Tag Archives | film noir

Movie Review: Too Late for Tears (1949)

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This film noir classic with a femme fatale played by Lizabeth Scott (who apparently hated the movie) is a shocking portrayal of a diabolical woman literally on the manhunt.

The late Miss Scott, whom I recently discussed with Leonard Maltin and Robert Osborne, was an actress with range and talent, not just looks, and this is one of the roles for which she is most widely known. The Los Angeles-based Too Late for Tears (1949) was screened twice at this year’s Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival due to popular demand. According to its restorer, it was allowed by the copyright owners to fall into the public domain, leading to bad video quality and fewer showings. The restored print is scheduled to premiere on Turner Classic Movies this summer.

Here, Lizabeth Scott is a wicked wife who never loses an opportunity to cash in on the unearned. It’s a subtly layered performance in a limiting, constricting role that’s not her best. In it, she is drawn and cool as Arthur Kennedy’s wife. When a suitcase stash of stolen loot shows up, she does anything to keep it and I mean everything. With crisp LA locations from Grauman’s Chinese Theater to Union Station that fit the plot and her measured deliverance of hokey lines, the audience somehow buys the whole thing and it’s surprisingly easy to get caught in her murderous drive to keep the cash. Add an alcoholic lowlife (Dan Duryea) who stole it in the first place and the conflict cuts both ways, with this fast-thinking dame so plain about her scheme in film noir’s hard, man’s world, it’s almost tempting to root for her. Scott, who worked previously with director Byron Haskin on I Walk Alone (1948) with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, delivers a line about having been poor that provides the picture with plausibility.

Duryea’s lout starts calling her ‘Tiger’ at some early point in the plot, setting up one of the movie’s best lines, and everything comes to a climactic showdown with Don DeFore, who’s paired with Kristine Miller as the good people in pursuit of the truth and justice. Too Late for Tears is a tad too much in spite of Lizabeth Scott’s turn and it feels like some of her best scenes may have been cut out. Nevertheless, she makes the most of a brutal role, originally assigned to Joan Crawford with Wendell Corey in Duryea’s role and Kirk Douglas in the Kennedy role, according to the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller, who funded a complete restoration, which he introduced at TCM Classic Film Festival‘s showing at Hollywood & Highland. Though this genre is not my favorite, it is extremely influential. This film shows why.

Too Late for Tears, written by Roy Huggins, mentor to the late Stephen J. Cannell, co-creator of The Rockford Files with James Garner and The A-Team, premieres on TCM on July 17, 2015. Click on the image to buy the DVD.

TCM Classic Film Festival 2015

tumblr_static_5dtiby7w824os4k0g0c0s0k4sTurner Classic Movies’ 6th annual Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, California, sorely missed the impeccable brand’s knowledgeable and elegant host, Robert Osborne, and experienced growing pains judging by feedback from its guests. But it is a uniquely rewarding cinematic experience.

My own festival track record is extremely limited. When I covered movies on assignment, I avoided film festivals. I remain dubious of the premise of each festival. Many seem to exist to circumvent a creative and distributive process that ought to work well in the motion picture industry. Or they exist for self-aggrandizement or worse, such as meaningless awards based on anything but merit or segregation according to race, sex or sexual orientation, which I think is a rotten idea. I think film festivals are fine if they’re based on a legitimate idea, such as recognition of an artist, genre or theme, such as Buster Keaton, silent film or history depicted in comedy. This is why I accepted an invitation to host the centenary series of John Wayne movies during an Orange County, California, festival in 2007.

This is also why I decided to attend TCM’s festival this year. Classic movies are certainly a legitimate topic for study and celebration. I’m glad I attended and I plan to post more extensive coverage in the coming days, including new reviews of films coming up on TCM (‘Like’ my Facebook page for regularly posted mini-reviews of films on TCM’s lineup). Among the movies: Too Late for Tears (1949) with Lizabeth Scott, Gunga Din (1939), Malcolm X (1992), Viva Zapata! (1952), So Dear to My Heart (1949) and The Sound of Music (1965). This last picture celebrates its 50th anniversary, which afforded the festival an opportunity to invite its surviving principals to a special showing at Grauman’s (now TCL) Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, where co-star Christopher Plummer (The Man Who Would Be King, Malcolm X) pressed his hands into the Chinese’s famous forecourt.

