What did I watch? Too Late For Tears (1949) on YouTube (it’s public domain).
When did you start crying? Was it on time? I didn’t. I just kinda scratched my head.
Too Late For Tears involves a lot of coincidence and/or luck for our ill-fated antagonist Jane. Not to be confused with a typical noir “protagonist” such as an ordinary person roped into a life of crime for an evil dame looking to use him, or the criminal who wants to pull one more job before going straight for that beautiful dame he’s too good for… No, Jane, wife of Alan, is possibly a serial killer.
But we don’t know anything about Jane when this movie opens on a winding California highway. Jane and Alan are just driving their convertible along on their way to meet some friends when suddenly Jane has an episode. She can’t stand the wife of the couple they’ll be spending the evening with; apparently this other woman flaunts the wealth that Jane and Alan don’t have. So Alan agrees to turn the car around and head home.
And right away the bizarreness of amazing coincidence starts. Someone drives by and throws a bag right into Alan & Jane’s backseat. Before they have a chance to process what just happened, or even open the bag to see what’s inside it, they are chased by another car. They manage to shake their tail and look inside the bag. It’s $60,000.
They pull up in their apartment’s garage and nearly jump out of their skin when they are greeted by the local mechanic. (I can’t tell if the mechanic was a guy making house calls and they knew him by name, or if the apartment complex had a full time garage mechanic on duty. The 40’s were weird.) The mechanic quickly takes note of the bag they’re carrying. Actually everyone in this movie will notice things about Jane and Alan, as suddenly they are now the most interesting couple in Los Angeles, what with this bag they’re carrying around. The couple changes the subject by asking the mechanic if he’s seen Alan’s sister, Kathy.
Of course once they’re home, Kathy stops by because she lives across the hall and who knows, by now everyone in the building has probably heard about Alan & Jane’s exciting new bag. Alan wants to turn the money over to the police, but Jane begs him not to. So he drops the money off at a train station’s locker room and pockets the claim ticket. (Again, is this something that you can still do? Drop off random things at transportation hubs until you want to pick it up at an important moment? Were train stations the 40’s equivalent of save points?)
A few days later there’s a knock at their door and it’s this guy, Danny, who says he needs to inspect their apartment. I don’t recall him identifying himself as a police officer, and maybe it’s supposed to be vague, like the audience says collectively “JANE, that’s not a cop!” but she doesn’t hear us. Jane lets him in, and he starts asking if she found a bag full of money recently on the highway. She plays it sweet and vague, but the not-detective can see right through her. And Danny lets her have it, letting her know that the money was his, it was part of a crime, and that she’s in on the crime if she doesn’t turn the money over, ya dig? So cough up the dough, dame.
Then Alan comes home after the criminal guy leaves. He got a call from their banker who informed that Jane was spending some money. How much was it Jane? (Why the banker didn’t tell him the amount…) That does it, Alan decides they’re handing the money over to the police.
So Jane comes up with a brilliant plan. And by “brilliant” I mean “this lady has no idea what a plan is, or at least would be the worst chess player ever because she is clearly unable to think the two or three steps ahead of anyone.” Fortunately, everyone else in this movie is pretty stupid if not…stupider, incapable of chess or even Twister. She arranges for Danny to meet her in the middle of a marsh in a LA park. She takes Alan out on a romantic rowboat ride in that park, and in the middle of the ride, she pulls out a gun and shoots Alan. Danny shows up and is like, “wait, what?” It turns out that Danny is kind of a wimp of a criminal, and that he’s actually not the murdering type. Too bad, says Jane, you’re in it now. They grab Alan’s coat and leave him in the lake somehow submerged. This way it looks like Jane is leaving with the person she showed up with.
Back at the apartment complex, where I’m sure word got ‘round that Alan and Jane were on a rowboat and also here’s what they had for breakfast, Kathy is nosing around their apartment when there’s another stranger at their door. This guy claims to be Don Blake, an old air force buddy of Alan’s who just stopped by for a surprise visit. Kathy tells Don that Alan hasn’t been around much, and that Jane has been acting all weird. Like, Jane has been spending a lot and Alan hasn’t been home recently and Jane is desperately searching for a piece of paper from the train station, things like that. Don offers to look into it, because that’s what old air force buddies do for each other, and they also take their air force buddies’ sisters out for dinner because that’s what they do for each other.
The meet cutes in these movies accelerate the characters’ intentions pretty quickly. “Oh, you’re trying to solve a mystery? We just met, we’ve spent no time together, you’ve only scratched the surface of what I need to look into, wanna go out?” Have a minor adventure, dig deeper into the issue, right? But we’re already pretty deep into the actual movie for the obvious movie romance to develop.
