Saturday, June 14, 2014

Too Late for Tears (1949)

Director: Byron Haskin                                  Writer: Roy Huggins
Film Score: Dale Butts                                  Cinematography: William C. Mellor
Starring: Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy, Dan Duryea and Don DeFore

Too Late for Tears is an independent film produced by Hunt Stromberg and released through United Artists. Stromberg had been a powerful producer over at MGM in the thirties and forties, most notable for his overseeing of The Great Ziegfeld and The Thin Man series. This is a low-budget noir film featuring Lizabeth Scott who had begun her film career recently with a string of noir films like Pitfall and I Walk Alone. Byron Haskin began his career for Warner Brothers as a cameraman in the twenties and early thirties. For most of the following decade he was a special effects man for Warners, working on a number of well-known pictures. In the late forties he moved into directing and had his greatest success in the fifties with such films as Treasure Island for Disney, and working with producer George Pal on science-fiction films like War of the Worlds. He doesn’t have a lot to work with here in terms of budget. Most of the money for the film probably went to the actors. But he manages to keep a brisk pace, never allowing the story to flag, and produced a decent noir film.

The opening begins at night on a lonely road above Los Angeles, with Lizabeth Scott and Arthur Kennedy in the car. Scott wants to turn around because she doesn’t want to attend the party they’re going to, and shuts off the lights to get Kennedy to stop. It turns out, however, that someone else was on that road and the lights were a signal. A bag is thrown into their car containing sixty-thousand dollars. Scott, anxious to keep it, drives off to allude the real owner of the money. When they get back to their apartment they hope to avoid being seen, but the black mechanic in the garage chats with them briefly. Once inside Scott comes alive with the possibilities for the money, but Kennedy says it’s the same a stealing. Kennedy’s sister, Kristine Miller, comes over from next door, but they act like they aren’t feeling well and she goes back home. They agree, for the moment, to simply hide the money and wait to see what happens. But two things happen the next afternoon, Scott goes out and buys some new clothes, and wise guy Dan Duryea shows up at the door pretending to be a police detective.

Though Kennedy remains ignorant of what’s going on, Duryea knows that Scott has the money and while he doesn’t trust her he’s forced to work with her in order to have a chance to get it. It’s a rather fascinating script, with some nice twists. Another interesting thing about it is that Scott not only fills the role of the femme fatale, but also seems to be the one whose life is turned upside down and feeling the walls closing in around her. A friend of Kennedy’s suddenly turns up, along with the sister and a real police detective this time, and it’s all Scott can do not to panic. Duryea, a film noir veteran who made his name with Fritz Lang in a number of forties films, is a cagey criminal but still manages to get himself caught in Scott’s web and turns out to be the real sap of the picture.

It’s a nifty film, the kind that John Huston might have written, the money poisoning the relationship and getting people to do horrible things for it that they never would have done otherwise. In fact, the director had just filmed The Treasure of the Sierre Madre the year before. The direction in this film by Haskin is fairly banal. Stuck mostly with a couple of different interiors it’s difficult to add variety to his shots. He does some decent tracking work, but with only one camera to work with and no budget, his two-shots are painfully static, similar to the television work he would do later in his career. His work is infinitely better on the exterior shots. Scott and Kennedy are effective together, as is Duryea in his own peculiar way. Don DeFore as the friend is a nice touch for the film and enlivens the second half, especially when he’s working with Kristine Miller. Too Late for Tears is a B movie, no doubt, but if you can look past the flaws there is an enjoyable noir thriller to be had.

No comments:

Post a Comment