Directed by Byron Haskin
Screenplay by Roy Huggins
Based on a serial for Saturday Evening Post by Roy Huggins
Music by R. Dale Butts
Edited by Harry Keller
Cinematography by William C. Mellor
Lizabeth Scott as Jane Palmer
Don DeFore as Don Blake
Dan Duryea as Danny Fuller
Arthur Kennedy as Alan Palmer
Kristine Miller as Kathy Palmer
Barry Kelley as Lt. Breach
Distributed by United Artists, Peter Rodgers Organization
Released by Astor Pictures Corp.
Lizabeth Scott is Jane Palmer, a seemingly normal housewife in postwar California. She and Alan Palmer, played by Arthur Kennedy, in fact seem to be a normal married couple. On the surface. Briefly.
When Too Late for Tears opens, Jane and Alan Palmer are on their way to a friend’s home. Viewers don’t see Jane and Alan right away; what they see is a dark car and its headlights, off in the distance, driving on a lonely road at night, which is itself a small clue that the film is noir and that trouble lies ahead. Even if viewers miss that hint, the opening dialogue and interaction between Jane and Alan reveal something troublesome about Jane right away:
• Alan: “You’re quiet tonight, Janey.”
• Jane: “I’m thinking of the right way to ask you to turn around and go back.”
• Alan: “On this road? No, can’t do it, sweetie.”
• Jane: “I mean it, Alan. I’d like you to turn around, please.”
• Alan: “What’s the matter, Jane?”
• Jane: “I tried to tell you before we left home. I just don’t like being patronized, that’s all. I don’t think I could take another evening of it.”
• Alan: “Patronized? Oh, sweetheart, Ralph is one of the nicest guys—”
• Jane: “You know it isn’t Ralph. It’s his diamond-studded wife. Looking down her nose at me like a big ugly house up there looks down on Hollywood. Please. I’m just not going. Slow down and find a place to turn.”
• Alan: “Oh, Jane, you’re crazy. Alice likes you. She—”
• Jane: “Please, Alan. I mean it. I’m just not going.” [grabs the keys in the ignition in a close-up; causes the car to swerve, which viewers see from the same distance shot that opened the film]
• Alan: [Alan and Jane now in a medium shot as they continue in their car] “What are you trying to do? Send us off the edge? All right. We’ll turn around. We told them we’d be there, but we’ll turn around.”
Now they are met by the almost-blinding headlights of an oncoming car, whose driver passes dangerously close to them and throws a bag into their backseat. They stop their own car to get their bearings and discover the bag in the backseat. Alan is a little hesitant about opening the bag, but Jane can’t wait to see what’s inside. When Alan opens it and Jane sees the money in the bag, her face lights up. Another car approaches them, and Jane takes charge. She orders her husband back into the car. He barely has time to flop into the backseat before Jane takes off, with the second mysterious car in hot pursuit. She succeeds in eluding the car in a dangerous chase, and she looks like she is having the time of her life through the entire sequence.
Alan Palmer’s biggest mistake is thinking, and continuing to think, that his wife Jane is a normal postwar housewife. Being stuck in the backseat while Jane maneuvers their car expertly during a dangerous car chase, pursued by an angry criminal, seems like the perfect metaphor for Alan: He is always left behind by Jane’s blinding ambition. He does care about her, in a rather patronizing way. He calls her Janey and treats more like a child than an adult.
Tiger: It’s a great nickname for Jane Palmer. In France, the film is known as La tigresse, which is perfect for this film. La tigresse—in French—would work just as well in the United States. It’s my favorite out of all the titles that the film goes by. La tigresse is much more appropriate for a film noir, and it’s perfect for Jane Palmer. She is a femme fatale, and she is at the center of the story. The film should be named for her. In the United States, Too Late for Tears also goes by the name Killer Bait. Neither one does the film justice, but Too Late for Tears is better than Killer Bait.
Alan Palmer doesn’t notice Jane’s treachery until it’s too late, and Danny Fuller is not prepared for it. The men in Jane’s life are no match for her. The first time that I saw Too Late for Tears, I wasn’t prepared for Jane’s treachery either. The film has one delicious noir surprise after another, and I feel like it’s giving too much away just pointing out that Jane Palmer is the “Great Villain” in this story.
Too Late for Tears—La tigresse—is one of my favorite films noir. I may be imagining it today, but I would bet an ice cream cone that I saw this on television one school day afternoon instead of doing my homework many years ago. I have seen the film several times, and I have already written about it once before for my blog. I was more than happy to see it one more time and write about it again for The Great Villain Blogathon 2019.
Too Late for Tears is in the public domain, and you can watch it online at the Internet Archive by clicking here. Click here for my first blog post about Too Late for Tears.
Although Too Late for Tears is in the public domain and you can watch it online, it’s worth obtaining a copy of the DVD with the following two features included: “Lizabeth Scott: Femme Fatale” and “Dan Duryea: Lady Killer.” Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation hosts both features, and he provides a lot of great background information about each star, both of whom were mainstays of the film noir genre.