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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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I wish there was a pre release cut of the Big Sleep available today that kept all Martha's best scenes before they hacked the film to pieces so Lauren wouldn't look too bad in it. Would be great to see for comparison's sake.

 

Well there is a 1945 version of the film that was shown to the troops overseas.   This version has been shown on TCM.   It does contain some extra Martha scenes;  e.g.   Marlow driving Carmen home after finding her in Geiger's house.  But Carmen is passed out in this scene so Martha doesn't have any dialog, but she looks cute.

 

This 1945 version is easier to follow and less romantic than the 1946 US release of the film where Hawks was asked to beef up the Bogie \ Bacall romance angle.   

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Dan Duryea was the highlight of this movie: my favorite quote:  when he jumps out the car... i'll see you in the daytime with a million people around

I really enjoyed Too Late For Tears. I wish the summary description that popped up on DirecTV didn't tip off a key plot point, though.

 

So to not repeat their offense...SPOILER ALERT regarding the commentary below.

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Good film, despite a were a couple of plot points that required suspension of belief. For example, no way Danny gets the license plate from the Palmer's car in order to track them down. His only encounter is a high speed chase through the Hollywood Hills where the road is rarely straight for more than 20 yards and there are no lights. He's never close enough to the car and in those days I do not believe that license plates were even lit like they are today. He probably couldn't even tell what kind of car it was.

 

I also got to thinking about how Alan's "male domination" impacted his life. Had he listened to the concerns of his obviously stressed-out wife, he first would have averted the situation and then later his own murder. (Of course, we would have a short dull movie had he done that...).

  • Jane repeatedly pleads with him to turn the car around and not go to the party - had he done so earlier they would never have reached the payoff location.
  • And when trying to insist that his wife stay on the boat ride rather than turn around and head back, he turned a situation where her guilt might have led to her agreeing with him to unburden themselves of the money to his death and her now even more desperate actions.

Love that Alan distrusted his wife enough to tell the porter to add a note to call the police if a woman picked up the bag. Also got a kick out of Jane hiding the furs and other gifts in the kitchen cabinet (!) - apparently men did not venture into the "woman's place".

 

Scott was very good, but I thought Dan Duryea and (to a larger extent) Don DeFore stole the show. Duryea's cocky smarm was only matched by the bevy of nicknames he was tossing around, although he folded like a cheap suit over time. And DeFore had me going - at first I believed he was the war buddy (often an unseen person or thing that mucks up the perfect plans), then I thought he was a cop and after being "unmasked" even thought he was the guy who tossed the bag into the car. Did not see the reveal coming, but it at least explains how he would know where Alan was stationed (research!).

 

I'm so thankful that Muller and the Film Noir Society and UCLA Archive were able to salvage this gem.

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In many ways this opening is similar to other films noir we have viewed. A seemingly ordinary situation between an everyday couple is immediately thrown into the dark depths of noir territory over a random encounter outside of their control. Here though, Jane, and by default her husband, immediately dive headfirst into those murky depths. Her greed and avarice is leading them on a path which will most likely not end well. In this sense, Jane is the femme fatale in this story, although she starts off as the traditional woman discussed in last week's assigned reading, the dutiful wife who is supposed to stand by her husband's side at a party, even if she does not want to go. In this film however, it is her assertion of her own dominance that leads directly into that random encounter which puts their lives into danger. By recklessly trying to take control of the car, she puts herself on a path to a dark destiny, and wholeheartedly embraces the opportunity that has presented itself regardless of the danger it puts them in. She then takes full control of the car, and the destinies of both her and her husband as they flee from the rightful owners of the bag of cash they have "lucked" into. At the end, the husband states "Slow down. I'll take the wheel." But there is a lack of conviction in his voice and it's unlikely he will be able to re-assert her dominance in this relationship. Jane is now in the driver's seat.

 

This type of plot, where the seemingly innocent are thrust into dark and deadly situations and as a result, the seedy undercurrents of their personality take the chance to release themselves after having been pent up for so long carries as appeal of wish fulfillment. Who wouldn't want to be driving down the road and have a bag of cash thrown into their backseat? The 1950s are viewed by some to be a static period, known for conformity, malaise and the start of the consumer culture. Jane from the very beginning is complaining about another woman of considerable wealth who looks down at her more humble qualities. There is a sense of jealousy in her disdain for this other woman and once a financial windfall presents itself, she doesn't think twice before leaping at the opportunity. Speeding away from possible death, she is almost ecstatic and is more than willing to risk her life, and her husband's, for a chance to break out of the normality of their lives, another party with the same people, the same tired jokes and stories, trudging endlessly forward to more of the same for the foreseeable future.

