Monday, March 16, 2009

Too Late For Tears (1949)

Too Late For Tears (1949) aka Killer Bait was a clever if somewhat meagerly budgeted affair when it was first made, and is now in the public domain. The movie starred Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy and Don DeFore. Directed by Byron Haskin and based on a Roy Huggins story, the movie begins with a married couple (Scott & Kennedy) who are bickering while tooling down the road in their convertible as night falls.

Thanks to a wild coincidence (that could only happens in movies), the pair are soon the recipients of a valise full of dough. Scott, who has been whimpering that she didn't want to go to a social gathering at the home of Kennedy's boss and says that she couldn't take another evening of being condescended to by the boss' wife, latches on to the manna from heaven. She encourages the straight arrow hubby to hang onto the moolah..."at least for a week, while we think things over." Kennedy, who realized, after this bag fell into their car and they were chased by another car all over the Hollywood Hills that this money is tainted, reluctantly agrees to his steely, moneygrubbing honey's plan, even though he has seen a glint in her eye that he hadn't noticed before.

The next day, while Arthur Kennedy is out making a square living, Lizabeth goes out and buys "presents" as she puts it--even though they are all apparently presents for herself. Soon, Kennedy finds out about his wife's spree, a fellow who is seemingly impervious to all moral restraint, (Dan Duryea, who gives an excellent performance) is knocking on the door, and, suffice it to say, things get complicated from there.

This seems to have been one of Lizabeth Scott's best tour de force performances, though her ideas of the freedom that money can give are decidedly lethal and ultimately rather conventional. Besides, any movie that has Don DeFore as a deus ex machina is on shaky ground.

Arthur Kennedy, an actor often asked to play an endearing dogsbody, has invisible letters on his innocent forehead that read "S-A-P" in this movie, though even he proves to be a bit sharper than he initially appears. There are some flaws in this enjoyable if outlandish romp, but, for a Scott aficionado, it's a must, even if it just to see Lizabeth shifting gears from manipulative victim to predator several times. While I find that part of the fascination for me with Lizabeth Scott is her often her curious lack of clear-cut expression, that stonefaced quality works for her here. For a Dan Duryea fan, the film is even better, as the actor creates a three dimensional figure with surprising depth out of a role that most other actors might just phone in. I'd put it next to Black Angel (1946) as one of this neglected actor's very best noir creations, as he becomes increasingly filled with wonder at the coldness of Scott's ruthless character.

As Duryea says, "Don't ever change, Tiger. I don't think I'd like you with a heart."

Too Late for Tears is available in a pretty good print transferred to dvd, but you can also view it at the Internet Archive site for free here.

Duryea's career is reviewed in this Classic Images article:
Dan Duryea Charming Villain by Frank Dolven

I hope that you'll chime in with your thoughts on this movie.

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