ShellyBlog Shelly Brisbin's life consists of several long tails. She writes about them here.

July 20, 2017

Too Late for Tears: No One Comes Between Jane And The 60,000 Things She Loves

Filed under: Classic Film — Shelly Brisbin @ 7:53 PM

CineMaven Till Death Us Do Part banner

Too Late For Tears is a noir classic, and one of those films I like to put on for friends who think classic movies are all milquetoast and twin beds. There’s a lot to say about cinematography, film restoration, and even how independent films were pieced together in the late 1940s. But as much as I love those topics, we’re not here for that. We’re here for the plot, and to glory in the ways people who say they love each other end up doing each other in.

That’s the premise of CineMaven’s Till Death Us Do Part Blogathon, of which this post is a part. What I learned after joining this delightful epic of classic movie posting, was that Theresa, our blog hostess, would be rewarding us for our work with a delightful banner. The one she made for me and Too Late for Tears is just above. Thank you, Theresa. And hey, the rest of you, please take the time to go and read all of the blogathon’s great posts about murder and betrayal among married folk. I mean, do that when you’re finished here!

Let’s talk about one of my favorite films of all time, and let’s talk about it like fans, rather than film historians. Spoilers and nothing but abound. I haven’t written down every detail of the plot, but it will feel as If I have. Let’s go!

Maybe it’s happened to you. You’re invited to a party with your spouse. One of you wanted to go all along; the other got dressed up, put on a smile and made the best of things. Even if the night ended with resentment or harsh words, you and your sweetie probably moved on. And you didn’t drive home at top speed with a bag full of ill-gotten money. And one of you most likely didn’t end up dead.

When we meet Jane and Alan Palmer in their car on the way to a party, she’s unhappy. It’s an old story: she feels that the fancy people they’re on the way to see look down their nose at her. And she wants to head home instead of facing them. But Jane doesn’t cry, or scream, or turn her pain inward. When her husband reassures her that everything will be fine, she grabs the wheel, forcing Alan to turn the car around on a dark and twisty road.

And when they’ve made the turn, and a passing motorist has thrown that bag of money into the back of the Palmers car, Jane knows just what to do. She gets into the driver’s seat, orders Alan to get in too, and takes off for home with the money’s intended recipient in hot pursuit. There’s no slow buildup; no subtle sign that something’s a little unusual about Jane. The literal and metaphorical car is going way too fast, and things don’t look good for Alan or anyone else who stands in Jane’s way.

Too Late for Tears (1949) is based on a Roy Huggins story that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. Huggins was the screenwriter for Byron Haskin’s film. Hunt Stromberg was producer, and the film came to be, thanks to Hal B. Wallis, who was making films independently by the late 40s, having been among Warner Brothers’ most prolific producers since the 30s.

It was Wallis who brought noir goddess Lizabeth Scott to Too Late for Tears. Scott was under personal contract to Wallis, as was Kristine Miller, who plays Alan Palmer’s sister Kathy. But we’ll get to her later, as will Jane Palmer. Arthur Kennedy, who played his share of heavies in films, is Alan.

Too Late for Tears poster

The Palmers make it home to their Los Angeles apartment with the bag of money, but not before Jane briefly considers clubbing a cop who stops them for speeding. Dumping the money bag out for a look, Alan estimates there’s $100,000 in cash there, and he reminds Jane that keeping it would be a felony. She takes the opportunity to point out how few of the promises Alan has made to her about financial security have come true. And in case you’re feeling for Jane, it’s worth noting here that the Palmers’ apartment building doesn’t give off noir-shabby vibes. It seems like a nice place, with a parking garage of its own, and an attendant who apparently keeps residents’ cars in tip top shape. The Palmers apartment is spacious and well-appointed.

Alan and Jane agree to hide the money in a railroad station locker for a week while Jane wears him down…I mean, while they decide what to do. Alan is no match for Jane when it comes to deviousness, but it does occur to him to hide the claim ticket for the money bag deep in the lining of his coat. He has allowed Jane to talk him into putting off a decision about what to do. Might as well do the thing right!

