Too Late For Tears (1949)

Too Late for Tears (1949) stars Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea as first lady and super-sap of classic film noir, in a fantastic and twisted set of murder plots focused on a sack of dough and one of noir's best femme fatale characters.

You'd be pushed to find a more textbook cheaply made classic film noir than Too Late For Tears, starring Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea.

Cheap it may be, but Too Late For Tears packs a mighty punch. The flick opens with a simple premise which has been much repeated over the years: a young couple come across some ill-gotten money, and their decision to keep it reverberates hard.

Nobody in any movie at any time hands in the money they find. There would of course be no movie if that happened, no moralising, no murder, no suspense and no desperate sliding into purgatory as the noose tightens, and increasingly hard decisions need to be taken. 

That once-in-a-lifetime chance to become rich is a great hook in fact. The other great hook is the huge amount of evil that Lizabeth Scott brings to the role of the innocent housewife. It is an incredible transformation, and brings us straight to the heart of what film noir is all about. It's about corruption of the soul, about the corruption of American values, and about the path of vice, and where it leads.

First off, Too Late for Tears features a sour marriage, between avaricious and delicious, super heartless and murderously willing Lizabeth Scott. This is the last sour look that noir-bound husband Arthur Kennedy delivers.

Sour marriage Lizabeth Scott and Arthur Kennedy in Too Late for Tears (1949)

It's hard to find any commentary about Too Late For Tears that doesn't describe Lizabeth Scott's character Jane as anything other than a femme fatale. While on a technical basis this may very well be true, insofar as she is a female whose appearance proves fatal for some, she does not exactly represent this type.  

Deadly marriage in film noir — Lizabeth Scott and Arthur Kennedy in Too Late for Tears (1949)

In essence a femme fatale in film noir does not normally conceal her malice behind a sweet-as-pie domestic exterior, as Lizabeth Scott does here. This is what makes this her finest film noir moment, the fact that she is not propping up the bar, smoking a cigarette, leading men to their downfall by flashing her legs. The prototypical femme fatale in film noir will pretty much always represent the opposite of the domestic fantasy, by presenting herself within a sleazy environment, and like a drug herself, being quite obviously evil to anyone other than the sap she suckers.

Arthur Kennedy trapped in film noir hell— Too Late For Tears (1949)

The difference is keen, and important. There are moments when Lizabeth Scott turns on and off the charm, but she really is like a light switch in this matter. She doesn't turn heads and she isn't trying to snare anybody. 

Kristine Miller in Too Late for Tears (1949)

Her sister in law is a goody two shoes perhaps, but a key part of the plot. The sister in law of femme fatale is quite a thing to be, and it leaves you with a lot of work to do. It makes Kristin Miller less of a supporting actor, and a much needed witness to the mayhem, which she first begins to suspect. It would of course definitely take a woman to outwit a femme fatale. 

Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea in Too Late for Tears (1949)

Jane Palmer likes the domestic life enough, and is quite at home as the wifelet in some respects. You don't ever see her in bar eyeing up the heels, and you don't see her in a wickedly revealing dress, reeling in the hopeless cases, like many of her fellow film femmes.

What's so important about this is the fact that Lizabeth Scott's character breaks the paradigm of domestic living from within, by being as she herself states to Dan Duryea in their first sleazy and ultimately violent encounter, a real-life bored housewife. 

Tough racket yet? Dan Duryea and Lizabeth Scott in Too Late for Tears (1949)

Sure, viewers will argue that she is a femme fatale as she uses her looks and her guile when she can, but what's more manifest is that as a woman, she doesn't have the physical strength to take on the underworld and fight her way through. She does seem to hook Dan Duryea, and it is excellent the way she breaks him, but until she is home free, she retains the manners and appearance of the all-American housewife; just one who hides valuable ill-gotten furs in the kitchen cupboards under the sink.

Scene of the murder in Too Late for Tears (1949)

In Deep Duryea in Too Late for Tears (1949)

It's this driving greed that gives Lizabeth Scott's character her power, and gives Too Late For Tears its massive film noir chops. A simple bag of money is what it takes in America. Everyone wants it, and it's going to be trouble if you touch it. Viewers of Too Late For Tears don't even need to know why she is so fixated on this loot, and why it is more important than being married and in a stable, middle-class relationship.

Arthur Kennedy — toast in Too Late for Tears (1949) — with Lizabeth Scott

Husband Arthur Kennedy is toast, at the first sign of the dough. The relentless powerhouse of wickedness that is Lizabeth Scott's character Jane Palmer. He can't survive this, and no amount of American Dream is ever going to compete with the fantasy of so much dough.

Jane Palmer is judged hard. There are classic film noir and minor film noir which feature ambitious and bad men, who are murdering and scheming and stealing for a living. For years actually, film noir took on the chin feminist criticism of the female characters as being portrayed as devious, in the fatal figure of the famous femme fatale.

The femme fatales may be judged hard. But all it is, is another hell-bent person, a character from noir, and a portrayal not of a type of woman, nor even an archetype of a kind of woman; but the female view from evil. Often the wicked female character in classic film noir uses sex to move the corpse, because they can't carry it, they need a lift. A man to carry the body.

