Too Late for Tears d. Byron Haskin (1949) Blu-ray Release Date: May 10, 2016
“The return of the lost noir classic.” That’s how Too Late for Tears and its companion release, Woman on the Run (to be covered next week), have been presented by Flicker Alley, who released these two films on home video this month in a new restoration. Just how was Too Late for Tears lost, though? It has been widely available; after all, the film was in the public domain. But “lost” still applies, not in the same way it does to a film that’s been destroyed in a fire, but the public domain can be brutal to a film, as people dupe old tapes, make their own splices, and essentially do whatever they like to it. Such a fate, where one can barely recognize the original film or its look, is certainly the fate of something lost. The excitement surrounding the release of Two Late for Tears on home video in this new restoration is entirely appropriate.
Too Late for Tears is a wonderfully twisted noir, particularly compelling because we are presented with a glorious transformation: a house wife, who in her early scene looks reluctant because she doesn’t want to go to a party where the “friends” patronize her, becomes a devilish femme fatale. To make it even better, as the film twists and turns through its plot, we see that there actually was no transition: the femme fatale was always there. If we understood her reluctance to attend the party in that first scene as some kind of timidity or desire to simply stay home with her husband, we soon discover in her a strength that enables her to simply state she doesn’t want to go to the party because it’s dull.
Her reluctance to go to the party also gets the plot moving. Jane (played wonderfully by Lizabeth Scott) has told her husband Alan (Arthur Kennedy) that she doesn’t want to go. Because they’re already on their way, he’s a bit hesitant but he finally slows down the car to turn around. As he slows down, though, a car approaching from the other direction throws a bag into their back seat. Jane and Alan quickly find that the bag contains a great deal of money . . . and the intended recipient is approaching from behind. Jane and Alan make a speedy getaway, but their problems, naturally, are just beginning.
While Alan wants to take the money to the police immediately, Jane, perhaps surprisingly, argues that they don’t have to do that. When an officer pulls them over for speeding, Alan says nothing to the officer about the money in their back seat. Jane looks rather pleased when she points this out to Alan. Nevertheless, her husband is still against keeping the money. This makes her physically ill.
When she is visited by Danny Fuller, the intended recipient of the money (played by the great noir sleeze Dan Duryea), Jane, as if acting by second nature, plots how to get the money to herself, even if it means teaming up with the man who’s just invaded her home and, with striking malevolence, slaps her again and again. But even Danny begins to fear he is in over his head. At first, when he thinks he’s the one with the power to intimidate, when he thinks he may be able to work with Jane to get the money, Danny says: “I say let’s kill these people in style.” But after the power shift, as he understands he never had what it takes to claim the money he never earned, Danny becomes the sympathetic one:
You know what the man said that sold me this? He said I didn’t look like the type of guy he was used to dealing with. I looked him right in the eye, and I said, “You mean I don’t look like a killer, huh?” And you know what he said? He said, “No, you don’t.” I wonder what he woulda said if you’d bought this stuff, tiger. Don’t ever change, tiger. I don’t think I’d like you with a heart.
He says this drunk, pathetic. He never recovers.
The disc also comes with an audio commentary from film historian Alan K. Rode, a mini-documentary on the production of the film as well as the careers of Dan Duryea and Lizabeth Scott, and a short feature on the restoration (showing just how awful the film looked!). Inside the case, there is a booklet featuring an essay by Brian Light, looking at the film’s surprisingly poor reception. Once again, Flicker Alley has provided us with a home video to treasure.