Even though Alan has done as Jane asks, she just can’t resist spending a little of the money – borrowing against it, actually – by writing a few too many checks. She make it home with armfuls of purchases, which immediately, and I do mean, immediately, get hidden under the kitchen sink before Jane answers a knock on the door. What good is all that money if you have to hide it, and everything you buy with it?

Jane’s visitor is Danny Fuller, played by Dan Duryea, and initially passing himself off as a private detective. He’s asking questions about Alan and the Palmers’ car. Doesn’t really matter what he’s asking, actually.

Feeling trapped, Jane lets Danny search the place. Of course he finds the shopping, and wants to know where Jane has hidden his money. He was the intended recipient, back there on the road, and he chased Jane and Alan home after they copped the dough. Duryea as Danny starts off strong, slapping Jane around, like he does in so many of his noir roles. It was a trademark move for real-life nice guy Duryea.

No sooner has Jane temporarily gotten Danny off her back than Alan comes home early, wanting to know why their bank account is lighter than usual. Apparently the Palmers’ relationship with their banker is such that he’s called to alert Alan to a diminished balance.

If we hadn’t figured it out already, we learn now that there’s a fundamental difference between the way Alan and Jane see that bag of money. As Jane says, she grew up “white collar poor.” And one more thing: Jane was married before, to a guy named Blanchard who she thought had money, but didn’t.

Next day, Danny returns. It’s already clear that he and Jane aren’t meant to have the usual thug-damsel in distress relationship. She’s more afraid of losing the money than she is of getting knocked around, and Danny leans in close to cajole and threaten. He isn’t slapping her around so much today. He’ll sting along with Jane.

Dan Duryea and Lizabeth Scott in a Too Late for Tears publicity still.

And now we find out just how far Jane will go to keep that bag of money. Alan takes Jane on a date, and as she and Alan glide along a manmade lake in a tiny rented boat, headed toward a rendezvous Jane has set up with Danny, she shoots Alan after the gun she brought along falls out of her bag. Before the shot, Jane has had second thoughts, which feels a little like Production Code interference, if you ask me. Either way, Alan is dead.

When Jane shows up for her meeting with Danny, he has no idea she’s just about to force him into helping her cover up Alan’s death on the lake. Jane sets about putting alibis into place, reports her husband missing, and arranges for the Palmer car to be stolen. Danny? He’s got Alan’s coat and stuff.

And just like that, Danny is tied to Jane. He’s an accessory to murder, and she has the upper hand. The money-stealing, woman-slapping Danny is now a bit disillusioned by the way things are turning out. He’s been taken in, and is maybe tied to a far bigger kind of crime than he’s ever committed. Lizabeth Scott isn’t plain Jane Palmer anymore, either. She’ll always be “Tiger” to Danny.

So Alan is a missing person who might have been cheating, per Jane’s groundwork. Now Jane needs to collect her husband’s coat from Danny, hopefully without letting him know that there’s a very important claim ticket in the lining. That doesn’t work out so well for Jane, though. Sometimes, her greed gets the best of her. More than once, the emotional writing on her face has prevented a pretty good plan form working out the way she wanted. And in this case, Alan has outfoxed her from beyond the grave, though I doubt he’d be gloating about that. There’s no claim ticket in the coat.

While Jane is trying to trick Danny into giving Alan’s coat back, Alan’s sister Kathy is doing a little snooping in the Palmer apartment. She gets caught, not by Jane, but by a new entrant in the story, Don Blake, played for us by Don DeFore. I don’t know if it’s because I ingested a few Hazel reruns as a kid, or what, but Don clearly presents as a good guy. Seriously, if Haskin and Stromberg wanted to leave things mysterious, they wouldn’t have brought in “Mr. B” at this moment in the movie…you know, 15 years before Hazel.

Anyway, Don Blake allows as how he’s an Army buddy of Alan’s. And there are a few tentative sparks between him and Kathy. He knows she’s been searching Alan and Jane’s place, and she knows he doesn’t like Jane – his buddy’s wife he’s never actually met. Oh, and Kathy found the claim ticket under the lining of a drawer in the Palmers’ bedroom.

