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Daily Dose of Darkness #22: It's in the Bag (Opening Scene of Too Late for Tears)


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Like others, I grew up in the 1950's to 1960's and I don't remember the feeling of paranoia so often talked about. I remember duck and cover drills, but they were no different than fire drills, or the hurricane and tornado drills students go through today.

 

I do recall trying to talk my father into building a fall out shelter, more because it would be cool to have and a fun place to play, rather than any fear. Also, growing up with only four channels and once television in the house, I can remember the news every night. Watching the civil rights issues play out and the wars shown on the news.

 

I even recall watching the Dick Powell shows Zane Grey and his own show, and exactly where I was and what I was wearing when I learned of his death, can even remember thinking about June Allyson and feeling sorry for her that he was gone.

 

Like others I can recall some anxiety over the Cuban Missile Crisis and remember being glued to the news at night during it. But the anxiety or paranoia that some authors have given, I don't recall.

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The opening conversation between the husband and wife could have been from any type of movie; a noir, a melodrama, a screwball comedy. It's only that act of the money being thrown into the back of their car, and the subsequent car chase that brings this into the realm of noir and mystery.

 

I think that situations like this, ordinary people experiencing something unexpected, was not only prevelant in postwar films, but in many noirs in general (Double Indemnity, Strangers on a Train, etc.) It doesn't surprise me that many postwar films had this theme, though. In the postwar era (just from what I've read...I'm too young to know what it was like to live through the postwar era), there was a sense of disillusionment, most people had almost literally been through hell with the war, our country had been attacked by a foreign power on our own soil; after the war, there was a fear of Communism and the Bomb. I Love Lucy and Leave It to Beaver experiences aside, this must have been an extremely uncertain and fearful time to live in. The world had changed with WWII, and would continue to drastically change for decades to come. I would argue that audiences were less inclined to see the stories that they had been; instead, they might have craved stories that reflected the uncertainty of the times.

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Like others I can recall some anxiety over the Cuban Missile Crisis and remember being glued to the news at night during it. But the anxiety or paranoia that some authors have given, I don't recall.

I do not remember such emotions personally either but I wasn't born yet. I can understand artists trying to expose such feelings of paranoia and anxiety in various art forms of the times.

 

Just because you do not have such feelings personally does not make the forms of analysis less so. Today we have our own paranoi to contend with in the form of global warming. Something else that has come into light (analysis over the years) as many more wars have come into existence is "post traumatic stress disorders" (PTSD) which was just as relevant then as is today because we have that much more reference of such disorders.

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Today's clip from "Too Late for Tears" would seem to begin with a couple of completely innocent people who by random chance end up with a bag of (presumably ill-gotten) money. By choosing to drive off with the money it would appear the couple takes their first wrong turn, which will likely lead them down a road of noir complications.

 

One can reflect that the idea of innocent people being drawn into a dark and violent world would have resonance in post-war America. Many Americans would feel that they had just been unwillingly drawn into a World War and its attendant hells.

 

But what I find interesting here is whether this couple is really that innocent. They are quarreling from practically the moment we meet them. The women is concerned about being looked down upon by those with a higher social standing (giving her motivation to keep the money). Visually, we see the couple straight on looking into their car, so the center post of the windshield divides them, the angle of the shot only changing when the husband agrees to turn the car around, and then we see them together on the same side of the post.

 

Note that the wife is insistent that he open the bag full of "paper" as if she already suspects (and hopes?) what they will find. And note how she takes command, driving their getaway while he sits impotent in the back seat.

 

I don't know if this is "the best unknown American film noir" but I'm definitely intrigued and will be watching this weekend.

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Having yet to see this film, I'm struck by how all of the agency and impetus (for good or worse) comes from Jane. She sets them on the road to their fate, literally. Her husband is but a passive pawn. Yet can a wife be a femme fatale? I look forward to seeing what the film has in store.