 

Too Late for Tears feels like a classic noir tale, and was certainly unknown to me before this course. I'm interested to see how the film plays out. The plot of happening into something valuable that doesn't belong to you and being on the run from those who would kill to get it back is another story that will see countless variations over the years. I think people are drawn to stories such as these because while watching we can't help but wonder how we would react in a similar situation. That couple could be anyone, thrown into that situation following a random encounter. Is the danger worth the reward? That's up to each person to figure out for themselves and is why films like these continue to strike a chord with audiences, decades after their release.

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As compared to the other daily doses with a similar set-up on a deserted highway, Too Late for Tears (1949), does not pick up hitch hikers.  The married couple, Jane (Lizabeth Scott) and Alan (Arthur Kennedy) are instead arguing about going to a friends' dinner and turning the car around; fighting for the ignition car keys and nearly running the car off the edge of the road; and barely side swiping another car whose driver (was driving purposely very close to them) throws a black leather bag into the back of their opened-top car.  Jane and Alan's fateful twist is that they were driving on this particular stretch of road at a specific time (8:30pm).  They 'receive' trouble in a black leather bag by accident while in Kiss Me Deadly and The Hitch Hiker, the main characters are already in trouble and give their trouble to whoever happens to pick them up.

 

Unexpected incidents involving innocent people (such as Jane and Alan) was most likely a popular postwar theme because this is parallel to how people were feeling about the Cold War at the time.  That fear and anxiety change people and cause him or her to behave very differently (i.e. McCarthy's congressional/witch trials).  Themes of looking out for yourself and nobody else as well as greed seem to be prevalent.

 

Jane's (Lizabeth Scott) insistence to her husband to turn the car around is very urgent to the extent of causing the car to go off the road.  This is an example of what lengths Jane would go to get her way.  Also, this is a warning to us the viewers that this is a chance for Jane and her husband to avoid the doom filled fate that is awaiting them down the road (in this film noir world).  When they don't turn back, they accidentally 'receive' a leather bag full of money which changes both of them.  Jane registers instant greed.  As she sees another car approaching, Jane instinctively orders her husband back in the car and drives their car surprisingly well and 'loses' the other car as it chases them.  While Alan shows shock and bewilderment.  He can barely figure out what to do as he continues to stare at the money and follows Jane's orders.  The substance of this film noir is Jane's greed, and fear & anxiety of not owning the money.  The film noir style includes use of music to emphasize a changing event; while everyone on the road is in shadows except for the married couple, Jane and Alan.

 

Eddie Mueller's comment about this film, "the best unknown American film noir of the classic era" probably concerns Jane, a housewife, who is seduced by a leather bag full of money becomes the femme fatale that tops them all by seducing and murdering anyone that stands in her way of obtaining this money accidentally 'given' to her.

 

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22. TOO LATE FOR TEARS: Cut to the Chase.

Couple drive a dark winding canyon road to a dinner party but the wife doesn't want to go, grabs the wheel and eventually ends up driving. 
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A car sitting on the side of the road, with the driver obviously waiting for someone to come along - but for what purpose?  We’re hooked within the first minute, as the ensuing domestic argument and sudden drop-off promises that there’s more thrills to come.  A sullen Lizabeth Scott turns into a passionate heat wave, fearlessly ignoring the bleating screams of her passive-agressive spouse, Arthur Kennedy.  WOW.


 


The postwar themes of sexual identity crisis and middle-class longings perfectly highlight the essay from Drew Casper’s Postwar Hollywood.  As suburban couple Jane and Allen drive to a swanky party in the hills, her refusal to play a passive role marks a sharp change from a pre-WWII heroine.  It’s clear that her husband is smitten by how the upper class lives, as their car moves closer to the promise of conspicious consumer nirvana, leaving their constricted world far behind them.  


 


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22. TOO LATE FOR TEARS: Cut to the Chase.
Couple drive a dark winding canyon road to a dinner party but the wife doesn't want to go, grabs the wheel and eventually ends up driving. 

 

 

Yet another wonderful title by Jon.

