One balmy evening, Alan Palmer (Arthur Kennedy) and his wife are driving through the Hollywood hills when someone happens to throw a bag of cash into the back of their car. A fortuitous case of mistaken identity, this random act sets in motion a series of events that will lead to deception and murder. Not only is Too Late for Tears one of the best examples of film noir, it introduces possibly the finest femme fatale in cinema: Jane Palmer.
The classic film noir era of the 1940s and 1950s proffered many femme fatales. Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon are all excellent examples but none inhabit the character with such malevolent verve as Lizabeth Scott. Jane Palmer is ruthless in her blinkered desire to keep hold of the money she wholeheartedly believes she deserves. Whether it is the callous murder of her husband when she senses his weakness, or the sexual manipulation of low level hood Danny (Dan Duryea), Jane is a woman overwhelmed by greed and ambition. Her’s is an extraordinary performance of implied vulnerability and husky seduction as she plots and schemes throughout, twisting every situation to her benefit until the web of her deception inevitably begins to fall apart.
The real beauty in the performance is that even at the end you retain some sympathy for her. You almost forgive the calculated murders, reluctantly understand her insatiable greed while always knowing Jane Palmer is headed towards a rather sticky end. In truth, apart from Kristine Miller as Jane’s suspicious sister-in-law Kathy, no-one in Too Late for Tears emerges with any credit. This is a film of damaged personas, a group of mismatched characters so convinced in the mundanity and bleakness of their futures that they will resort to the most desperate means possible to order to escape.
Martialling all this with a sense of enthusiastic voyeurism is Byron Haskin, a director most notable for his work in science fiction having helmed The War of the Worlds (1953) and Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964). With Too Late for Tears he shares both the audience’s disgust and intrigue in his characters, allowing them wanton freedom as they lurch from one mistake to the next, seemingly without guidance or thought. This gives the film a feeling of pace and immediacy, as if decisions and choices are being made in real time leading to consequences and events as yet unknown.
Whether you’re a fan of film noir, or simply one of cinema itself, Too Late for Tears is a must-see. All the femme fatales that have followed, from Marion Cotillard (A Private Affair, Midnight in Paris) to Nicole Kidman (To Die For, The Paperboy) owe a spiritual debt to Lizabeth Scott and her depiction of the manipulative, murderous and wonderful Jane Palmer.
Special Features: Audio commentary from Alan K. Rode / Two featurettes / Gallery / Booklet
TOO LATE FOR YEARS / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: BYRON HASKIN / SCREENPLAY: ROY HUGGINS / STARRING: LIZABETH SCOTT, DON DEFORE, DAN DURYEA, ARTHUR KENNEDY, KRISTINE MILLER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW