Too Late For Tears is a noir classic, and one of those films I like to put on for friends who think classic movies are all milquetoast and twin beds. There’s a lot to say about cinematography, film restoration, and even how independent films were pieced together in the late 1940s. But as much as I love those topics, we’re not here for that. We’re here for the plot, and to glory in the ways people who say they love each other end up doing each other in.
That’s the premise of CineMaven’s Till Death Us Do Part Blogathon, of which this post is a part. What I learned after joining this delightful epic of classic movie posting, was that Theresa, our blog hostess, would be rewarding us for our work with a delightful banner. The one she made for me and Too Late for Tears is just above. Thank you, Theresa. And hey, the rest of you, please take the time to go and read all of the blogathon’s great posts about murder and betrayal among married folk. I mean, do that when you’re finished here!
Let’s talk about one of my favorite films of all time, and let’s talk about it like fans, rather than film historians. Spoilers and nothing but abound. I haven’t written down every detail of the plot, but it will feel as If I have. Let’s go!
Maybe it’s happened to you. You’re invited to a party with your spouse. One of you wanted to go all along; the other got dressed up, put on a smile and made the best of things. Even if the night ended with resentment or harsh words, you and your sweetie probably moved on. And you didn’t drive home at top speed with a bag full of ill-gotten money. And one of you most likely didn’t end up dead.
When we meet Jane and Alan Palmer in their car on the way to a party, she’s unhappy. It’s an old story: she feels that the fancy people they’re on the way to see look down their nose at her. And she wants to head home instead of facing them. But Jane doesn’t cry, or scream, or turn her pain inward. When her husband reassures her that everything will be fine, she grabs the wheel, forcing Alan to turn the car around on a dark and twisty road.
And when they’ve made the turn, and a passing motorist has thrown that bag of money into the back of the Palmers car, Jane knows just what to do. She gets into the driver’s seat, orders Alan to get in too, and takes off for home with the money’s intended recipient in hot pursuit. There’s no slow buildup; no subtle sign that something’s a little unusual about Jane. The literal and metaphorical car is going way too fast, and things don’t look good for Alan or anyone else who stands in Jane’s way.
Too Late for Tears (1949) is based on a Roy Huggins story that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. Huggins was the screenwriter for Byron Haskin’s film. Hunt Stromberg was producer, and the film came to be, thanks to Hal B. Wallis, who was making films independently by the late 40s, having been among Warner Brothers’ most prolific producers since the 30s.
It was Wallis who brought noir goddess Lizabeth Scott to Too Late for Tears. Scott was under personal contract to Wallis, as was Kristine Miller, who plays Alan Palmer’s sister Kathy. But we’ll get to her later, as will Jane Palmer. Arthur Kennedy, who played his share of heavies in films, is Alan.
The Palmers make it home to their Los Angeles apartment with the bag of money, but not before Jane briefly considers clubbing a cop who stops them for speeding. Dumping the money bag out for a look, Alan estimates there’s $100,000 in cash there, and he reminds Jane that keeping it would be a felony. She takes the opportunity to point out how few of the promises Alan has made to her about financial security have come true. And in case you’re feeling for Jane, it’s worth noting here that the Palmers’ apartment building doesn’t give off noir-shabby vibes. It seems like a nice place, with a parking garage of its own, and an attendant who apparently keeps residents’ cars in tip top shape. The Palmers apartment is spacious and well-appointed.
Alan and Jane agree to hide the money in a railroad station locker for a week while Jane wears him down…I mean, while they decide what to do. Alan is no match for Jane when it comes to deviousness, but it does occur to him to hide the claim ticket for the money bag deep in the lining of his coat. He has allowed Jane to talk him into putting off a decision about what to do. Might as well do the thing right!
Even though Alan has done as Jane asks, she just can’t resist spending a little of the money – borrowing against it, actually – by writing a few too many checks. She make it home with armfuls of purchases, which immediately, and I do mean, immediately, get hidden under the kitchen sink before Jane answers a knock on the door. What good is all that money if you have to hide it, and everything you buy with it?
Jane’s visitor is Danny Fuller, played by Dan Duryea, and initially passing himself off as a private detective. He’s asking questions about Alan and the Palmers’ car. Doesn’t really matter what he’s asking, actually.
Feeling trapped, Jane lets Danny search the place. Of course he finds the shopping, and wants to know where Jane has hidden his money. He was the intended recipient, back there on the road, and he chased Jane and Alan home after they copped the dough. Duryea as Danny starts off strong, slapping Jane around, like he does in so many of his noir roles. It was a trademark move for real-life nice guy Duryea.
No sooner has Jane temporarily gotten Danny off her back than Alan comes home early, wanting to know why their bank account is lighter than usual. Apparently the Palmers’ relationship with their banker is such that he’s called to alert Alan to a diminished balance.
If we hadn’t figured it out already, we learn now that there’s a fundamental difference between the way Alan and Jane see that bag of money. As Jane says, she grew up “white collar poor.” And one more thing: Jane was married before, to a guy named Blanchard who she thought had money, but didn’t.
Next day, Danny returns. It’s already clear that he and Jane aren’t meant to have the usual thug-damsel in distress relationship. She’s more afraid of losing the money than she is of getting knocked around, and Danny leans in close to cajole and threaten. He isn’t slapping her around so much today. He’ll sting along with Jane.
