Monday Movie: Too Late for Tears, by David Bax
Every Monday, we’ll highlight a piece of writing from our vaults. This review of Too Late for Tears originally ran as a home video review.
Byron Haskin’s Too Late for Tears is a recently restored noir that packs more surprises than just its spiffy new presentation. Like a lot of old movies, it also serves as a time machine that brings you back to old Los Angeles, when Hollywood Boulevard was a neon dream and when MacArthur Park after nightfall was not yet a place to buy drugs but rather a place to go on a romantic paddle boat ride and maybe, just maybe, murder your husband and dump his body in the lake.
Arthur Kennedy and the inestimable Lizabeth Scott are a married couple, pulled over to the side of a road for a lovers’ spat when a passing car tosses a bag of money into the backseat of their convertible. They’ve been mistaken for the intended recipients of an illicit drop and, well, they have a difference of opinion on what to do about it. Alan (Kennedy) wants to turn it over to the police while Jane (Scott) says they should keep it. Days later, with the money stashed away and the debate continuing, Jane is visited by a slick criminal type named Danny (Dan Duryea) who claims the money is his. A bargain is struck. If Danny will help Jane get the money away from Alan, they can split it.
Scott has been underappreciated over the decades, at least in comparison to some of her contemporaries, but just a year after having played one of noir’s greatest femmes fatale in André De Toth’s Pitfall, she proved here that she could just as handily take on a leading role. Films noir with female leads are truly rare but Too Late for Tears goes one further. Unlike another great example, Max Ophüls’ The Reckless Moment, Scott’s Jane manages to be both protagonist and fatale at the same time. The resulting, complex empathy on the part of the film makes an argument for it as feminist noir, putting it in the company of Vincent Sherman’s terrific The Damned Don’t Cry.
It would be irresponsible, though, to limit discussion of Too Late for Tears to the arena of female noir. Despite having flown under the radar for so long, the film’s influence reaches across the years. In 2004, David Mamet used a clip on a TV screen during a scene in Spartan, perhaps as a way to encourage sympathy for women society might deem difficult. And the film’s train station locker pick-up scene is so similar to Get Shorty that the latter feels like it must be an homage. So, watch Too Late for Tears because it’s influential or because it’s female-centric or, you know, just because it’s so damn good.