 

FYI, I have fun creating the titles for each Daily Dose, and usually consider several titles before settling on the one I will use. The other title I was playing with for Daily Dose of Darkness #22 was Finders Keepers (but decided it was used too recently by Stephen King as the title of his latest novel).

 

But the full phrase "Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers" helps me consider some of the reasons why this film is aptly titled "Too Late for Tears."

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I noticed the materialism/consumerism  theme when Jane Palmer tells her husband that her family was "white collar poor". That explains why she had that hunger for luxuries that she had seen and knew existed, versus "really" poor people who didn't know about what the "haves" really had (except through films). 

 

Even today, I see children who have never seen a mailbox or a closet or a doorbell. To them, those items are not even on the radar, because they live in such poverty. So they would not be as greedy as Jane Palmer. 

 

On another note, I was born in 1959, and I loved my childhood. My mom was wonderful and Dad was an engineer and was a good provider. But after this lesson, and the assigned readings, I am rather depressed because I feel the world was really made worse and messed up after the war!  

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Yet another wonderful title by Jon.

 

FYI, I have fun creating the titles for each Daily Dose, and usually consider several titles before settling on the one I will use. The other title I was playing with for Daily Dose of Darkness #22 was Finders Keepers (but decided it was used too recently by Stephen King as the title of his latest novel).

 

But the full phrase "Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers" helps me consider some of the reasons why this film is aptly titled "Too Late for Tears."

I thought perhaps your choice of title was also a playful shout out to Fred Allen's goofy 1945 noirish take-off

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This was a cool little opening to a film I hadn't ever heard of. Two of my favorite sections are the car chase--which was surprisingly well done, and it was nice to see the man in the back seat, defenseless, with the woman taking charge--and when Alan opens the bag to find the money, and both he and Jane greedily smirk at the possibilities this has in store for them (though, they're probably thinking of what they could use the money for rather than those who will undoubtedly chase after them to get the money back).

 

I'm glad to see that this forgotten film noir resurfaced. I'm sad that I missed the broadcast, but I'm hoping that some distributor (perhaps Criterion as they've been on a roll recently with their film noir output) will pick it up and release it to show off the new restoration.

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Here we have another example of what can happen to an unsuspecting motorist on a deserted highway at night in a film noir. As in the examples of, "Kiss Me Deadly" and "The Hitchhiker" our vehicle is about to pick-up a passenger, only in this case it's a valise full of cash. The existential theme of the random couple finding themselves in an alternative reality as a result of forces beyond their control was quite popular in the post-war era, reflecting a major shift in the public consciousness regarding destiny and fate. Having witnessed wholesale death and destruction and living with the threat of nuclear annihilation left people uneasy and unsure of what to expect. The sequence is well shot, alternating the long view giving us the feeling of the darkness and solitude of the highway, and the close ups of the vehicles. The chase is exciting- and unusual, as the woman is doing the spectacular driving. In the brief dialogue between Arthur Kennedy and Lisbeth Scott  she gives us a hint of how important money is to her. Then after they stop and see the valise in the backseat, she is very eager for him to open it- almost breathless. When he does get it open the expression on her face becomes wide-eyed, and then transitions to an almost trance-like satisfaction when she sees the loot. We know that she intends to keep that money. The pace of the film is excellent, and Lisbeth Scott and Dan Duryea both have never been better. I am so grateful for people like Eddie Muller, who worked passionately to bring this film back to us, making this no time for OUR tears!

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  • I believe that crime was on the rise  and filmmakers chad to change the way they filmed movies. I really thought that the high-speed car chase on a mountain road was superbly done. The male-female relationship was opposite from traditional filmmaking.

 

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I saw similarities between the husband and wife in this one and the two friends out for a roadtrip in the hitch-hiker...in both cases you get two people who know each other extremely well and know exactly what the evening has in store for them and it's so normal and routine until something unexpected happens. I think that the idea of two innocent people verses fate is something that was only going to grow in prevalence in films from this point on. In some ways it was a reaction to post war and later cold war mentality of there being big things out in the world that were so much bigger than one person and that these things were dangerous and could kill you and there was absolutely nothing you could do to control them...the idea of your fate being entirely outside if your own hands in other words is a very scary proposition. 

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Yet another wonderful title by Jon.

 

FYI, I have fun creating the titles for each Daily Dose, and usually consider several titles before settling on the one I will use. The other title I was playing with for Daily Dose of Darkness #22 was Finders Keepers (but decided it was used too recently by Stephen King as the title of his latest novel).

 

But the full phrase "Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers" helps me consider some of the reasons why this film is aptly titled "Too Late for Tears."

Thanks Richard,  I've been making an effort on the titles because you've generally already came up with the better one. They started out as simple subject lines but I couldn't help having fun with them. 

 

I did puzzle over the title of this film but it makes more sense if it's also an allusion to "losers weepers."

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Unlike the other film noir scenes we've seen, this twist of fate seems to be a blessing at first. They suddenly fell into a bag of money! It was only when we they realize that the money was meant for someone else that they are suddenly involved in something illegal that things go wrong. Twists of fate were common in film noir though they became increasing prevalent in the Cold War, where Communists were anywhere and there was no one you could really trust. 

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Just as any particular individual of a society envolved with war issues, everybody could be on fate's route. The fate to have a husband or a sun killed on action, or the fate to have a bag full of maney inside the car. They didn't asked for it, but it happened anyway. There's no way out of it.

 

The difference here is that the couple is not enclosured just like many others from similar scenes. In the end, they both get to escape from trouble with the bag full of money. For a quick moment they're feeling unbeatable.

 

Regarding the noir substance, it is clearly a manifestation of how that society wanted desperately run away from the war and its consequences. The couple is running away trouble just like American society was at that particular time. Thanks for letting audiences watch this masterpiece again more than helf a century later!

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"Why do you think unexpected incidents involving innocent people (such as today's couple) was such a popular postwar theme?"

 

I believe that why this format was so popular is the same reason it is popular today.  We all want to know how we would react if such a situation were thrust upon us.  We watch the characters and say, "I wouldn't do that," but do we REALLY know if we would react another way?  Also, I think we like watching how people react when put into certain situations.  We like to watch them either rise above, but it is so much more thrilling to watch the darker side come out and hope that that darker side wouldn't live within us if we encountered such a scenario.

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I find the subject of "innocence" for this film a bit of a red herring. In truth, Kathy and Alan were the only 2 true innocents in the story and even Alan had a moment of moral teetering. In truth, it is more about that late 40s/early 50s illusion of innocence. It's the belief that the world was going to be so much better after WWII, when in truth it was paranoia and depression hidden behind the ideas of happy families and white picket fences.

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The opening scene really made me want to watch this film and I sure enjoyed it. From such an "innocent" beginning we end up with QUITE a femme fatale!

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I find the subject of "innocence" for this film a bit of a red herring. In truth, Kathy and Alan were the only 2 true innocents in the story and even Alan had a moment of moral teetering. In truth, it is more about that late 40s/early 50s illusion of innocence. It's the belief that the world was going to be so much better after WWII, when in truth it was paranoia and depression hidden behind the ideas of happy families and white picket fences.

 

I don't see paranoia and depression as it relates to Alan and Jane;  First Alan must have had a good paying job since they lived in a very nice apartment (e.g. garage service),  near the beach (e.g. Jane was able to walk home after leaving the car),   and they had at least a thousand dollars in their bank account (e.g. Jane spend over 700 dollars are stuff).   So this wasn't no down on their luck couple like we see in 99 River Street.

 

Jane just wanted more.   What is never explained (and often never is in stories like this),   is why she married Alan in the first place since being upper middle class wasn't good enough for her. 

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How does this film's fateful twist differ from other film scenes we have investigated?

 

The scene starts with a 'domestic' concern, someting private between the couple - they are encapsulated or insulated from the rest of the world physically by the confines of their car. And, from the substance of their conversation, a degree of social or economic insulation also exists, albeit uncomfortably.

 

Then something sinister and hinting at much larger, 'more serious' concerns is, literally, thrown into their world, the public impinges on the private.

 

Thinking of other films scenes investigated, it seems to me this contrasting of this private/public space hasn't been done in the same 'one location' manner. Characters in their own world, their own concerns on the 'highway of life' forgetful that they are infact vulnerable to accident/ co-incidence. The scene could be read as manifesting the idea of heraclitean flux introduced in the Porfirio assigned reading.

 

I'd speculate that in the post-war context, this unexpected incident impacting innocent bystanders resonated with audiences, because that's what can happen in a world turned upside down by war.

 

The power realtionship between the two seems to shift very abruptly when this disturbance is introduced - or a different dynamic (challenging gender roles as noted in a past lecture) is revealed.