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I think I read an essay yesterday, or was it two days ago, where a scholar stated that if you divide the noir protagonists into two groups, the detective and the non-detective or average citizen, the average citizen makes for a more compelling protagonist because they’re not professionals at navigating a seedy underworld so consequently the conflicts they face are more difficult for them to overcome and this heightens the drama.

 

Frankly, I doubt if there’s an absolute case for the superiority of one protagonist over another, but a number of the films we’ve studied can be viewed in in this manner.  The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep and Out Of The Past all have protagonists who are detectives, whereas The Third Man, The Hitch-Hiker, and D.O.A. all have protagonists who are average citizens.

 

One reason for having average citizens randomly encounter crime as opposed to a detective taking on a case is the audience is more likely to be made up of average citizens rather than a theater full of detectives.  The idea that random crime could happen to anyone is unsettling.  People work and strive for certainty and security.  Civilization implies that random crime is kept in check; otherwise we’re all still living in a lawless modern version of the Wild West.

 

However, no matter how adept the police force is, random crime exists.  This plays into the insecurities of the average person who suspects they too could fall victim.  Watching characters on a screen that are similar to the audience members engages the audience in a vivid and real side of society that most would prefer to avoid.

 

I haven’t seen Byron Haskin’s Too Late For Tears (Hunt Stromberg Productions, United Artists, 1949) but based on this clip it looks like an average couple will be thrust into, and my guess is, will try to navigate through a world that is foreign and threatening to them.

 

Arthur Kennedy and Lizbeth Scott look to be a middle class married couple.  Scott is upset at the treatment she will receive at the hands of “the diamond studded wife.”  The analysis could end right here.  The men are friends; their wives don’t get along.  However, looking at this scene in the context of 1950’s anxiety, the scene could also imply that class distinctions based on a capitalist society and measured by material possessions inevitably breeds discontent.  While Kennedy is looking forward to the evening, Scott will do anything, even risking their lives in a struggle for control of the car, to avoid the condescension she expects will occur.

 

Once Kennedy and Scott realize the satchel contains money, Scott’s willingness to quickly cross to the dark side could again be interpreted as the result of a natural, if misguided, attempt to even the “income disparity” that goes hand in glove with capitalism’s flawed principles.

 

-Mark

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Assuming flashing headlights in a convertible was the signal, we see how Jane's weaknesses serve as a linchpin for the determining yet seemingly random error.  Her noir weakness is that she insists on having her own way, even if it endangers their safety as the car careens during the struggle.  Jane's struggle for control of their car "inadvertently" tags them as the "right" car for the transfer of the bag of loot--the only coincidence being that their convertible is at the right place (the 3.5 mile marker) and right time (8:30PM).  The dough itself exploits Jane's ultimate weakness as defined through the noir lens--her unrelenting insistence that she control events, enhanced by what the cash can do to salve her middle class insecurities.  Although I've not seen the end of the film, I can only assume that these noir weaknesses serve as her undoing.  I think it's a great example of what you referenced, the enemy within in postwar noir as the ultimate threat.

 

Strangely, I hadn't noticed Alan/Jane's car lights blinking, but sure enough, there it is. Good catch.

 

I'm with you on everything happening because of Jane, whether she intended it or not. I'm just worried the rest of the film will paint her as the weak one in the relationship, when in the beginning at least she seems to have quite a bit of agency. 

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NICE!

 

Jane is Large and In Charge. How refreshing!

 

From the very opening we know who Jane is. She's the unhappy wife of sad sack Dick who apparently is falling short in the ka-ching department. She simply Will Not be going to be looked down upon by some diamond encrusted woman who lives atop the Hollywood Hills. She's rather wreck the car! And then: Shazam! A bag of money falls literally into her lap and she is not going to let go of this bounty. I love how Jane figuratively and literally drives the car to get this movie hopping. She wants that money and she wants it bad and it bodes ill for hapless Dick.

