuvenated as with this movie, making the occasion all the more reason to celebrate and spread the word. Even if fans are limited to catching it via the usual public domain outlets, its qualities far outshine any negatives related to video and audio hiccups.