Too Late for Tears / Woman on the Run Blu-rays Review: At Long Last, Lost Noir

There is nothing quite so overwhelming as being utterly unable to control one’s situation. Despite all of our best efforts, we remain powerless to stop the unseen forces of time and fate. All over the planet, archaeologists have discovered the remains of vast cities and civilizations which have either been buried away by the sands of time or destroyed by cruel acts of fate. For those of us who like to refer to ourselves as film buffs, similar disasters and overall bad bits of luck have obscured many a motion picture. And while the ultimate uncovering of a previously lost flick by a group of devoted explorers may not garner the same amount of reverence as would the unexpected unearthing of a lost jungle metropolis, the significance of people from all over the world pulling their resources in order to rediscover and restore an old movie a great majority of Earth’s current inhabitants has never seen is just as important.

In the case of Too Late for Tears (1949) and Woman on the Run (1950), two recently released titles from Flicker Alley, we are able to not only see two previously lost photoplays as they were originally meant to be seen, but we also see the end result of years of research, dedication, and eventual restoration by the folks at the Film Noir Foundation, whom I would gladly leave everything I had to. If I actually had anything to leave to anyone, that is. Of course, sometimes, we’re better off with what we have in life, as the cunning, cold Lizabeth Scott (The Strange Love of Martha Ivers) learns in Too Late for Tears. Released in 1949 by United Artists, the Republic Pictures production from former MGM honcho Hunt Stromberg asks the age-old question “What would youdo if a shitload of money was suddenly dropped in your lap?”.

Well, when you’re Lizabeth Scott’s Jane Palmer, you do whatever it takes to make sure nobody else gets their mitts on it. Following a weird drive-by drop-off late at night on a windy, lonely stretch of road, a discontent Jane and her mild-mannered hubby Alan ‒ as personified by five-time Oscar nominee Arthur Kennedy (of The Lusty Men and The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue fame) ‒ suddenly find themselves much, much richer. While Alan, who is perfectly content with life, sees the tax-exempt “gift” for what it really is ‒ unlawfully legal legal tender, which must be reported to the police ASAP ‒ the aggrandizing Jane has other ideas, such as fur coats, plush penthouse apartments, and a lifetime of luxury. And while it’s certainly a lovely little fantasy, poor diluted Jane should really take a step back to read the fine print: as there is no guaranteed method of measuring just how long such a lifetime will last.

Sure enough, Jane’s bright and sunny future is soon overcome with many dark clouds. The first of which is a slap-happy tough guy named Danny ‒ as played by one of film noir’s quintessential slap-happy tough guys, Dan Duryea (in what is probably his most sympathetic role ever, which is highly irregular, but jaw-droppingly beautiful to behold ‒ who claims to be the “rightful” owner of the cache. Soon, Jane is engaged in things which time and fate excel at (e.g. burying things), garnering the concern of Alan’s sister (the unbelievably gorgeous Kristine Miller), who lives across the hall, as well another mysterious fellow (Don DeFore), who claims to be Mr. Palmer’s ex-army buddy. Future cinematic sci-fi pioneer Byron Haskin (The War of the Worlds, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, The Outer Limits) directs from a taut screenplay by Roy Huggins (adapted from his own 1947 story).

Sadly, Too Late for Tears‘ original negative was lost in the proverbial waters of time’s own MacArthur Park ‒ resulting in only shoddy, edited Public Domain dupes of the 1955 re-issue (Killer Bait) being available domestically. A recent unveiling of a well-preserved 35mm print in France, however, beget a five-year labor of love between the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film and Television Archive to bring us the definitive presentation of a movie that deserves more than just a look-see. Flicker Alley’s two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo release features an audio commentary by Alan K. Rode, and two featurettes about the making and restoration of the film, featuring Film Noir Foundation president Eddie Muller and a host of venerable film historians including Julie Kirgo, Kim Morgan, and Scott MacQueen. A souvenir booklet with an essay by Brian Light is highlighted by a series of photographs and artwork.

Time was just as unkind to the fate of Flicker Alley’s other must-have release, Woman on the Run. Originally distributed by Universal-International in 1950, this picture ‒ one of a handful of tiny titles made by a doomed production company (Fidelity Pictures) ‒ finds yet another husky voiced actress in the lead. But you wouldn’t know it straight off the bat, as the film opens with a mob-like murder ‒ perpetrated by another bad guy named Danny (!) ‒ which is witnessed by an everyday average man named Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott), who gets a few bullets shot his way for his troubles. Frank’s common sense soon kicks in, and he’s off hiding in the shadows of the blue-collar San Francisco of 1950, taking full advantage of his average, easy-to-miss looks. From there, the story is helmed by Frank’s wife, Eleanor, personified by Ann Sheridan (who co-produced the production in an effort to save her unfortunately waning career).

Trouble is, Eleanor’s marriage to Frank is so rocky, only their dog Rembrandt (you’ll figure it out) misses him. As a parade of police detectives (led by the dream teaming of Robert Keith and his cinematic understudy, the one and only Frank Jenks) infiltrate Eleanor’s life, our heroine strikes up an alliance with annoying, fast-talking, always on the move reporter with a flair for mischief, and who is aptly named Leggett (Dennis O’Keefe, Brewster’s Millions, The Naked Flame). As our unlikely duo scours the streets of a picture postcard-perfect San Francisco looking for the man who is missing, Eleanor begins to discover she may actually be missing her man as she solves cryptic clues he leaves behind as to his whereabouts. A climactic roller coaster ride (Man in the Dark, anyone?), replete with mocking cries of carnival laughter as Ms. Sheridan cries out in terror to her lost lover is a powerful highlight.

Orson Welles protégé Norman Foster ‒ who started out directed Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto films at Fox (and later helmed the amusingly bad rodeo noir Sky Full of Moon, which I like to poke fun at every chance I get to) ‒ constructs a marvelous, atmospheric yarn here. Featuring supporting roles by John Qualen and Victor Sen Yung, the film’s witty dialogue is credited to Foster and screenwriter Alan Campbell (A Star is Born). According to one of the accompanying featurettes of this Flicker Alley release, however, most of the film’s cast contributed much to the storytelling process, which is just one of the many fascinating tidbits to learn from Eddie Muller (who also take the audio commentary spotlight this time around, audibly expressing his undying love for the feature via a separate track) and returning guests Julie Kirgo, Kim Morgan, and Scott MacQueen.

Two additional featurettes are also included for Woman on the Run. The first looks at the extensive restoration work (another instance where the movie fell into Public Domain and had to be composited from several varying sources ‒ including a minor case of video piracy which you can’t help but laugh at!). The second is a thorough Then and Now peek at the many SF locations used in the film. But get ready to be depressed though, kids: almost everything has been torn down or paved over to make way for corporate stores! A promo piece for San Francisco’s annual Noir City Film Festival rounds out the disc’s special features, with Mr. Muller getting the final (printed) word on the film via the included souvenir booklet. Woman on the Run also comes as a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, and both releases (which are in every way identical to the UK Arrow Academy releases from what I gather) are Region Free.

Rescued from the unforgivably cruel hands of time and fate alike, both of these lost noirs come highly recommended.

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Luigi Bastardo

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