 

Fatalism: could it have arisen from soldiers returning from the war? I expect that returning home alive must have seemed like some sort of miracle to returning servicemen but in more introspective and perhaps clinically depressed returnees a sense of fatalism could have set in. I expect this is related to the fickle finger of fate (Detour) that pervades all the great films noir.

 

 

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"What are you trying to do, throw us off the edge?" A wonderful case of foreshadowing if ever there was one. Jane's a bit of a reckless woman, and after this scene I'm curious to see where her actions take the couple.

 

Just like any other good noir, we're immediately thrust into a mystery. Where did the money come from? Who threw it into the car? Who was it meant for? The confusion immediately takes Alan and Jane into a whirlwind--one more innocent person/couple being thrust into a mad world. I suspect that this was a popular theme in post WW2 films because people were able to relate to the feeling of having their lives turned upside down by an unexpected event. Just as the war tore families apart and caused a mass shift in female roles (from homemaker to working women as their husbands were fighting abroad), this scene in Too Late for Tears represents the popular noir themes of a change in tide for the average person. Both the post-war period and noir also focus on the issues of loss of innocence and disillusionment. Further, as women entered the workforce en masse, I suppose this shift in gender role helped cause a sense of female empowerment, which is on display in this scene as Jane literally takes the wheel and guides the action.

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A pitch black car, a pitch black night. A quick insert of a mile marker that looks curiously like a gravestone. An insert of Alan Palmer's wristwatch - he hasn't got much time in this unfair world.

 

As everyone has already pointed out, Jane is the one calling the shots from the word go, and the camera quickly accentuates this. The conversation moves from a two shot of both actors through the windshield or a tight close up of Jane's smoldering face as she delivers her lines. Not at any point are we privy to a close up of her unlucky husband. And when we finally do get a tight shot of him, it's only of his arm being forced down on the brake by Jane! Boy oh boy, the money is definitely what did him in, but with that attitude it was bound to happen sooner or later.

 

The whole opener is much too classic to be as unknown as it is, and rest in peace to the lovely Lizabeth Scott who just passed this January. She's a knockout in this picture, and I look forward to a nice crisp remaster!

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This film is slightly different in the intrigue that gets setup because its a seemingly positive occurrence that happens for the couple. It's not a fearful or dreadful situation that is being set up and while we know something bad will happen they don't.

 

I think this type of situation was popular in post-war films because people were wanting hopeful situations but also situations that had a realistic picture of what can happen when you let greed take over.

 

This looks like a classic that I am grateful to see. I love this type of movie with a crazy twist that challenges peoples morals.

 

I really like the set-up with how Jane doesn't like the rich snotty woman because she thinks that she is a bad person. But when I bag of money is tossed into her car she immediately grabs at it and doesn't hesitate. She is obviously a very shady character and pulls her husband into any messes that ensue.

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Too Late for Tears is a bit unusual from the other films noir we’ve watched in that it features a married couple.  Although the scene opens with one of the noir staples, that of the lone man in the shadows, we soon change our focus to a married couple.  They are not criminals, just a regular married couple having a disagreement.  Soon, however, we are going to see the birth of a femme fatale, right before our eyes. 

 

It’s clear from the discussion in the car that Jane would like to improve their social status.  Her husband is completely unaware that they are lacking in anything, but she feels acutely that they are socially inferior to the couple that they are going to visit.  Her struggle to convince Alan to turn back leads to a case of mistaken identity and a bag of money is thrown into the backseat of their car.

 

The money in the bag would put to rest their social anxiety, and the moment the bag is opened, we see Jane take charge as she slides into the driver’s seat, both literally and figuratively.  As she drives away from the car for which the money was actually intended, she barely gives her husband enough time to get into the car.  Her power is emphasized by the fact that he rides in the backseat now, as his wife manages to shake the car off their tail.

 

Jane is a lot like some of the other women we’ve met in films noir; she feels trapped in her life and, now that she’s married, she can’t really do anything to raise her income on her own.  The suitcase provides her with her one chance to change things and it’s clear that she will do anything it takes to ensure that the money stays hers. 