In fact, the 50th anniversary screening was presented as the festival’s opening night gala, though new media was not permitted to attend the screening or the gala and the film’s stars, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, were not available for interview. They were there, looking good and doing scads of snippets and shots for television, and they were joined by others in attendance, including TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

Also attending were producer David Ladd (The Proud Rebel), 100-year-old Norman Lloyd (Limelight, Saboteur), who’s one sharp fellow, cast members from Grease, Robert Morse (The Loved One, TV’s Mad Men)Zach Galligan (Gremlins), who told me that he learned to focus from a master when he worked with Christopher Plummer, Diane Baker (The Diary of Anne Frank), editor Anne Coates (Lawrence of Arabia), director Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Driving Miss Daisy), sound effects editor Ben Burtt (Lincoln, Star Trek, Super 8), visual effects artist Craig Barron (Hugo, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Captain America, Terminator: Salvation), Leonard Maltin and Anthony Quinn’s widow, Katherine, my favorite guest speaker for her sharp insights about the work of her late husband.

The festival’s theme was History According to Hollywood. From films about Mexican revolutionaries and Islamic radicals to the musical about a family fleeing the Nazis, the theme played well with TCM’s Mankiewicz, Leonard Maltin and others filling in for the ailing Robert Osborne throughout the festival. The site of the first Academy Awards® ceremony is the festival’s official hotel, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and venues include Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre and other Hollywood Boulevard and nearby picture houses.

21-year-old Turner Classic Movies (TCM)part of Turner Broadcasting System, a Time Warner company, presents great films uncut and commercial-free from one of the world’s largest film libraries. TCM features commentary and insights by Mankiewicz and Mr. Osborne, interviews, documentaries, series such as The Essentials, annual programming such as 31 Days of Oscar®, this annual festival and the TCM Classic Cruise, as well as the TCM Classic Film Tour in New York City and Los Angeles (review of the LA tour to come). TCM also produces books and DVDs and a databsae at tcm.com and through the Watch TCM mobile app.

Festival logistics pose a challenge because there’s so much to do and it’s held in a congested area. Between government road closures, which are common and sudden and can add 30 minutes to a pedestrian transport, and criminals and religious fanatics (Korean women screaming ‘please don’t go to hell!’ in broken English are an especially warm welcome), guests may feel lucky to make it from the Roosevelt to the Egyptian without being run over or assaulted. The dodgy area is policed by police officers that hide in shadowy corners chatting and generally not actively, visibly policing and that’s when they’re on patrol. One guest Tweeted that Loews overbooked and gave away her room, which she said she’d reserved in December, and she had no place to stay. Other gripes include overcrowding, spiked prices (packages went up this year, topping at $1,800) and a general sense that the quality of programming and organizing is not as high. People were peeved that TCM didn’t announce that Robert Osborne, the fountainhead of TCM, would not be attending as advertised until days before the commencement. Among media, consensus is that the red carpet was a bust.

The movies and guests comprise the whole value of the experience. These and a waiter at the Roosevelt named Ted who in one evening of exceptional service at the makeshift Club TCM (where the Oscars were first held) exhibited better branding and relationship building skills than everyone else in the 4-day conference combined. Guest demographics, and TCM’s viewers are the most passionate, knowledgeable, informed and intelligent moviegoers on earth, are overwhelmingly older and white, though not entirely, with the American middle class and upper middle class well represented. I met married couples from Long Beach, Atlanta and New York City, bloggers from Scotland, filmmakers and movie geeks from Hollywood and Asia and bright executives from TCM, the studios and movie industry centers around the world. It’s an amazing, whip-smart group of people. For instance, I talked with three young men from New York at the closing party whose favorite film was Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) starring Buster Keaton, which was accompanied by a live orchestra. These guys knew everything about the movie and its cast, history and availability. In my experience, the guests are better informed and more knowledgeable about movies than those asking questions.

My favorite part of the festival is watching movies with politically incorrect audiences and then speaking freely about the films, ideas and themes afterwards. It is refreshing and recharging. Everyone has a different perspective. Everyone has favorites. Everyone has constructive criticism of the festival, the industry, Hollywood and its environs. In other words, they’re freethinkers driven by values and a sense that the best in life is achievable, realizable and worth fighting for—and that the ideal can and ought to be projected in movies, then thought, written and spoken about with seriousness of purpose.

This is the best aspect of TCM’s Classic Film Festival; that movies once made should be seen, uncut and considered, discussed and, in a certain sense, revered. Reverence for classic movies, in keeping with the channel’s and company’s founder Ted Turner’s original vision, is what Turner Classic Movies does best. It’s what drives the channel, its products, growth and progress and its host and audience. It’s what keeps me watching TCM and wanting to see and talk about movies with those who do, too. Let others say “it’s only a movie”. TCM’s Classic Film Festival is for those who know better.

Robert Osborne on Lizabeth Scott

Turning to author, Turner Classic Movies host and Hollywood historian Robert Osborne (whom I interviewed about Robert Redford last month), I asked about the late actress Lizabeth Scott, whose 22 motion pictures made an indelible impression on moviegoers.

