Hardly Too Late for Criminal Tears: A Film Noir Double Feature

Eddie Muller’s annual Noir City festival is back at the SIFF Uptown here in Seattle, and this year he’s focused on foreign films, although not exclusively. I caught two of the films yesterday.

Argentine poster for Hardly a Criminal

The first was an Argentine film called Hardly a Criminal (Apenas un delincuente, 1949), which was in some ways more interesting for its provenance than as a film. Muller talked about how he made contact four years ago with the people in Buenos Aires who found the nearly full original cut of Metropolis, and how they have been showing him some of the other things they have in their archive. He liked this film enough that he had another print struck from it, with English subtitles. (The subtitles are full of errors, if fairly minor ones, so I’m not sure who did the translation.) It was directed by Hugo Fregonese and was the last film he made in Argentina before going to Hollywood, where he would direct, amongst other things, the very fine B Western, Apache Drums (1951), for Val Lewton. Muller described Hardly a Criminal as being influenced by Jules Dassin, with the first half riffing (or perhaps rififi-ing) on the shot-in-the-streets, semi-docu feeling of The Naked City (1948) and the second half riffing on the prison film,¬†Brute Force (1947). This is the story of a disgruntled clerk who embezzles a large sum of money with the idea that he’ll do the prison time and still have the money when he gets out. The character is interesting and the film is well made, but over all it felt a bit routine to me. Noir City is invaluable, however, for providing this kind of broader view of how noir was part of a large dialogue going on, not just between different genres (or, for that matter, eras) in Hollywood, for example, but between different film-making centers around the world.

Poster for Too Late for TearsThe second film that I saw was the far more entertaining Hollywood film Too Late for Tears (1949), which Muller’s Film Noir Foundation spent five years restoring. This was an independent production that, like many independent productions, fell through the cracks over the ¬†years because there was no studio with an interest in preserving it. Director Byron Haskin had an interesting career, starting as a cinematographer in the silent era and moving on to special effects before becoming a director in the ’40s. In 1948 he directed the noir I Walk Alone for Hal B. Wallis, which is a minor favorite of mine. But the main attraction of Too Late for Tears is the pairing of Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea, who are given some punchy, loopy dialogue to spout by writer Roy Huggins, who went on to become a major TV producer for such shows as Maverick and The Fugitive. This film is classic femme fatale noir. A bag of blackmail cash is thrown by mistake into a car driven by Lizabeth Scott and her husband, played by Arthur Kennedy. Duryea is the blackmailer who was supposed to get the dosh, and he comes looking for it. Muller argued that this was Scott’s greatest role, although Scott herself apparently doesn’t care for the film. She plays the fatalest of femme fatales, and her cold, killing instincts are a great part of the fun, along with the catchy dialogue and strange plot spasms. Kennedy and Duryea play two different kinds of chumps, with Duryea at first seeming like a real tough guy. But no, the real tough guy is Scott. Don’t let the poster fool you. As for whether this is really her best role, I think I’d still vote for another film she made in 1949, Jacques Tourneur’s Easy Living, because her character in that one, while vain and selfish, isn’t so purely, cartoonishly evil. Still, there’s no denying the juiciness of this role. Scott usually played a slightly (or more than slightly) tarnished good girl, and given a chance to play the villain, she lets it rip. Highly recommended, and I just noticed that it’s available for viewing on Amazon Instant, although I have no idea whether it’s this restored version.

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