And now we find out just how far Jane will go to keep that bag of money. Alan takes Jane on a date, and as she and Alan glide along a manmade lake in a tiny rented boat, headed toward a rendezvous Jane has set up with Danny, she shoots Alan after the gun she brought along falls out of her bag. Before the shot, Jane has had second thoughts, which feels a little like Production Code interference, if you ask me. Either way, Alan is dead.
When Jane shows up for her meeting with Danny, he has no idea she’s just about to force him into helping her cover up Alan’s death on the lake. Jane sets about putting alibis into place, reports her husband missing, and arranges for the Palmer car to be stolen. Danny? He’s got Alan’s coat and stuff.
And just like that, Danny is tied to Jane. He’s an accessory to murder, and she has the upper hand. The money-stealing, woman-slapping Danny is now a bit disillusioned by the way things are turning out. He’s been taken in, and is maybe tied to a far bigger kind of crime than he’s ever committed. Lizabeth Scott isn’t plain Jane Palmer anymore, either. She’ll always be “Tiger” to Danny.
So Alan is a missing person who might have been cheating, per Jane’s groundwork. Now Jane needs to collect her husband’s coat from Danny, hopefully without letting him know that there’s a very important claim ticket in the lining. That doesn’t work out so well for Jane, though. Sometimes, her greed gets the best of her. More than once, the emotional writing on her face has prevented a pretty good plan form working out the way she wanted. And in this case, Alan has outfoxed her from beyond the grave, though I doubt he’d be gloating about that. There’s no claim ticket in the coat.
While Jane is trying to trick Danny into giving Alan’s coat back, Alan’s sister Kathy is doing a little snooping in the Palmer apartment. She gets caught, not by Jane, but by a new entrant in the story, Don Blake, played for us by Don DeFore. I don’t know if it’s because I ingested a few Hazel reruns as a kid, or what, but Don clearly presents as a good guy. Seriously, if Haskin and Stromberg wanted to leave things mysterious, they wouldn’t have brought in “Mr. B” at this moment in the movie…you know, 15 years before Hazel.
Anyway, Don Blake allows as how he’s an Army buddy of Alan’s. And there are a few tentative sparks between him and Kathy. He knows she’s been searching Alan and Jane’s place, and she knows he doesn’t like Jane – his buddy’s wife he’s never actually met. Oh, and Kathy found the claim ticket under the lining of a drawer in the Palmers’ bedroom.
Hey, what are Jane and Danny up to? He’s putting the moves on her, and she’s in no position to protest. That’s never a comfortable thing to see happening to a woman, even Jane Palmer.
When Jane returns home, she’s showered with visitors; a missing-persons cop, Kathy Palmer, then Don Blake. Jane and Don spar a bit. She’s suspicious of Don’s real connection to Alan. He’s suspicious of her, too, but he handles it a lot more smoothly. Then he lets Jane know that he’s hip to Danny’s presence in and around Jane’s building, though he knows Danny only as that guy in plaid. Jane may be tough as nails, but she’s kind of terrible at hiding her own guilt.
The walls are closing in for Jane, so she does the most logical thing: she plans to poison her sister-in-law to keep her from connecting more dots. And it’s Danny’s job to pick up the poison Jane needs. As he heads out, we see that Mr. B., er, Don, has seen Danny leave Jane’s pad. Connection made!
Whoever Don is in relation to Alan, he and Kathy are officially a team. There’s some clue-hunting and some kissing. Kathy even shows him the claim ticket she found. Is it weird to anyone else that Don just pockets it?
Danny comes through with the poison Jane ordered. And he’s more than a little drunk, and feeling guilty.
Now it’s time for Alan’s real Army buddy to drop a dime on Don, which confuses Kathy. But Jane’s not confused. She holds a gun on Don, gets the ticket and knocks him out. Don’s getting knocked out has made Kathy feel more kindly toward him, even though she still doesn’t know the real story with this guy yet.
Now Jane’s picked up the money bag, but she’s suspicious that the bills might be marked. She heads to Danny’s place. The fear and guilt and liquor he’s taken in during this movie are all taking their toll at once, and he doesn’t want anything to do with Jane or the money. She gets him to tell her where the money came from – blackmail payoff from a rich, but crooked insurance man. And now she knows the money isn’t marked, Danny’s usefulness has come to an end. He dies from the poison he bought, administered by Jane, of course.
Don and the cops find Danny, dead, and Don begins to explain his (accurate) theory about how Alan, and now Danny bought the farm. The cops are skeptical, but Don won’t let go.
Jane and the money are now in Mexico. She’s met a guy, even, but at the end of the evening, she chooses to be alone with her cash, rather than with Carlos.
Don tracks Jane down, and tells her he’s found Alan’s body. He wants to make a deal for a share of the dough. Once he knows she has it, Don tells her who he really is – the brother of Jane’s first husband, Blanchard. Don blames Jane for his brother’s death, which may or may not have actually been suicide, and which was probably motivated by Jane.
Trapped, Jane backs off a balcony, as the money she killed to get rains down on top of her lifeless body.
The only two in Too Late for Tears who end happily are Don and Kathy, who inexplicably got married while tracking Jane to Mexico.
Because happy endings are a requirement, I guess.