 

I felt that this film is critiquing the materialistic values that were really taking hold in this time period.  After the war ended, many goods were available that hadn’t been available during the war.  It was almost every citizen’s patriotic duty to keep the economy growing by purchasing new items.  This was also a time of advancements, so that people were purchasing new inventions like television sets, clothing and jewelry, household appliances, cars, and even houses themselves at a fast rate.  What a family owned was increasingly a way to show off their social status.  Jane’s obsession with wealth is a product of this “American” mindset.

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Why let him take the wheel? She was doing pretty damned good!

 

This opening scene is calmer than we have seen in other film entrances. The action takes up pretty quickly, but there is no opening with crescendoing, dooming music. This is a couple who has to have an evening with friends and the wife does not want to go. I will say, however, the shadows produced by the woman's thick eyebrows and the sharp angles of her face give the idea this woman is more than she appears. She has a dark side to her.

 

War, I think, scars everyone. War isn't something we asked for. In fact, the American public was dead-set against entering the war until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. War is simply an unexpected series of events that people have no control over. Coming out of the war, especially with the Great Depression just prior to WWII and the economy recovering but still struggling, I think people did feel they were carried along, that they were placed in situations they didn't have control over. As silly as it sounds, the minute the woman took the wheel there was this feeling that she was taking back control of her life. I can see how that would resonate with post-WWII audiences. Yet, we do get a hint of the rising consumerism when the wife talks about her impending hostess as an individual with many beautiful things who looks down on her. (Was this the reason the wife was so enthusiastic about that bag of money, because she would be able to buy and compete with her stuck-up hostess?)

 

In many ways this film is classic noir. It is dark, the area of visual is narrow, the angles are sharp and unsteady, the woman is rebellious, and the couple are thrown into danger immediately.

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I just saw another opening clip of this movie but with the title "Killer Bait". 

 

Some one might know....was this the working title and when and why was "Killer Bait" changed to "Too Late for Tears"?

TCM's showing the movie trailer with the Killer Bait title included as well.

 

Just curious.

 

Looking forward to seeing this on Friday!!

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it's nice to hear from someone who lived during this time. Is any one else on the message board that lived during this time period that can reflect on what life was like during 40s and 50s

I was born in 1950 and I completely related to what rajmct01 said.  When it's been previously mentioned how paranoid etc. the fifties were, I was completely surprised.  I always thought that we were protected from the harsh realities in the 50s. Yes we were taught "duck and cover" but it never really sunk in.   "Leave It to Beaver", "Father Knows Best", "Ozzie and Harriet", "The Donna Reed Show", The Real McCoys and "The Andy Griffith Show" all showed idyllic small town life which was in fact my experience.  Eisenhower was the great  father-figure protecting us from the "Big Bad".  It wasn't until the 60s when an entire generation of "baby boomers" went through their teen-age years, that we realized everything wasn't as perfect.  We went into a turbulent decade of fighting for civil rights, women's rights, protesting against the war and discovering sex, drugs and rock & roll.  "Teen-agers" before then were a demographic without a name.  Suddenly a huge block of human beings were going through the same angst-ridden times from adolescence to young adult.

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- Compare the opening of this film with other Daily Doses that began with a similar set-up on a deserted highway at night. How does this film's fateful twist differ from other film scenes we have investigated?


I would this movie is a little different than the other deserted highway at night films, in the what we do encounter is what appears to be two totally normal people that get involved in something.  Its interesting the the wife seems to react very fact and seems excited by the money and the case.  I found the others films started with more of a bang, this one started slower but the movie looks good.


Why do you think unexpected incidents involving innocent people (such as today's couple) was such a popular postwar theme? What was changing in society and history that made this a popular film story for audiences at the time?