Hey, what are Jane and Danny up to? He’s putting the moves on her, and she’s in no position to protest. That’s never a comfortable thing to see happening to a woman, even Jane Palmer.

When Jane returns home, she’s showered with visitors; a missing-persons cop, Kathy Palmer, then Don Blake. Jane and Don spar a bit. She’s suspicious of Don’s real connection to Alan. He’s suspicious of her, too, but he handles it a lot more smoothly. Then he lets Jane know that he’s hip to Danny’s presence in and around Jane’s building, though he knows Danny only as that guy in plaid. Jane may be tough as nails, but she’s kind of terrible at hiding her own guilt.

The walls are closing in for Jane, so she does the most logical thing: she plans to poison her sister-in-law to keep her from connecting more dots. And it’s Danny’s job to pick up the poison Jane needs. As he heads out, we see that Mr. B., er, Don, has seen Danny leave Jane’s pad. Connection made!

Whoever Don is in relation to Alan, he and Kathy are officially a team. There’s some clue-hunting and some kissing. Kathy even shows him the claim ticket she found. Is it weird to anyone else that Don just pockets it?

Danny comes through with the poison Jane ordered. And he’s more than a little drunk, and feeling guilty.

Now it’s time for Alan’s real Army buddy to drop a dime on Don, which confuses Kathy. But Jane’s not confused. She holds a gun on Don, gets the ticket and knocks him out. Don’s getting knocked out has made Kathy feel more kindly toward him, even though she still doesn’t know the real story with this guy yet.

Now Jane’s picked up the money bag, but she’s suspicious that the bills might be marked. She heads to Danny’s place. The fear and guilt and liquor he’s taken in during this movie are all taking their toll at once, and he doesn’t want anything to do with Jane or the money. She gets him to tell her where the money came from – blackmail payoff from a rich, but crooked insurance man. And now she knows the money isn’t marked, Danny’s usefulness has come to an end. He dies from the poison he bought, administered by Jane, of course.

Don and the cops find Danny, dead, and Don begins to explain his (accurate) theory about how Alan, and now Danny bought the farm. The cops are skeptical, but Don won’t let go.

Jane and the money are now in Mexico. She’s met a guy, even, but at the end of the evening, she chooses to be alone with her cash, rather than with Carlos.

Don tracks Jane down, and tells her he’s found Alan’s body. He wants to make a deal for a share of the dough. Once he knows she has it, Don tells her who he really is – the brother of Jane’s first husband, Blanchard. Don blames Jane for his brother’s death, which may or may not have actually been suicide, and which was probably motivated by Jane.

Trapped, Jane backs off a balcony, as the money she killed to get rains down on top of her lifeless body.

The only two in Too Late for Tears who end happily are Don and Kathy, who inexplicably got married while tracking Jane to Mexico.

Because happy endings are a requirement, I guess.

July 10, 2016

HOT AND BOTHERED – The Films of 1932 Blogathon: American Madness

Filed under: Classic Film — Tags: , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 8:49 AM

American madness shelly blog  1

UPDATED: Please enjoy my very own Hot and Bothered Blogathon banner. Thanks, Theresa!

Blogathons are a thing in the world of classic film writing. They’re great fun, and I read a lot of them. I admire writers who accept the challenge of crafting posts that fit a theme. So this is my first blogathon entry; a post about one of my favorite early Frank Capra films, American Madness. Thanks to Theresa of CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch, who is hosting today’s posts, and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, who kicked things off yesterday. Go and read them all! If you’ve come here from one of those great sites, expecting to find a film blog, don’t worry, you’re in the right place, and welcome! I’m a tech writer and a podcaster in my professional life, but I have loved classic films since high school days, and I will be writing on the subject more regularly.

Proto-Capra: American Madness

Even among the handful of classic films that are seen and remembered by modern audiences, It’s a Wonderful Life occupies a rarified place. And its director, Frank Capra enjoys more name recognition among casual classic watchers than almost any other filmmaker of the period, except maybe John Ford. What more devoted classic film fans know is that Capra had been making films for 25 years before IAWW, some of which prefigured its idealism, while also existing in a very different, and less optimistic time than does the Christmas classic. American Madness (1932) is one of these. Made during Capra’s time as the most important director at poverty-row studio, Columbia, it bears many of the director’s trademark touches and ideas, but also exists in a Depression-era milieu, with just a hint of pre-code shenanigans on the margins.