Barry Kelley in Too Late for Tears (1949)

What is great about Danny, played by Dan Duryea, is that Lizabeth Scott's evil ways actually wear him out. Sure, when he first appears on the scene to try and force her hand, and get the money, he is confident, sleazy and sure of himself. However, Lizabeth Scott's character Jane Palmer does more than give him a run for his money; she breaks him, makes him turn to drink, and frightens him so much he winces at the sight of her, terrified that she's going to kill him or put him down.

Fatal to herself — Lizabeth Scott in Too Late for Tears (1949)

Dead man Duryea turns on the danger in Too late for Tears (1949)

He beats her at one point, it's a big mistake. The theatrical release poster for the movie tries to capture this, showing a vulnerable Lizabeth Scott being slapped by a domineering Dan Duryea, who is saying to her: "That's just to remind you... You're in a tough racket now!"

It certainly is a tough racket, but Lizabeth Scott's Jane Palmer is up to it. If you're in the way, she'll kill you, and if she needs to flash those baby blues to get you on her side, she'll do that too. Dan Duryea may first appear as the tough guy, but it doesn't take long before he's on the back foot.

It is maybe a terrible likeness of Lizabeth Scott. If this poster girl looks like anyone at all in Hollywood, it is Cybil Shepherd; even though Cybil Shepherd wasn't born until a year after this was made! 

Tough racket now. Dan Duryea and Lizabeth Scott in Too Late for Tears (1949)

It is a beating and a slapping all the same and a big mistake. The sore face of film noir reconsiders and rages. Dan Duryea walks away with a warning, but he doesn't need to wait long before the tables are turned.

There is a turnaround and it is quick. It isn't normal for the heels and hoods to be this scared of the dames, but scared he is. Lizabeth Scott's character appears to be able to outwit him, outpace him and out-noir him in always being able to stoop lower, behave more badly and kill more people simply to get what she wants; which is the money.

Add to this some classic noir storytelling, and you will not be disappointed by this hair-raising ride. In the first scene we lean very little about husband and wife Jane and Alan, as they drive through the night to a dinner date that she cannot be bothered with. 

Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore and Kristen Miller in Too Late for Tears (1949)

But what do we need to know? Your classic modern storytelling method, as perhaps exemplified in a bible like Save The Cat, demands of our scriptwriters that they dutifully set up characters by showing them in action. Most high period classic film noir would disprove this, throw it in the trash, stamp on its hat and call it bunk.

To this end, the story of Too Late For Tears begins immediately, as the husband and wife come across the bag of money which is to ruin everything, almost immediately. Yes you bums; there is no setting up of the characters, or even any scene setting. The credits roll, and the story begins, and as it stands with the characters themselves, there is no escape.

Don DeFore spoling all the fun in Too Late for Tears (1949)

Don DeFore as the sleuthing man of mystery does have the pleasure of unravelling all of this evil. But it is a shame to see this evil depart, for Too Late for Tears is massive fun, and the evil is the best part of it. Evil and fate, of course they combined well on the west coast of America, in the 1940s, in the suburban figures of the predominant business class. Evil and fate combined so well, that it is a shame when it is brilliantly unwound at the end of this film noir thriller.

Travelling back in time to 1949, The New York Times seems able to sum things up:

If proof be needed at this point that money is the root of all evil—a theme, incidentally, which has been the root of more than one motion picture—then Too Late for Tears, which came to the Mayfair on Saturday, is proof positive. For producer Hunt Stromberg, director Byron Haskin and scenarist Roy Huggins, who adapted his own Saturday Evening Post serial, herein have fashioned an effective melodramatic elaboration of that theme. Despite an involved plot and an occasional overabundance of palaver, not all of which is bright, this yarn about a cash-hungry dame who doesn't let men or conscience stand in her way, is an adult and generally suspenseful adventure.

The involved plot has here stood the test of time. The involvement, so-called, is if anything necessary, because if there really is a big bag of money on the go, then there really are gonna be a lotta people chasing it, and some of them are going to wind up as stiffs.

It's a set-up that's been widely enjoyed; No Country For Old Men; Money For Nothing; A Simple Plan; Da 5 Bloods; White Sands; Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave ... these are a few that spring to mind.

Arthur Kennedy as the somewhat innocent and normie-minded husband is satisfying, but Kristine Miller is excellent, utterly sympathetic in the more straight role of the attractive sister in law. Don DeFore's character sometimes seems out of place, but he essential in advancing the plot so we put up with him until he plays his hand in the finale and we finally find out what has really been going on. 

It has to be said that there are not that many film noirs which handle themselves well with a female lead, as here. There is also a technique which should have been used in a lot more movies; a device which sees the director uses the brims of men's hats to disguise their identity as they enter either a room, or a shot. This would in fact seem obvious, but it may well be unique to this one film noir.

It may in fact be the conceit of director Byron Haskin, who was much better known for his adventure films, and the several sci-fi classics he made. You wouldn't know it from what's reported about this tidy little film noir classic, but Lizabeth Scott's Jane Palmer might well be one of the most villainous characters in all of film noir. Not only is she ruthless, but she never deviates, and neither does she portray any especially sympathetic qualities. She is much more than any viewer will anticipate and so is the movie; simply one of the best film noirs of the 1940s. 

100 Minutes of Grade-A Noir

100 Minutes of Grade-A Noir But Colorized

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