Cast & Crew
Aging detective Ira Wells is making barely enough to cover his expenses, but keeps working to stay busy. After his long-time partner Harry is killed while working on a case, Ira takes it on. Wanting to solve Harry's murder and cover his other cases, Ira accepts help from his ditsy client Margo, and they forge an unlikely alliance.
Kim C Friese
J Allen Highfill
David M Horton
Charles Rosher Jr.
Charles Rosher Jr.
James E Webb
Best Writing, Screenplay
The Late Show
The Late Show is a movie that feels both of a time and out of time. It takes place in Los Angeles in 1977 and we recognize the period in fashion and setting. But the tone is that of a noir set in the '40s, only with the world weariness ramped up a hundred times. The opening scene of the movie not only sets the stage, it builds an entire universe in one scene, and Carney, with just a few short words to his dying partner, blows every other performance of 1977 out of the water. And we're only five minutes into the movie.
In the opening scene, Ira's old partner, Harry (the great, underused and underrated Howard Duff) shows up with a bullet in his gut and a mystery for Ira to solve. He came here because he knew Ira wouldn't let this slide and Ira is as good as his word. He may be world weary and tired but he's still better at this business than anyone in L.A. and Harry knows it. Ira starts to track down the leads he's gotten in the hopes of finding Harry's killer and also finding out what it all means.
Right away, anyone familiar with the genre recognizes the setup. The hero's partner has been killed and he's going to make sure his partner didn't die in vain. It's a setup we're used to seeing Humphrey Bogart take on, and The Maltese Falcon is an obvious influence, at least as far as the setup goes. We also expect a woman to show up and ask the P.I. to solve a case, entirely unrelated, or so we're led to believe. In this case, it's Lily Tomlin, as Margo Sterling, but all she wants to find is her cat. Did I mention Harry and Tonto is about Art Carney's character and his cat? The movie is twisting noir tropes into celebrity in-jokes while envisioning the over the hill investigator all at once. Add in the great Bill Macy as Carney's friend and Margo's acquaintance, and you've got one of the great detective, thriller, suspense, comedy, relationship movies of the '70s. In all honesty, you've got one of the best movies of the '70s, period.
The mid-'70s was a transitional period for Hollywood. The New Hollywood, as it was called when it started in the '60s, was filled with independent-minded actors and directors breaking out of the studio mold. Filmmakers like Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese and Bob Rafelson joined performers and writers like Jack Nicholson and Robert Towne to bring a new sense of urgency to American filmmaking. But by the mid-'70s, with blockbusters by some of those same New Hollywood types, like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the studio was reasserting itself and smaller, offbeat films like The Late Show were already starting to suffer. Lily Tomlin, in particular, was a talent waiting to explode in the movies, having commanded the screen in Altman's Nashville just two years prior, but the types of movies she excelled in weren't the kind the studios were eagerly backing anymore.
Robert Benton wrote the screenplay in the mid-'70s and wanted Robert Altman to direct. Altman, after reading the script, agreed to produce but thought Benton should direct it himself. Benton did and showed an immediate talent for tight direction. Here, as in his later efforts like Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Places in the Heart (1984), there isn't any filler or wasted moments. The movie doesn't drag at any point and the editing, by Peter Appleton and Lou Lombardo, is precise.
The Late Show has some of the finest talent assembled in the '70s. In addition to Art Carney, Lily Tomlin and Bill Macy, there is the always superb Eugene Roche, a staple of '70s cinema, Joanna Cassidy, Ruth Nelson, and the already mentioned Howard Duff. All of them make The Late Show a pleasure to watch from start to finish but Robert Benton, as director and writer, and his editors, Peter Appleton and Lou Lombardo, make this one of the tightest detective dramas of the decade.
Director and Writer: Robert Benton Producer: Robert Altman Music: Kenneth Wannberg Director of Photography: Chuck Rosher Film Editors: Peter Appleton, Lou Lombardo Cast: Art Carney (Ira Wells), Lily Tomlin (Margo Sterling), Bill Macy (Charlie Hatter), Eugene Roche (Ron Birdwell), Joanna Cassidy (Laura Birdwell), John Considine (Lamar), Ruth Nelson (Mrs. Schmidt), John Davey (Sergeant Dayton), Howard Duff (Harry Regan)
By Greg Ferrara
The Late Show
Eugene Roche (1928-2004)
Born on September 22, 1928, in Boston, Massachusettes, Roche began his career when he was still in High School, doing voice characterization on radio in his native Boston. After he graduated, he served in the Army, then studied drama on the G.I. bill at Emerson College. Concentrating on acting, he found much stage work in San Francisco in the early `50s, then headed for New York in the early `60s and began appearing on televison (Naked City, Route 66) and on Broadway.