This is an edited transcript of our short interview.

Scott Holleran: Will TCM do a Lizabeth Scott tribute?

Robert Osborne: I’m not sure that we have enough of her flims unfortunately. Most of her films were for Paramount and Hal Wallis and we have to lease those. We have The Company She Keeps (1951 with Jane Greer), The Racket (1951, with Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan) and Pulp (1972, with Michael Caine and Mickey Rooney). There may be some United Artists pictures that we have. I think we have The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946, with Van Heflin and Barbara Stanwyck) which is kind of in the public domain. We also have Dead Reckoning (1947 with Humphrey Bogart). You can’t do a proper salute without the right movies. For years, we didn’t have Psycho (1960) and we wanted to do a salute to Janet Leigh. You can’t do a salute to Janet Leigh without Psycho.

Scott Holleran: Did you meet her?

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Robert Osborne: Yes, I did. She came to a couple of Academy events. I hosted a tribute to Barbara Stanwyck and Lizabeth Scott came. She was lovely. I used to see her at parties. She looked terrific, she was very chatty and she always fascinated me. There was a point when I saw her [as Ivy Hotchkiss] in You Came Along (1945) and she was my favorite actress. I pinned up pictures of her. But then she went into the film noir movies and she got into the Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake mode. I wonder if Hal Wallis, who saw something in her and wanted her under contract, hadn’t pushed her into the film noir mode—it would have been interesting to see what she would have become. [Pauses] You Came Along (1945 with Robert Cummings) is really a lovely movie. Have you seen that?

Scott Holleran: Yes.

Robert Osborne: She was such a charming leading lady in that movie.

Scott Holleran: Is Lizabeth Scott a good actress?

Robert Osborne: I think she was good. She was perfect for a movie star. She had the hair and the Bacall demeanor—I don’t think she was in any way a copy of Bacall—and she held her own with Humphrey Bogart and Burt Lancaster and other overwhelming personalities. I always had the feeling that she wasn’t that gung ho about acting—kind of by her own choice; she kind of pulled out of it. If she’d wanted to do more, she would have. She was a smart cookie. I think she realized that what she had to sell was timeless—she was smart enough to know that. Bacall had a limited shelf life, too, but she went from the vamp in [Howard Hawks’] To Have and Have Not to becoming a character actress, which she did in The Shootist with John Wayne. In that sense, I think Lizabeth Scott knew she had a limited shelf life.

Scott Holleran: Did the smearing in Confidential help push her out of Hollywood?

Robert Osborne: I don’t think so. It was nasty. Of course, everyone believed it but, because she ran with a tony group of people, I don’t think it affected her. She was better known for being Hal Wallis’ girlfriend, which was never confirmed. But it got to the point where nothing that Confidential [the publication that printed the smear against Lizabeth Scott] published was believed.

Scott Holleran: Is she a wronged woman?

Robert Osborne: Is she wronged? [Pauses] She was certainly damaged by rumors.

Scott Holleran: Was there an out of court settlement?

Robert Osborne: I don’t know. You do bring up an interesting point. She was very chic and she had a lot of money. I had a feeling that her motivation [to act] had more to do with money than with the satisfaction of acting. You might say that Sally Field had to be an actress. With Lizabeth Scott, I think that having a nice bank account and living well was important to her. She knew it wouldn’t go on forever and she was smart enough to make as much money as she could while she could.

Scott Holleran: What are Miss Scott’s three most essential pictures for one who’s never seen her?

Robert Osborne: Dead Reckoning, which shows that she could hold her own with big name stars. Certainly, You Came Along. And I think that I Walk Alone (1948, with Burt Lancaster) is a terrific movie. She’s also very good in The Company She Keeps, with Jane Greer, which is about these two women—a woman who goes to prison and a parole officer—and you kinda think Lizabeth Scott would play the ex-convict and Jane Greer the parole officer but it’s the other way around. But I would say those first three.

Scott Holleran: Is it fair to describe her as a film noir actress?

Lizabeth_Scott-publicityRobert Osborne: I think so, because film noir is so loved—it’s probably the most loved genre of movies—it kind of describes her properly. She’s so adorable in Loving You (1957) with Elvis Presley and other things. I don’t think Lizabeth Scott felt like she had to be an actress. But she was certainly qualified to do so much more.


Reference links

My Thoughts on Lizabeth Scott

Interview: Leonard Maltin on Lizabeth Scott (2015)

Movie Review: Too Late for Tears with Lizabeth Scott

Interview: Robert Osborne on John Wayne (2007)

Interview: Robert Osborne on Liza Minnelli (2010)

Interview: Robert Osborne on Robert Redford (2015)

Interview: Robert Osborne on Ernest Borgnine (2009)

Commercial Links

Buy You Came Along

Buy Dead Reckoning

Buy Loving You

Buy The Racket

Buy Pulp

Buy The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

 Buy I Walk Alone

Thoughts on Lizabeth Scott

LizabethScottLizabeth Scott is gone. She was 92. The actress, who reportedly died in Los Angeles on January 31, was striking, talented and unjustly undervalued and underemployed in Hollywood—where she was viciously smeared. But she was both luminous and, in a way, premature for a world that matched her ability. Having briefly met her, I think she probably knew it.

Many, possibly most, readers probably haven’t heard of her and there’s no reason why they should. The Scranton, Pennsylvania, native was raised as a Catholic, quit college to start working in New York City, and was discovered by legendary producer Hal Wallis (Casablanca, True Grit, Anne of the Thousand Days, Love Letters, The Furies, Now, Voyager, Sergeant York) who put her as the female lead opposite Robert Cummings in You Came Along (1945), directed by John Farrow and written by Ayn Rand. But she never truly got what she deserves.

Miss Scott was usually better than her parts and films. She possessed all the qualities being written about her in and throughout today’s media—the coastal Times newspapers predictably peg her as a ‘film noir’ actress—including the sexual intensity, the intelligence, the voice, the slightly androgynous air and the unaffected, tough exterior embedded with the will to submit at her discretion. She wore Edith Head’s glamorous costumes well and she was radiant, though she was rarely given the role in which to shine. From her early pictures, such as You Came Along, which she told me when we met was her first and favorite of her 22 movies, and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) to Loving You (1957) with Elvis Presley and Pulp (1972) with Mickey Rooney, she almost always added depth and at least brightness to the screen. She makes her films, which are mostly mediocre, worth seeing.

Miss Scott lived alone in the Hollywood Hills, evoking one of Scott’s heroines, screen legend Greta Garbo, and, throughout her career, she was an individualist, which left her open to ridicule and innuendo. Having once expressed that she wore men’s cologne and pajamas and confessed that she hated frilly dresses, she was smeared by a hack (and former Communist) who insinuated that Lizabeth Scott was a lesbian. This nearly destroyed her career. Citing damages, Scott sued for $2.5 million in 1955. The New York Times reports in Scott’s obituary that the lawsuit is “believed” to have been settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. As a leading lady in film noir and noirish pictures such as Desert Fury (1948) and Too Late for Tears (1949), Lizabeth Scott—who had co-starred with Burt Lancaster, Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Michael Caine and with Charlton Heston in his film debut—was finished. She withdrew from movies, focusing on occasional television appearances, a musical recording career and auditing philosophy courses at the University of Southern California (USC).

When I met the actress briefly during an event at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) honoring her late co-star Barbara Stanwyck several years ago, she was still the would-be movie star, not so much moving through as glowing throughout the room and taking everyone’s breath away while leaving them bewildered as to why. I told her that I had enjoyed her performances and I expressed an interest in interviewing her, which she at first waved off. Then I mentioned her first film, You Came Along, the Ayn Rand-penned picture in which she portrayed a government worker who falls in love with a troubled soldier on a bond tour. At the mere mention of this movie, she paused, moving closer. Her eyes grew wide and she gripped my hand and said: “I loved Ayn Rand.” She explained her reasons and we talked about my favorite writer, whom she said was one of the few in Hollywood whom she felt understood her ability. Then, Lizabeth Scott turned to her escort and asked him to give me the contact information to schedule an interview. I later proposed to interview Miss Scott as part of a series for the Ayn Rand Archives, which had just produced the long-awaited 100 Voices. But, while I would have treasured the opportunity to interview Miss Scott, I remember my moments with her fondly and I am confident that her proper place in motion pictures will be recognized in time. As she once said:

I don’t want to be classed as a ‘personality,’ something to stare at. I want to have my talents respected, not only by the public but by myself.”

Miss Scott was constantly compared to the late Lauren Bacall, another sultry, smoky-voiced actress from the same era in movies. But I think Miss Scott might have been the better actress, with wider range and a more compelling presence on screen (I mean no disrespect to Bacall, whom I appreciate in pictures such as Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not and The Shootist with John Wayne). It is too bad that Miss Scott is remembered as an early film noir prototype and not much else. The term femme fatale does not do her justice. Sadly, it is too late for that now. I think that it is probably still too soon for Lizabeth Scott and that the world is possibly not yet ready for the actress she might have become. But I experienced firsthand that Lizabeth Scott was ready for the world and on her own terms—and this is a grand lifetime achievement.


Reference links

Movie Review: Too Late for Tears (1949)

Interview: Leonard Maltin on Lizabeth Scott (2015)

Interview: Robert Osborne on Lizabeth Scott (2015)