 

Evidence for this being the 'best unknown American film noir'? Hmmm, how does one rank something as 'best' - it's so subjective, even more so in an amorhphous 'category'. "Too Late for Tears" is an unfamiliar title, so 'unknown' could be argued, or could have until it's restoration and promotion by critics and academics! How many others are there that are waiting or have ot been saved on the brink of being 'lost'. Does it contain 'everything' that would be needed for a novice to see this film and consequently 'get' noir in all it's richness? Until I have a chance to see the whole film the jury is out...

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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?

 

Well, our protagonists „did something wrong once” and that „something” will probably have deadly consequences. In this case the opportunity made the thieves and within a few moments decent, middle-class people became involved in a suspicious and dangerous scheme. They had a chance and could throw away the money or simply go to the police, but instead it looks like they want to keep the money and treat it as it was a blessing, a gift from God. Their intentions were not pure and that's why whey will be victims of their own greed.

 

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?

 

The war, poverty, illnesses mostly affect innocent people. People of the postwar era experienced different traumas that influenced their behavior and beliefs. Fate is a grim and merciless power, it cannot be predicted. WWII did not affect the US continent directly, but the Cold War did. Suddenly the enemy could be living next door. Anyone could be a Russian spy, USSR could easily use nuclear weapon to destroy US cities. The awareness of the threat, emphasized by mass media, caused panic and paranoia. Raging consumerism caused unfulfillment and jealousy – that made Jane Palmer to take the money to herself, she was jealous of other people's wealth. Money, nice house, good car – that all supposed to bring sense of security and happiness, but unfortunately „keeping up with the Joneses” and the race for goods brought tension, debt and many social pressures. The higher you reach, the bigger the pressure/fear is.

 

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."

 

Too Late for Tears has it all – the dark highway, lonesome couple driving a car, specific camera angles and lighting, the mystery and crime. But let's skip the technical issues and focus on moral overtone. This movie shows that every decent person might do something wrong when there's certain opportunity. That is the real drama of every human being. And that is the truth about modern times – the need of money, power, position and the feeling of acceptance can lead to doom if you don't know the line. Moral ambiguity of middle-class people, not gangsters nor vicious femme fatales, but two regular people who wanted more – Too Late for Tears perfectly reflects the change that occured in American society and the damage consumerism did to the innocent. People no longer recognize right from wrong and are capable of anything. We can no longer easily tell who is good and who is bad and that makes us afraid. And fear is one of the main substances of film noir.

 

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There are so many vital details and clues that foreshadow the destiny of Jane Palmer: the 3.5 mile marker, the 8:30 time on the driver’s watch, Jane insisting they turn back because of her reluctance to face the “diamond-studded wife” of a friend she and her husband are on their way to visit (a visual that she, herself, will set out to create for herself at any cost). At the precise moment that Jane tries to take the keys out of the car slows it down, possibly the agreed upon signal for the sealed deal, since this (and the other aligned signs) gets the driver’s attention.  

 

 

The Palmers were ordinary relatable people at the beginning of the movie, a young couple still working to establish their marriage and their lives. This is a scenario relative to audiences at the time because of the advent of the return of GI’s, baby boom, and the beginnings of suburban and consumer culture. Reconstruction of American society and the pursuit of wealth and status were vital goals of post WWII America. So, when the seemingly ordinary Palmers have a huge wad of money literally thrown at them, audiences could identify with their desire for keeping the money without guilt, as the couple committed no crime or wrongdoing in obtaining the money.    

 

 

The major differences between Too Late for Tears and the other movies are timing and choice. In film noir, such as DOA and Kiss Me Deadly, the action is in media res; the motion is already set and there is no choice or no turning back for the characters, who have or are already in midst of their downfall. On the other hand, Jane Palmer in Too Late for Tears, talks about turning back before the money sack is dropped into their car. Once the Palmers find the money, Jane immediately make up her mind and drives away with it.

 

 

The gleam in Jane’s eye, before driving off, makes it clear that she is not running or in fear of hers or her husband’s safety, in case the driver chasing them wants to take more than the money. An evolution has taken place in Jane just as it had in Marie Allen in Caged, but this change is much more immediate. Jane instantly goes from a frightened girl to woman taking action and becoming in charge; another sign of the changing times- the shift of gender roles in post WWII society. 

 

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