It wasn't until he was in his forties did Roche began to get really good parts. His open, friendly face and stocky build made him the ideal choice to play the likable POW, Edgar Derby in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. His role as Edgar who saves an intact porcelain figurine from the ruins of Dresden only to be executed by his German captors for looting, may have been brief, but it was instantly memorable. Fine roles continued to come his way in films throughout the decade, the highlights included: They Might Be Giants (1971), Mr. Ricco (1975), The Late Show (1977), Corvette Summer (a deft comic performance as a high school auto shop teacher who is secretly running a car theft ring), and Foul Play (both 1978).
Yet, it would be on television where Roche would find lasting success. He became a household face when, as Squeaky Clean, he became the spokesman for Ajax household cleaner. Then he struck gold in sitcoms: Archie Bunker's practical joking nemesis, Pinky Peterson on All in the Family (1976-78), the madly romantic attorney, Ronald Mallu on Soap (1978-81), and the lovable landlord Bill Parker on Webster (1984-86).
Roche is survived by his wife, Anntoni; his brother, John; his sister, Clara Hewes; nine children, one of which, a son Eamonn, is a successful working actor; and nine grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Eugene Roche (1928-2004)
The Late Show on DVD
Art Carney, an aging private detective, opens the door one night and his old friend Warren Duff stumbles in, dying. He's been shot. At the funeral, Carney is asked by spacy Lily Tomlin to please try and find her missing cat. Naturally Carney dismisses her, thinking she's just a crazy kook, but eventually he realizes that the two incidents must be connected and he takes the case. The search for the cat unravels a much deeper tale of murder and adultery, and Carney slowly starts to take on Tomlin's help.
The casting is perfect. Carney and Tomlin react to one another beautifully, and their chemistry is crucial to making the movie work so well. Carney in particular delivers an effortless, 100% believable performance. He died in November, 2003, and is best remembered for his work on The Jackie Gleason Show and The Honeymooners. He won his only Oscar® for Harry and Tonto (1974). For his work in The Late Show he won the 1977 National Society of Film Critics award for Best Actor.
Howard Duff has only a small role here but lends some authenticity to the tale, for he really was a veteran of 1940s film noir. He was the voice of Sam Spade on the radio for many years and appeared in such classic noirs as Brute Force (1947), The Naked City (1948), and Private Hell 36 (1954). Writer-director Robert Benton was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar® for The Late Show. He has become no stranger to the Academy Award®. Since 1967 he's not only won three Oscars®, for writing Places in the Heart (1984) and writing and directing Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), he's also been nominated for four more, for writing Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Late Show, and Nobody's Fool (1994) and directing Places in the Heart.
Some critics sniffed in 1977 that The Late Show was no Chinatown. It's an irrelevant comparison. Chinatown may well be the better movie, but it's also quite a different movie. Chinatown, after all, is set in the 1930s and is more serious in tone. The Late Show is set in the then-modern 1970s, which enables the film to produce great comedy by pairing gruff, old-school Carney with New Age, counter-culture, astrology-obsessed Tomlin. At the same time, having Carney play a PI from the old days lends an innate mournful quality to the story, dialogue and overall feel. One of Carney's beautifully written scenes, for example, finds him telling Tomlin: "Back in the 40s this town was crawling with dollies like you. Good-looking cokeheads, trying their damndest to act tough as hell. I got news for you - they did it better back then. This town doesn't change. They just push the names around. Same dames. Just screwing up their lives the same way."
The film has been given a widescreen transfer and looks fine, but nothing more. As is the case with so many 1970s films, the colors have faded somewhat. Still, considering no restoration work has been performed, it doesn't look too bad. Unfortunately there is no commentary track from Robert Benton (or anyone else), which could have proved fascinating. There are very few extras, in fact - just a trailer and a clip of the talk show "Dinah" with Lily Tomlin being interviewed by Dinah Shore. It's brief and uninformative, but it has entertainment value in that the Doobie Brothers are there, too, sitting around Tomlin in their groovy 70s clothes and hairstyles.
For more information about The Late Show, visit Warner Video. To order The Late Show, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
The Late Show on DVD
I am going to be totally open and honest with you. I'm going to lay myself naked before you. I hope you can appreciate that.- Laura Birdwell
He'll try.- Margo Sperling
Boy, it's really lucky for you that I just happen to be a very self-destructive person.- Margo Sperling
This car is not only a toilet, but you are the attendant.- Margo Sperling
You were born dumb and you're gonna die dumb.- Ira
Let's cut to the chase.- Ron Birdwell
Released in United States 1977
Released in United States 1977