The “Try It, You’ll Like It” Blogathon: Too Late for Tears (1949)
Before my youngest daughter goes off to college next year (sniff!), I am determined to cram her with as much film noir as I can. In the last several months, I’ve had the opportunity to take her to see three of my favorites on the big screen (which is pretty much the only way I can pin her down long enough to get her to watch a movie with me these days). The first was Double Indemnity (1944), to which she gave a mildly enthusiastic thumbs up, and the second was Criss Cross (1949), which she found to be a bit too confusing for her tastes. The one she liked the best, to my great surprise, was Too Late for Tears (1949).
Although it’s not my favorite of the three, it didn’t take long for me to understand why my daughter preferred Too Late for Tears – and why it’s a great choice for introducing the novice to film noir. It tells a straightforward, but compelling story with no flashbacks (or flashbacks within flashbacks), but it’s dark enough to be unmistakably noir. Plus, it’s got Dan Duryea. So there you go.
Too Late for Tears stars Lizabeth Scott as Jane Palmer, an unhappy housewife who seems perpetually disgruntled due to her inability to keep up with Joneses. At the film’s start, she and her patient and loving hubby Alan (Arthur Kennedy) are on their way to a dinner party, which Jane no longer wants to attend. Not because of the host, she explains, but because of his “diamond-studded wife. Looking down her nose at me like her big, ugly house up there looks down on Hollywood.”
But before Alan has a chance to acquiesce to Jane’s demand to turn around, a satchel is tossed into their back seat by an approaching car; when Jane finds out that it’s full of cash money – oh, boy! Talk about a frown turning upside down! And minutes later, when the intended recipient of the satchel gives chase, Jane demonstrates a keen determination – not to mention skill – racing through the winding mountainous road like an experienced stunt driver until she successfully ditches him.
Alan – upstanding, forthright citizen that he is – immediately wants to turn the money in to the police. Jane, of course, has other plans. With visions of mink coats and diamonds dancing in her head, she pulls out all the stops to convince Alan to hang on to the cash. “You’ve given me a dozen down payments and installments for the rest of our lives,” she snipes. But then she changes her tactics, using her softer side as a convincer. “Listen to me, Alan. I love you, darling. And if you decide that we should never touch the money, we won’t. But do we have to make up our minds now? Can’t we just hide it someplace where it can’t be traced to us and give ourselves time to think it out? Please – help me hide it. I’ll leave the rest to you. If you don’t think we should ever touch it – we won’t.”
Alan falls for Jane’s purring sweet-talk, and agrees to check the satchel at the local train station. We’re not exactly sure what Alan has in mind – perhaps he intends to leave the money there indefinitely, or leave it on the doorstep of a police station, or even make an anonymous donation to charity someday. But whatever Alan’s plans are, you can bet that they don’t exactly line up with Jane’s, who starts showing up with parcels from local merchants before you can say “Bob’s your uncle.”
Speaking of showing up, Jane soon gets a visit from Danny Fuller (Duryea), who just happens to be the gent who was supposed to drive home with the bag full of dough. And, as you can well imagine, he’s none too pleased – especially when he searches Jane’s house and finds the boxes of newly purchased goodies she has hidden beneath the kitchen sink. But we receive another glimpse into Jane’s persona when Danny insists on the return of his money, ’cause Jane isn’t playing that game. Her voice doesn’t quaver and she doesn’t miss a beat as she coolly explains that the new clothes belong to her sister-in-law, and adds, “Believe me, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She even keeps her head when Danny starts slapping her around; she merely changes her story. And as the plot continues to unfurl, we learn that Jane will do or say anything – and I do mean ANYTHING – to keep that money. As she tells Alan in one scene, “I won’t let you just give it away. Chances like this are never offered twice. This is it. I’ve been waiting for it, dreaming of it, all my life.”
Lizabeth Scott owns this picture. She’s in practically every scene, and when she isn’t, you’re waiting for her to return. Her character is one of the most memorable femmes you’re likely to see in a bushel of noirs. She’s at once smart, determined, devious, cunning, ruthless, and fearless. You don’t want to root for the success of her nefarious schemes, but somehow, you just do.
If you need an introduction to film noir (or you’ve already met and decided that noir is not your cinematic cup of tea), I recommend that you give Too Late for Tears a chance. It’s got a plot that’s easy to follow, characters you’ll love to hate, and dialogue that’ll make you laugh out loud in appreciation.
Try it. I’m betting you’re not just going to like it – you’re going to LOVE it.
This post is part of the “Try It, You’ll Like It” blogathon, hosted by Sister Celluloid and Movies Silently, where we write about the “gateway films” that might bring non-classic-film lovers into the fold. Visit the host’s sites to read all the great entries in this event!