7.0/10
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31 user 15 critic

The Late Show (1977)

A grumpy semi-retired private investigator partners with a quirky female client to catch the people who murdered his partner.

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 4 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Ira Wells
...
Margo Sterling
...
Charlie Hatter
...
Ron Birdwell
...
Laura Birdwell
...
Jeff Lamar
Ruth Nelson ...
Mrs. Schmidt
John Davey ...
Sergeant Dayton
...
Harry Regan
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Storyline

Ira Wells is an aged retired Los Angeles based private investigator, who is slightly overweight, needs to wear a hearing aid, has a bum leg and an ulcer-laden stomach, and can only afford to rent a room in a house as a place to live. He decides to come out of retirement when a still active contemporary, Harry Regan, shows up on his doorstep with a bullet wound to the gut, from which he eventually dies. Ira wants to find out who killed Harry. Ira is contacted by another long-time acquaintance, Charlie Hatter, a self-proclaimed loser and Hollywood hack, about Harry's last case, something about which probably led to Harry's death. Harry's client was Margo Sterling, a former client of Charlie's who is a flaky penniless new-ageist actress/agent/dress maker. She hired Harry to retrieve her missing cat, Winston, who is still being held ransom by an acquaintance named Brian Hemphill. Ira learns from Margo that Brian hired her to transport goods for him, she unconcerned that those goods ... Written by Huggo

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Taglines:

The nicest movie you'll ever see about murder and blackmail. [Lobby Card] See more »


Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »

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Details

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Release Date:

4 July 1977 (Denmark)  »

Also Known As:

La última investigación  »

Company Credits

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Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Of the five cinema movie collaborations of actress Lily Tomlin and Robert Altman, this film was the only one that Altman did not direct, as Altman was the head producer on the picture only. Tomlin was directed by Altman on Nashville (1975), The Player (1992), Short Cuts (1993), and A Prairie Home Companion (2006), the latter being Altman's final film. Prior to _The Late Show_, Robert Altman had just recently directed a detective film himself about four years earlier, that being The Long Goodbye (1973) based on the novel by Raymond Chandler. See more »

Goofs

The first close-up of Charlie's white shoes with blood on them also shows Ira's black shoes right next to him, but Ira doesn't walk up to help Charlie until the following shot. See more »

Quotes

Lamar: This old fart's crazy!
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Connections

Spin-off Eye to Eye (1985) See more »

Soundtracks

What Was
Lyrics by Stephen Lehner
Music by Kenneth Wannberg (as Ken Wannberg)
Sung by Bev Kelly
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User Reviews

One of my top ten overlooked classics
7 July 2000 | by (San Francisco, California) – See all my reviews

Here's a wonderful, offbeat little film directed by Robert Benton, who directed Kramer vs. Kramer, and Nobody's Fool. He also wrote the screenplay, which received an Oscar nomination, so I guess it wasn't ignored entirely when it came out. Critics often dismiss The Late Show with a tart "Well, it's no Chinatown" (which came out three years earlier). That's too bad because it's a sly, engaging, funny detective thriller in its own right that manages to rise above the constraints of the genre and reach some memorable emotional heights along the way.

Art Carney plays Ira Welles, an over-the-hill private eye with a hearing aid, a bad leg, and a bleeding ulcer. It's almost as if Benton said: "hey, what would happen if Phillip Marlowe were still alive and kicking and living in the seedy part of Los Angeles in the mid-'70s?" Making the hero a senior citizen makes even more sense in the noir context than having him be the usual tough guy in the peak of health.

Things start off with a bang, or at least a whimper, when his partner Harry shows up with a bullet hole in his stomach (a la Maltese Falcon). Ira shows us what he's all about right away when tells his soon to be dead colleague: "Sorry you're going off, pal. You've been real good company." Ira is a throwback who spends serious amounts of time at the racetrack, lives in a boarding house, gets everywhere by bus (in LA?), calls women "Dolly," and values notions of honor and loyalty to one's partner above all else.

This world runs smack against the more permissive, loopy, go with-the-flow attitudes of the late-Sixties, early-Seventies, in the guise of Margo (Lily Tomlin). Margo is a laconic blatherskite who burns incense, lives in a room full of batik and macramé, and listens to meditation tapes. She goes to Ira for help when her cat Winston is kidnapped by a disgruntled fence whom she neglected to pay. Ira refuses to get involved with such nonsense until he realizes the catnapper also had something to with the death of his partner.

This kicks off an appropriately convoluted noir plot of epic complexity that involves murderous fences, infidelity, blackmail, and a steadily mounting body count. But the plot takes a backseat to the subtly changing, often touching relationship between the two lead characters. These two seemingly polar opposites actually have a lot in common.

They are both misfits who have constructed elaborate lies that they inhabit. Ira tells Margo that he's always been a loner, yet he spends his evenings playing canasta with his landlady, risks his life to find his partner's killer, and finds himself slowly warming up to Margo despite her air of flaky desperation. Margo flits from one identity to the next. One minute she's an actress, the next a dress designer, and the next a talent agent. In reality, she's mule for a two-bit fence and has to deal grass on the side to make ends meet. "I only do it to get my shrink paid," she tells a disapproving Ira.

Art Carney and Lily Tomlin play the push-me-pull-you dynamic between the two for all they're worth. Carney has a terrific moment when he collapses in pain due to ulcer pain and tells Margo not to take him to the hospital. In Tomlin's hands, Margo is one of the great screen neurotics, yet she's much savvier and sharper than she seems at first, and is able to finally rise to face the challenge of some pretty hairy situations. The Late Show is a real gem from the last truly great decade of American movies.


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