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Too Late for Tears

Too Late for Tears
Image/Dark City
1949 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame / 99 min. / Street Date May 25, 2004 / 24.99
Starring Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy, Kristine Miller, Barry Kelley
Cinematography William Mellor
Art Direction James Sullivan
Film Editor Harry Keller
Original Music Dale Butts
Written by Roy Huggins from his story
Produced by Hunt Stromberg
Directed by Byron Haskin

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

A fine mid-range film noir with especially good performances, Too Late for Tears recycles the Double Indemnity femme fatale plot and adds some cold-blooded twists of its own. It's all the things we like in a noir story - far-fetched, provocative and tense.


Housewife Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott) thinks her dreams have come true when driving with her husband Alan (Arthur Kennedy) in the Hollywood hills; a package meant for blackmailer Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea) is tossed into their car. This unfortunately puts Danny, a hardboiled con-man, onto Jane's case just as she's trying to convince her husband to keep the loot instead of turn it over to the cops. When Alan refuses to play ball, Jane figures he's expendable and decides to use Danny to get rid of him. Meanwhile, Alan's sister Kathy (Kristine Miller) grows suspicious of Jane's shaky story, and enlists Don Blake (Don DeFore) to help ... only Don may not be who he claims to be.

It's not unusual for a film noir story to be launched by a ridiculous coincidence and still succeed under its own logic. Assuming someone else's identity is always a ticket to trouble, as in the Paul Henreid film Hollow Triumph. Amnesia and other flimsy phenomena get a big workout as well. Too Late for Tears starts with a plot twist only a radio writer could think up, and then it has to make its female villain outrageously ruthless to keep its plot moving. And we like every bit of it.

We know that Lizabeth's Scott's Jane is trouble from the first, but like Mrs. Dietrichson in Double Indemnity she's always two double-crosses ahead of the men in her life. Her specialty is using affection to soften up her prey. Many noirs put the blame on Mame, and this is one of the more extreme cases; Jane has her poor husband convinced she's redeemable and twists the hardboiled bad man around her finger like he was made of taffy. In one of his best roles, Dan Duryea goes from tough-guy abuser to hapless fool in four easy steps. He slaps Scott around like a rag doll at their first meeting but keeps falling for her stalling tactics. He knows she's maneuvering him into a tight spot; she keeps putting off recovering the money and he grudgingly lets her get away with it. He thinks he's going to regain control by forcing her to have sex with him (a rather strong turn of events in 1949) but instead finds himself more dominated than ever. By the end Danny's in such total confusion he falls for the oldest trick in the book.

Television producing and writing veteran Roy Huggins is only capitalizing on proven noir formulas, and plays the "evil temptress" card as his main theme. Jane Fuller seems to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. She's a black widow whose first husband died under mysterious circumstances. Then she seems a victim of bourgeois values, humiliated by her middle-class lifestyle. No mention is made of the fact that living as high as she wants to would drain her hoped-for riches in only a few weeks. Add a couple of troublesome and pliable men to the stew, and she's running around lying and scheming like a Beechwood Borgia.

Too Late for Tears is sometimes called Lizabeth's Scott's best movie, mainly because she's the central figure. She's never entirely convincing - sometimes her attitude in scenes seems markedly inconsistent with what's going on, or who's fooling who - but she's a perfect physical fit for the role, a sultry blonde with a face that can change from sincerely soft to icily hard in a heartbeat. She's rather transparent in her trickery, which is part of the noir fun. The proper response to meeting Jane Palmer is demonstrated by the pickup artist in Union Station played by later western actor Denver Pyle (Texas Ranger Hamner in Bonnie & Clyde): one hint of trouble, and he makes himself scarce.

Dan Duryea had already become an all-purpose bad guy / misunderstood good guy in several noir classics and starts Too Late for Tears playing his straight slimy heel character. He soft-sells Jane and then terrorizes her with threats and smart-talk. The fun is his gradual transformation under Jane's influence. He's impressed by her gall and then intimidated by her willingness to kill, after which all of his slick tricks go for naught. He never intended to be an accessory to murder, and by the mid-point his sarcastic remarks have turned fatalistic. Jane whines that it's cold in his cheap apartment, and he says "I'll turn on the oven," his only source of heat. Then he adds a melancholy "Maybe I shouldn't light it." Duryea's Danny Fuller becomes quite sympathetic, much more so than Jane's foolish husband played by Arthur Kennedy. Noir characters don't always have such a dramatic arc: By the end, Jane is feeding Fuller the same poison he bought a few minutes earlier.

Actually, the biggest surprise in the movie is a relative unknown actress named Kristine Miller, who is naturally likeable and at-ease on the screen as Jane's suspicious sister-in-law. An Argentinian, she showed up in memorable roles in only a couple other pictures, Sorry, Wrong Number and From Here to Eternity (where she plays Donna Reed's Honolulu roommate). Without her warm and sincere presence we'd have nobody to care about in the film - and she seems too rich a prize for squarehead 2nd hero Don DeFore.

Director Byron Haskin had what must have been one kick of a career photographing and directing silent pictures. He fell back into special effects photography for Warner Bros. in the 40s but returned to directing after the war. He's better than efficient and helps manage many nice visual effects. He also directed another of Lizabeth Scott's star-making pictures, I Walk Alone.

Too Late for Tears has many weird touches that might be intentional gags or unintentional flaws. We concentrate on a glass of poured milk at one point, when talk of poison is in the air, but its a feint meant to distract our attention. The movie seems to be starting over again in Mexico, an elaborate ending that self-destructs in a really awkward comeuppance scene with "moral retribution" written all over it.

Notable bits in addition to Denver Pyle mentioned above are radio personality and Laugh-In announcer Garry Owen is a police dispatcher, and ex- Dead End Kid Billy Hallop as the wisecracking boat attendant at the murder scene.

Dark City's DVD of Too Late for Tears is a well-intentioned release of a hard-to-see title that was once a television staple. Unfortunately, it stacks up as a "reference disc," by which I mean a copy one sees when nothing else is available. The source is a 16mm print that's irritatingly splicey, with jumps that sometimes interrupt important-sounding dialogue. It's also very dark in the night scenes, obscuring action we want to see in the Mulholland Drive opening and the "Westlake Park" nighttime murder scene. It's so dark, the Fullers zoom by Grauman's Chinese in the second scene and we can barely see it. With such bad contrast problems, I'd guess that Dark City worked with a dupe of a 16mm print.

Otherwise the below-par element is given a good transfer and encoding. Dark City DVD may be a personal label of American Cinematheque noir expert Eddie Muller, author of a trio of good reference books on film noir. He makes a personal appearance hosting two short subjects that cover the careers of the film's two stars. They're technically crude but factually enlightening, and Muller is an excellent host. The disc itself will probably disappoint most customers, especially as it's touted on the cover as a "Special Edition."

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Too Late for Tears rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Poor+
Sound: Good
Supplements: Bios and still gallery; good mini docs on Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 25, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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