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Too Late for Tears

Too Late for Tears(1949)

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It was only a matter of time until some enterprising movie buff got the idea to market a line of DVDs devoted to the film noir genre, one that until recently has been only sporadically represented by occasional releases from MGM (He Walked By Night, 1948), VCI (Blonde Ice, 1948) and others. Now it looks like "Dark City Classics" might be a contender in this space with their second DVD release, Too Late for Tears (distributed by Image Entertainment) - if only the quality was better, but more on this later.

A relatively obscure but quintessential 1949 noir, Too Late for Tears features a femme fatale protagonist who makes the vixens in Out of the Past (1947) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) look like underachievers. As played by Lizabeth Scott, Jane Palmer is an unhappily married woman who wants "to move out of the ranks of the middle-class poor" but is thwarted in her ambitions by her husband Alan (Arthur Kennedy), a war veteran who is fairly content with his status quo existence. Fate intervenes one dark night on a lonely stretch of highway when a suitcase is tossed into their backseat by a passing car. The contents? Lots of large bills, obviously intended for someone else. Their decision to stash the suitcase in a luggage stand at Union Station until the heat is off sets in motion a series of lies and betrayals that end in a climax reminiscent of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).

Low-budget in most regards but fully utilizing some distinctive Los Angeles locations, Too Late for Tears is based on a novel by Roy Huggins that was first serialized in The Saturday Evening Post. Huggins, of course, is best known as the creator and producer of the long-running TV suspense series, The Fugitive but he also had other network hits to his credit like The Rockford Files. His screenwriting career was less distinctive though he did turn out some exceptional B-Westerns (Gun Fury, 1953) and Pushover (1954), a well-regarded noir. Too Late for Tears, on the other hand, is an example of Huggins working in overdrive. It's unnecessarily convoluted and revolves around a character so amoral that her behavior makes it increasingly difficult to suspend disbelief. In other words, the film is highly entertaining even when it goes off the rails which is often.

What really distinguishes Too Late for Tears from other B-noirs of its day is the cast. Dan Duryea steals every scene he's in as a sleazy blackmailer who's on to Lizabeth Scott from the get-go. An often underrated character actor, Duryea specialized in playing sadistic dandies and street smart hustlers; in fact, he practically invented the prototype. And he's in fine form here, slapping Lizabeth Scott into temporary submission in their first scene together. Arthur Kennedy is also memorable in a more limited role as Scott's husband and first victim. And it's fun to see Don DeFore, the mild-mannered suburban dad of the popular Hazel TV series, turn up as the wild card in Huggins' scenario, playing a jovial but cunning out of town visitor. But the whole show is Lizabeth Scott who gives a performance here that is more iconic than admirable. Let's face it, she was never a great actress but she fit the part of the smoky-voiced, two-timing blonde vamp to a tee and played it effortlessly again and again in Dead Reckoning (1947), Pitfall (1948) and others. She's completely over-the-top here which is further accented by the often harsh and unflattering way in which she's photographed. Looking more like a grinning skeleton than a slinky seductress, Scott's Jane Palmer is not very convincing as a man-trap but we have to take it on faith that she's simply irresistible to most men. Granted, it would be hard for any actress to play such a blatant and grasping sociopath and Scott does nail it in a few scenes. Watch her face in the shot where she shows DeFore's amateur sleuth the contents of her suitcase. For the most part, though, Scott's performance is too wildly uneven to be considered a success but all of the elements are there to qualify Too Late for Tears as a genuine noir thoroughbred and it's certainly worth a look.

As the second release under the "Dark City Classics" label (their first was Kansas City Confidential), Too Late for Tears leaves a lot to be desired in terms of presentation. The print of the film on display is badly in need of major repairs; the black and white cinematography is soft and lacks contrast, night scenes are particularly difficult to read and there is frame damage everywhere - nicks, scratches and speckling. Worst of all, several scenes are marred by bad splicing where frames are completely missing; as a result they look like jump cuts with dialogue being lost. In one key scene between Scott and Duryea, an audio distortion prevents us from hearing Scott's response to an important question regarding a particularly wicked scheme. Not good. "Dark City Classics" needs to do a better job next time! As for extras - and the DVD cover boasts the header "Special Edition" - there are the expected cast and crew bios and a still and lobby card gallery. The disk also includes two "documentaries" which are actually brief video interviews (single camera, talking head set-up) with noir expert Eddie Muller, one on Lizabeth Scott, the other on Dan Duryea; both are informative and convey Muller's enthusiasm for the genre.

For more information about Too Late For Tears, visit Image Entertainment. To order Too Late For Tears, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford