Too Late for Tears

Too Late for Tears is a 1949 film noir crime film directed by Byron Haskin and starring Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, and Arthur Kennedy. It tells the story of a ruthless femme-fatale who steals a suitcase containing US$60,000 (equivalent to $632,000 in 2018). The screenplay was written by Roy Huggins, developed from a serial he wrote for the Saturday Evening Post.

Too Late for Tears
Theatrical release poster
Directed byByron Haskin
Produced byHunt Stromberg
Screenplay byRoy Huggins
Based onApril 1947 serial in Saturday Evening Post
July 1947 novel
by Roy Huggins[1]
StarringLizabeth Scott
Don DeFore
Dan Duryea
Arthur Kennedy
Kristine Miller
Music byR. Dale Butts
CinematographyWilliam C. Mellor
Edited byHarry Keller
Hunt Stromberg Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • August 13, 1949 (1949-08-13) (United States)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States

The film was reissued as Killer Bait in 1955. Too Late for Tears has been in the public domain for many years and has since gained a cult following; there are several different edits of the film with different running times.[2] On January 25, 2014, a restored 35mm print was premiered by the Film Noir Foundation at Noir City 12 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. The film was restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Film Noir Foundation, with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association providing some of the necessary funding. The restoration combined 35mm dupe negative elements from France with some material from surviving 35mm and 16mm prints.[3]


Jane and Alan Palmer (Scott and Kennedy) are driving to a party in the Hollywood Hills when someone in another car throws a satchel into the back seat of their convertible. They open it and discover bundles of cash. With Jane at the wheel, they are chased by another car driven, Alan deduces, by the person who was supposed to receive the money. Jane drives recklessly, making a high speed turn and zig-zagging on the difficult road. They manage to lose their pursuer and Alan takes over. As they drive back into town, they discuss what to do about the money. Jane wants to keep it but Alan feels it is probably a blackmail payoff and the police should have it. He has a chance to hand it over, but does not, when an officer stops him for failing to use his turn signal. Back at their Hollywood apartment, they examine what Alan estimates to be $100,000 in cash. Jane eventually convinces her husband that they should hide the cash for a week; she claims to be fine with whatever he decides to do. They stash the satchel at the baggage claim at Union Station, the claim ticket seemingly ends up in the lining of Alan's coat.

The next day, while Alan is at work and as Jane is hiding packages containing things she has purchased with the money in mind, Danny (Duryea) shows up. He claims to be a detective and says he needs to look around the place. He does not say why and he has no warrant, but says he can get one if that is what she prefers. She allows him to go ahead. He discovers the packages, one containing a fur coat, and says, "So you've already started spending it, huh?". Clearly not a detective but actually the man for whom the money was intended, Danny slaps Jane around a bit and demands to know where the money is. She lies, telling him that she and Alan have surrendered it to the police. He promises to return if there is no news in the evening paper about money being handed over to the cops. Alan returns home and tells her their banker phoned to let him know that their account is several hundred dollars down. She responds that she has only been buying things she needed. Alan threatens to send the claim ticket to the District Attorney's office right away; Jane threatens to take the money and run off. During their argument, he brings up her previous marriage to a man named Blanchard, who apparently died by suicide, and immediately is sorry. Jane feels she was always meant to have money, that she married Blanchard because she thought he had a lot of it; Alan believes peace of mind is more important, that they will not have that with the money in their possession. Nevertheless, he agrees to hang on to it for the rest of the agreed-to week. He suggests that the next evening they go out together and enjoy themselves the way they used to.

Danny returns the next day, letting himself into the apartment using a skeleton key. Jane tells him that Alan has the money and is planning to give it to the authorities. She explains how she does not intend to allow him to do that, that she is determined to keep it. She and Danny make a deal to split the money; he gives her a number where he can be reached. Later, when she has made up her mind about what to do, Jane phones Danny and tells him to wait that night at the palm tree at the west end of Westlake Park, near downtown Los Angeles.

As part of their romantic evening, Alan and Jane rent a boat. Inside her purse, Jane has packed her husband's gun. While out on the water, she appears to feel a pang of guilt; she blurts out that she wants to give the money up, that she wants to send the claim ticket in right away. Alan tries to take his wife's mind off the topic. He wants a cigarette and picks up her purse to look for some; his gun falls out. A struggle ensues and Alan is shot dead. Jane takes control of the boat and, as per their arrangement, meets Danny. He sees the body and resists being involved in a murder, but Jane has the gun on him and promises to tell the police he killed her husband unless he helps her.

After dumping the body in the lake, weighted by the boat's anchor, Jane and Danny leave the boat launch together - he has on Alan's coat and hat - so as to mislead witnesses into assuming she left with her husband. She extends the ruse by having Danny drive back to her apartment; she makes sure the parking garage attendant believes Alan is in the car. Having arranged to meet Danny later that night, to supposedly retrieve the money from its burial site, Jane first invites Alan's sister, Kathy (Kristine Miller) - who lives across the hall - over for a nightcap. She tells Kathy that Alan has just gone out to pick up a bottle of liquor. As time goes on and Alan does not return, Jane begins to feign worry and fear. She phones the police to report him as a missing person. Kathy realizes that the couple has plenty of liquor in the apartment and questions why Alan would have gone to purchase more. Jane tries to tell her sister-in-law that their marriage is on the rocks. Kathy does not buy this and says she believes Alan will be home soon.

When Kathy goes home, Jane picks up Danny and they drive up into the hills. Once up there, he figures that she plans to kill him. After a near-accident and she stops the car, Danny flees, after saying, "You didn't bury that dough, and I know it". He is still wearing the coat that has in its lining the claim ticket. Jane abandons the car. Later, she locates Danny's residence and goes there, asking for Alan's coat. Danny discovers a blank piece of paper in the lining and Jane realizes the ticket must be at home.

Meanwhile, having used her personal key to the Palmer's apartment, Kathy is searching the place; she has her suspicions about Jane. She finds the claim ticket in a dresser drawer. As she opens the door to leave, she comes face-to-face with a man who introduces himself as Don Blake (DeFore), an old Army Air Corps buddy of Alan's on vacation in Los Angeles. Kathy tells him that Alan is missing.

Later, while Jane is looking around her apartment for the claim ticket, a police lieutenant comes to report that the Palmer vehicle was in a near-accident the previous night and that a man got out of the car and left the scene. The implication is that it was Alan and another woman. The vehicle has been located and the matter appears to be closed, but not for Kathy, who all but says that she has doubts about her sister-in-law. Don arrives and, in the course of their conversation, Jane quizzes him on his experience in England with Alan during the war; his answers are not convincing. After he leaves, Jane phones a man she knows for certain served with Alan and asks him to drop by. Danny makes another appearance; Jane tells him about Kathy and begs him to procure poison to kill her.

Don and Kathy are drawn to each other. She wonders why he is so anxious to help find Alan and yet does not talk about him as if they really were friends in England. A drunken Danny returns with the poison and, after rambling for a few minutes, leaves. Don stops by Kathy's to ask her out for dinner. She shows him the claim ticket, asking him to take her to Union Station afterwards. Don is intrigued and suggests they go right away. Jane interrupts the couple as they are leaving and tells them a lie about a note from Alan she has found in the returned car. Alan, she says, is in Mexico and she is going there to find him. She asks them to come to her apartment, where the man who actually was an air corps comrade of Alan's is waiting. It is evident that Don has been lying. Jane holds a gun on him and retrieves the ticket; her sister-in-law runs back to her own apartment to call police, then subsequently finds Don unconscious in Jane's apartment. She notifies police to stake out Union Station. When Don wakes up, he confesses to Kathy that he does not know her brother, but he will explain further later.

Jane manipulates a stranger into claiming the bag of cash, then goes to Danny's. He is hungover and leery of her. She asks him to help her run away but she needs to know where the money came from and if it is safe to spend. Danny says it was a "once in a lifetime" blackmail payoff from an insurance scam. She understands this means the money is unmarked and its disappearance won't be reported to the police. She kills Danny with a drink laced with the poison he had provided her.

After finding Danny's body, the Los Angeles police tell Don that if he wants the small lake at Westlake Park dragged in search of Jane's missing husband, it'll cost thousands of dollars; besides, they don't believe his theories. Jane flees with the money to Mexico City, where she has a penthouse at the posh Reforma Hotel. Don turns up at her door. Concluding he is either after the money or with the police, Jane pleads with him to take half. Don tells her he is the brother of Jane's first husband, Blanchard, that "this is a vendetta, but it's over now", that now that he knows her, he understands how she could have driven his brother to kill himself. As Mexican police detectives rush into the room, Jane holds them at bay with her gun; in tears, she backs away onto a balcony, where she trips. She falls over the railing, screaming, to her death. Don meets Kathy in the lobby and apologizes, saying, "Well, it was a short honeymoon, Kathy. We're going home now".



Critical response

When the film was released The New York Times wrote:

If proof be needed at this point that money is the root of all evil—a theme, incidentally, which has been the root of more than one motion picture—then Too Late for Tears, which came to the Mayfair on Saturday, is proof positive. For producer Hunt Stromberg, director Byron Haskin and scenarist Roy Huggins, who adapted his own Saturday Evening Post serial, herein have fashioned an effective melodramatic elaboration of that theme. Despite an involved plot and an occasional overabundance of palaver, not all of which is bright, this yarn about a cash-hungry dame who doesn't let men or conscience stand in her way, is an adult and generally suspenseful adventure.[4]

More recently, film critic Dennis Schwartz also wrote a favorable review:

Byron Haskin's low-budget film noir makes good use of its Los Angeles locale and its lady bluebeard is fun to watch as she does her nasty gun thing with her nice guy hubby and rotten poison thing with her boyfriend (she took care of her first hubby off camera, so we're not sure how he got it!)...Though a minor film noir, it relates to the ambitions the middle-class had during the postwar period to better their life materially and socially. Jane's drive for wealth was so extreme that she will not stop at murder to rise above her impoverished middle-class circumstances, and her warped character is used to show how money can't buy one happiness. The husky-voiced winsome smiling Lizabeth Scott turns in a finely tuned performance as the femme fatale; while Dan Duryea is in his element as the alcoholic weak-kneed cad, who shows he doesn't have as much stomach for his criminal mischief as does his lady accomplice.[5]

See also


  1. "» Archived Review: ROY HUGGINS – Too Late for Tears".
  2. Too Late For Tears on IMDb
  3. Jeremy Arnold, “Too Late for Tears (1949)”, (Retrieved 2018-12-25.)
  4. A. W. (August 15, 1949). "The Screen In Review; 'Too Late for Tears,' Adult and Suspenseful Adventure Film, Is New Bill at Mayfair". The New York Times. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
  5. Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, February 22, 2005. Last accessed: February 15, 2011.
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