With the war and blacklist , it caused a lot of hardship and interrupted normal life.  I think at first people wanted to escape and pretend it wasn't happening, then slowly the realization that feelings are ok to be felt or let out.  Movies in a way can make us feel or help release us from our feelings.


Discuss this scene in terms of the style and substance of film noir. What do you see in this opening scene that confirms Eddie Muller's observation that this film is "'the best unknown American film noir of the classic era."


It seems to involve normal people placed in an abnormal situation!.  What would you do if money literally landed on your lap.  It appears that this movie will show us the good and the bad of what will happen and it appears the husband will be the good, and the wife will be the bad.


 


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The opening to To Late for Tears is a perfect example of the existential themes of Film Noir. An innocent couple is roped into a dangerous situation by complete happenstance. There seems to be no greater reason why the bag of money landed in their car specifically, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's like the quote from Detour.

 

"Some day, fate can put the finger on you."

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I'm just worried the rest of the film will paint her as the weak one in the relationship, when in the beginning at least she seems to have quite a bit of agency. 

 

I happened to watch the entire film last night, and I thought her role in multiple relationships throughout was reflective of what we see in this clip. In The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and perhaps other noirs, I generally remember Lizabeth Scott as playing victims more or less.  In this film, her weakness as defined by the noir vantage point may lead to difficulty, but I don't get the sense that her character Jane sees herself as weak or struggling with a weakness at all.  It made the film enjoyable to watch and a nice change of pace from Scott's other film roles. I found it a very interesting film and well worth the efforts to restore it.  On YouTube, insert Eddie Muller Introduces Too Late for Tears (forgive my ignorance on how to place the link here), and you'll find his film festival intro where he tells the backstory of locating the prints for this film in order to restore it.  It's a great story all by itself.

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In this film, her weakness as defined by the noir vantage point may lead to difficulty, but I don't get the sense that her character Jane sees herself as weak or struggling with a weakness at all.  

 

In these terms I meant 'weakness' to imply a moral weakness, not a mental one. She seems confident and competent throughout the clip, but the implication seems to be that her greed or self-centered attitude(almost forcing a car off the road because she doesn't want to go to a party, deciding to run away with money that isn't hers) will prove to be the cause of all the troubles in the film. 

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In these terms I meant 'weakness' to imply a moral weakness, not a mental one. She seems confident and competent throughout the clip, but the implication seems to be that her greed or self-centered attitude(almost forcing a car off the road because she doesn't want to go to a party, deciding to run away with money that isn't hers) will prove to be the cause of all the troubles in the film. 

 

Sorry that I wasn't clear; that's what I was referring to as well.  I didn't want to give away the film's various plot points and conclusion, so I wasn't explaining myself very well.  I'll be interested in what you think when you see the film.

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I just saw another opening clip of this movie but with the title "Killer Bait". 

 

Some one might know....was this the working title and when and why was "Killer Bait" changed to "Too Late for Tears"?

TCM's showing the movie trailer with the Killer Bait title included as well.

 

Just curious.

 

Looking forward to seeing this on Friday!!

 

The film was reissued in 1955 and the title changed to Killer Bait.     The original title for the 1949 release was Too Late for Tears.

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In this film, the innocent couple are given a bag full of money that was intended for someone else.  And that person is chasing them in his car.  It is a car chase at night and Jane did beautifully driving and managing to lose the other car.  In Kiss Me Deadly, someone is after Christina and she's running for her life down a near deserted road at night.  In The Hitch-Hiker, two friends pick up a lone man who seems to be harmless, but also on a deserted road at night.  And In Strangers on a Train, two men meet, possibly by chance, possibly not, but this one is during the day.  The mystery and suspense of Strangers is that these two don't know one another and yet, one proposes something unthinkable for personal gain.  And I think assumes that Guy is so desperate to be rid of his first wife that he would do anything if he could get away with it. 