But in these few moments they have together, all Don reveals that he knows about Alan and Jane is that Jane was married before, to a wealthy man, who killed himself after going broke. Also, Don and Kathy should go out.
A few things happen in Jane’s favor. The police stop by to check on the “missing persons” report on Alan. They found Alan’s car (that Danny abandoned) in Mexico, and that they assume that there’s another woman. They just casually ask Jane if she knows about the other woman, because it’s the 40’s so y’know Alan is married and therefore must have a mistress (ask your grandparents if this sort of thing was common. In front of each other). This is slightly comforting to Jane, or at least she seems relieved. Kathy can’t believe it.
Jane is also suspicious of Don Blake because Alan never mentioned serving in the air force with Thor, so she has someone else from Alan’s unit stop by. The man has never seen Don before. Kathy is upset and leaves. And Jane uses this moment to clock Don over the head with Alan’s gun. She flees the apartment and goes to the train station. She pays this guy who was hitting on her to get the package from the locker room. Which the guy does, and then he gives Jane the bag and runs off, because Alan had left a note saying to call the police if Jane picks up the bag. Jane goes to Danny, who is a drunken mess and feels guilty that his innocent blackmail scheme became a murder. So she poisons him and drives off.
(Quick thought: this is the 2nd time in our reviews where a male criminal’s intentions seem like an attempt to make him more sympathetic compared to the cold blooded, ambitious woman. Remember Blonde Ice, the blackmailing pilot? Perhaps this is just the way to have the filmmakers make us feel bad for the victims…the male victims…but c’mon, Danny was knocking Jane around before making out with her just a few reels ago. He’s a jerk.)
In all this, the cops still think that Alan just ran off with another woman. They also think that Danny killed himself over the guilt of blackmailing someone, and tell Don to stop looking into Alan & Jane’s business.
Jane flees to Mexico. She’s living it up in a swanky hotel under her maiden name, and goes on swanky dates with tall dark handsome types. She goes to her lavish room and Don is there. What? She tries to pay him off with some of the money but Don reveals that he is not Don Blake, but Don Blanchard, the brother of her first husband. (Wait, Don never met his brother’s wife, not once while his brother went from wealthy to broke?) Jane insists that Don’s brother killed himself but Don points out Alan and Danny’s fate, and that he called the police. She pulls a gun on Don just as the local police storm the room, and then she trips backward over the balcony ledge…to her death.
As people crowd around, Kathy walks up and Don confirms that that was Jane who had died. As a result, he and Kathy would have to cut their honeymoon short. Kathy kinda smiles as she and Don walk away and THE END and also…what?
So Don and Kathy got married and their honeymoon was to track down Jane? Right?
Wow. I have questions. Yeah, me too. This whole powderkeg of Jane’s bloodlust (I thought she was going to poison Kathy, I thought she was going to kill a motorist who pulled over to help her with a flat on her car) started when someone threw a bag full of money into her car. What are the ODDS? What are the odds that the money ends up in the car of a woman who will do anything to spend more money? One of the most unlikely events that could ever start a chain of chaos in a movie isn’t the macguffin to put our main characters on an adventure. It’s a catalyst to bring out this murderer in waiting. I’d only believe that she DIDN’T kill her first husband because of how shortsighted her plans to kill off her husband and Danny to cover her tracks to get money she’d blow through in weeks. The movie sets up so much that puts everything in her favor even as things go wrong. Did the cops talk to the person they perceived to be Alan, having run off with another woman as they theorized? No, it’s just standard business and best to leave it be. Was the moral that money was the root of all evil? Or that it’s one woman in the world who JUST expressed her envy over someone else’s opulence and she’s given the chance to do something about it when wealth literally drops in her lap, and she turns out to be, and already was, the WORST PERSON EVER.
What I wonder about most is the plot device of “I wish I had it all like this other person OH MY GOD HERE’S MONEY THROWN INTO MY LAP.” Nothing is allowed to fester between those moments. I can’t think of a macguffin introduced in such a way; it’s not an opportunity for our sad antagonist to seize upon when she sees it, it ends up in her car. Not only does she not EARN it, nor does she plot to get it… She wishes for money, POW she has money. Then the dying starts.
So what it good? The plots makes sense (despite the luck Jane has in the beginning) but it was pretty boring. Jane is prepared to be terrible with everyone from the get-go, lying, and then the plot forms around her lies. I didn’t feel tension between Alan and Jane over the money. He’s angry, she’s already plotted. And Don barely has to trip her up at the end, she’s not haunted by anything. It’s not a story of someone turning into a desperate mess after getting what she wanted. It’s a movie from beginning to end about a terrible person.