Friday, March 21, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Too Late for Tears (1949) at the Noir City Film Festival

The 16th Annual Noir City Film Festival started off in fine style tonight with a terrific double bill paying tribute to Dan Duryea.

Duryea's family was present to see him in in a pair of late '40s films, TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949) and LARCENY (1948). I reviewed LARCENY a little over a year ago and enjoyed it again in tonight's gorgeous 35mm print.

For many years TOO LATE FOR TEARS has only been available in murky prints on various DVDs. The Film Noir Foundation undertook a very difficult restoration project over several years in order to make this gem available once more in a fine-looking print. Individual scenes here and there still look murky, which I'm sure must reflect what they had available to work with, but for the most part it looks terrific.

TOO LATE FOR TEARS was directed by Byron Haskin, but the most notable thing about the film is the terrific dialogue by Roy Huggins, the man behind MAVERICK and THE ROCKFORD FILES. It's Huggins' dialogue, as delivered by the one and only Duryea, which really makes this movie sing. I believe I can safely say the entire audience loved Duryea's performance as much as I did, and I'm so glad his family had the opportunity to see the film, especially with an appreciative audience.

The movie starts off in rather confusing fashion, as Jane (Lizabeth Scott) and Alan (Arthur Kennedy) quarrel as they drive to a social engagement. Just as Alan is agreeing they can skip the party and go home, someone drives past and tosses a bag into their convertible.

Jane and Alan are even more startled to discover the bag is filled with cash, and they are promptly chased by the person for whom the unusual delivery had actually been meant.

Jane has stars in her eyes over what the money could do for them and convinces Alan not to turn it in to the police; he reluctantly agrees to hang on to the money, but "just for a week." Apparently Alan thinks Jane will come to her senses by then and not make him miserable about doing the right thing, and he stashes the bag with the money in luggage storage at Union Station. Jane, meanwhile, drains their bank account splurging on things such as a fur coat.

Then there's a fateful knock on the apartment door, as Danny (Duryea), having traced Jane and Alan's license plate, comes hunting for his money.

Jane is soon juggling the competing demands of Alan and Danny, with her behavior perplexing Alan's sister Kathy (Kristine Miller of SHADOW ON THE WALL), who lives across the hall. Then an old army buddy (Don DeFore) of Alan's happens to show up just when Alan disappears...

There's a whole lot more to this fun story but I'll leave it at that. It's a great ride, with a lot of laughs along with the suspense.

I find Lizabeth Scott kind of a one-note actress, but her monotonously intense line deliveries work for this character, who proves to be a crazed killer. Initially Jane's over-the-top weirdness drew some perplexed chuckles from the crowd, but once the wisecracking Duryea entered the picture, the audience was laughing along with the movie, not at it. When the movie ended I heard several comments saying "That was great!" It really was.

The one thing which perplexed me about the story, given Jane's gradually revealed background, is why she married Alan in the first place. Was it true love which later went sour due to lack of funds? Huggins' script was based on his own serial, which was also published in novel form, and it might be interesting to read it and see if there's more insight into Jane's character, or lack thereof!

Incidentally, a brand-new biography of Huggins was just published by McFarland. The author is Paul Green.

I've come to love Don DeFore's work of this period, in films such as RAMROD (1947) and IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947), and this is another strong role. He snoops around Jane and Alan's apartment but for a long time the audience isn't sure if he's an investigator, a crook, or what he says, just a friend.

Barry Kelley plays a police investigator. Jimmie Dodd, Billy Halop, and June Storey are also in the cast.

TOO LATE FOR TEARS, which is also known by the reissue title KILLER BAIT, runs 99 minutes. It was filmed in black and white by William C. Mellor. One of the clips showing off the film's L.A. setting is part of the TCM Los Angeles Movie Locations Bus Tour.

TOO LATE FOR TEARS made a wonderful start for this year's Noir City Festival, and I'm looking forward to more such discoveries over the course of the next couple weekends.

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