 

Maybe the every day life was not so exciting and these types of films made it so.  You can go on an adventure or be the hero who wins in the end.  Instead of the one who gets taken advantage of or used up and cast adrift.  These films also gave the average person a voice that they didn't know they had, or hadn't really put to good use yet.  They gave them a way out to.  Wars happen to innocent people as well as to soldiers.  You can't control that, but in a film you can imagine yourself, loved ones, friends coming out on top instead of coming back in a pine box. 

 

I have not seen this film from start to finish either.  I wonder what they do with the money?  DO they go to the police?  Do they go home?  Does the person to whom the money really belongs, come after the couple?  They can't spend it right away that would send the IRS after them.  And others who know the couple would get suspicious and maybe try blackmail.  The couple are afraid when the other car starts to come after them.  They get away, but we don't know what they do with that money.  If something like this happened to me, I would take it to the police and tell them what happened.  I'm not keeping something like that around me as it makes me a target.  If I get rid of it soon, then there is nothing that can happen to me.  I'm not in charge of the money and what happens to it isn't up to me, so I can't help the person (s) get their cash. 

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Really, the best part of this movie is when the bag drops in the car the micro-managing husband is stunned and ineffectual. The "kept" wife suddenly leaps into action. Her bad mood evaporates, there's a gleam in her eye, her mind whirling her body poised for the chase. She orders the husband into the car and floors it. Barreling down the highway at top speed she is able to out- manouevre the bad guy and get away with the loot. The crisis now dealt with and normalcy returning the hubby now tells her to get in the passenger seat and let him drive.

No wonder she kills him.

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That is an interesting piece of triva there. never knew it was called killer bait. i like too late for tears as the title better

The film was reissued in 1955 and the title changed to Killer Bait.     The original title for the 1949 release was Too Late for Tears.

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I was born in 1950 and I completely related to what rajmct01 said.  When it's been previously mentioned how paranoid etc. the fifties were, I was completely surprised.  I always thought that we were protected from the harsh realities in the 50s. Yes we were taught "duck and cover" but it never really sunk in.   "Leave It to Beaver", "Father Knows Best", "Ozzie and Harriet", "The Donna Reed Show", The Real McCoys and "The Andy Griffith Show" all showed idyllic small town life which was in fact my experience.  Eisenhower was the great  father-figure protecting us from the "Big Bad".  It wasn't until the 60s when an entire generation of "baby boomers" went through their teen-age years, that we realized everything wasn't as perfect.  We went into a turbulent decade of fighting for civil rights, women's rights, protesting against the war and discovering sex, drugs and rock & roll.  "Teen-agers" before then were a demographic without a name.  Suddenly a huge block of human beings were going through the same angst-ridden times from adolescence to young adult.

     Excellent comments, perspective and points. I'm a baby boomer and I'll add my thoughts in the perspective of our class, films noir, and the opening of "Too Late for Tears."

     Many men who returned from WWII found it difficult to readjust to peace time and as importantly, find good jobs. My Dad was fortunate to complete school on the GI Bill, but for many I think, even in the single earner households depicted on shows like "Leave It to Beaver" or "Father Knows Best" (incidentally, Hugh Beaumont and Robert Young appeared in several films noir), gender roles were strained. Women enjoyed working as they had during the war. This may explain the ineffectual male role in "Too Late" contrasted with the dominant streak in Lizabeth Scott, seizing the opportunity to grab the cash and show up the other wife who flaunts her wealth, at least in her perception.

      Which leads me to my other observation of changing social mores of this period: birth control.

      The incredibly profound effect on all civilization of prescription birth control rocked the social fabric and worked an upheaval of the roles of women and men. It certainly led to the sexual revolution of the 60's (the "pill" introduced in 1960) and would test how anyone thought of gender roles, femmes fatale, good girls, religion, sexuality and on and on and on.

      To what extent this revolution led to the decline of film noir I've yet to consider, but there was probably more going on with couples staying at home rather than going to the movies and more activity in the back seats of cars at the drive-ins.

      Interested to read others thoughts on this, or am I totally off base? Wouldn't be the first time.......

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