Lizabeth Scott did her best remembered work in film noir (more than half of her only 21 screen credits fall within the noir cycle), and became one of its iconic faces. Rarely, however, was she called upon to play the fully-fledged femme fatale, and there's probably a reason for this: She couldn't bring off duplicity.
Her smile had no shadings into wry, or ironic, or smirky; it had but one setting a fresh, guileless grin that lit up like a Christmas tree. F. Scott Fitzgerald (in his sad screenwriting days) observed of Joan Crawford that you couldn't give her a simple stage direction like `telling a lie' because then she'd give an impersonation of Benedict Arnold betraying West Point to the British. But Scott can't manage even that, which results in confusingly mixed signals when her characters are motivated by malice, like Coral Chandler in Dead Reckoning: Her smile keeps convincing us that she's on the up-and-up.
Her damn smile keeps switching on in Too Late For Tears, even though there's no doubt that she's one hard, cold case. She and husband Arthur Kennedy are bickering one night en route to a party in the Hollywood Hills when suddenly a suitcase crammed with cash lands in their roadster. He wants to turn it over to the police, but she persuades him to think it over, so they check the valise at Union Station. When she starts buying clothes and furs against the checked capital, it's clear she has no intention of surrendering the windfall; we learn that her background was `white-collar poor, middle-class poor,' and that she'd made a previous marriage solely for money.
Strange men start ringing her doorbell. First Dan Duryea shows up, a blackmailer for whom the payoff was intended. He slaps her around playfully (`What do they call you besides stupid,' she taunts him. `Stupid will do if you don't bruise easily,' he purrs back). Quickly Scott maneuvers Duryea into helping him murder Kennedy but still won't tell him where the money's stashed. Though wary, he falls for her, starts hitting the bottle, and grows careless. Meanwhile, Kennedy's sister (Kristine Miller) harbors suspicions about his mysterious disappearance. When the next caller (Don DeFore) shows up, claiming to be an old Air Corps buddy of Kennedy's, she makes an alliance with him to find out what's really going on. And the claim ticket for the money keeps changing hands....
The plot is none too simple, and in consequence director Byron Haskin spends a lot of time trying to keep it clear rather than addressing some questions about character and logic that inevitably arise. Why did the avaricious, manipulative Scott marry Kennedy in the first (or second) place? Why does the sister live so conveniently close? How did Duryea, and for that matter DeFore, find Scott so easily? But few thriller plots are so tightly constructed that they survive rigorous analysis. Too Late For Tears passes muster as hard-boiled, late-40s noir and as one of Scott's hardest, strongest performances, inappropriate smile and all.
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