American Madness 1932 poster

In 1932, Capra was big fish in a small pond. Columbia had few stars of its own, relying on loan-outs from bigger studios like MGM and Warner Brothers to fill the top rungs of its film casts. Capra’s films, which do not look cheaply made, nevertheless saved studio head Harry Cohn money by limiting the action to a few sets. American Madness takes place almost entirely in the Union National Bank building, an echo-y, high-ceilinged elegant old place, whose like you rarely see in the 21st century. The vault room is all heavy doors, and gears and decorative metal; the lobby is decorated in marble and dark wood. Both photography and sound design contribute much to the film’s atmosphere and quality.

Bank vault

Though Capra’s reputation was made with the idealistic “Capra corn” films of later years, his Columbia output fit squarely in the pre-code era. By the time of _American Madness, he had already made Platinum Blonde with Jean Harlow, and begun his collaborations with Barbara Stanwyck, helming Ladies of Leisure and The Miracle Woman. Capra had also started working with writer Robert Riskin, who wrote or co-wrote most of Capra’s films in the 30s. Though Riskin (a progressive Democrat) and Capra (a conservative Republican) had different politics, their ideals met on the page, combining a distrust of institutions that were subject to corrupting influences with a faith in the ability of an individual to make a difference.

American Madness tells the story of bank president Tom Dickson (Walter Huston), an idealist who believes that a person’s character, rather than collateral, are the best indicator of whether he’ll be able to pay back a bank loan. We learn that Dickson has also applied his generous gut feelings about people to hiring decisions, giving Matt Brown (Pat O’Brien) a job as teller after Matt was caught trying to rob the banker’s house. Matt and most of the bank’s other employees seem to venerate Dickson. Obstacles to Dickson’s big-heartedness come in the form of the bottom-line focused board of directors who want to diminish Dickson’s power by merging with a larger bank, and a bank manager (Cluett, played by Gavin Gordon) who has racked up gambling debts to gangsters, and developed an unsavory liking for Tom’s lonely wife, Phyllis (Kay Johnson.)

Tom Dickson fights with the board

It transpires that the gangsters will only forgive Cluett’s debts if he’ll let them help themselves to the contents of the vault, during the night. Cluett sets up an alibi, squiring Phyllis around, then inviting her up to his place while the robbery, which results in the death of a night watchman, is going on. They’re seen by Matt, who begs Phyllis not to do her husband wrong. Our first indication that Cluett is unlikely to skate out of this movie as a victim of circumstance, he pulls a gun on Matt to hasten his exit from the apartment.

Next day, news of the robbery travels quickly and gets exaggerated all out of proportion, thanks to a literal game of telephone. It all culminates in a run on the bank, complete with colorful customers we met the day before, panicked now, and employees scrambling to keep things under control. Now Dickson has more to worry about than the board. He has to find a way to get enough cash to pay off depositors, so that he can restore confidence in the bank.

bank run

In the meantime, noble Matt, who’s devoted to his boss, and is in line for a promotion, knows that Cluett and Mrs. D. were together, and that telling what he knows will allow Matt to save himself from arrest. Of course, it’ll also hurt his beloved boss to learn that he, Cluett, and Phyllis were in Cluett’s apartment at the time of the robbery.

In the end, Cluett is found out by the cops, confronted by Dickson, who suggests that he would have helped Cluett, if the manager had come to him. There’s that blind faith in character from Dickson, which is rewarded elsewhere in the film, but which we’re pretty sure is misplaced in Cluett’s case. As the bank run intensifies, a shaken Dickson calls everyone he knows for help saving the bank. There’s even a moment, so typical of pre-code films, when the camera pans to a gun in Dickson’s desk. After a pep talk from Matt, and a lot of “no’s,” enough of the people Dickson has asked to help the bank with emergency cash infusions (mostly little guys in town, not fellow bankers) come through. The bank president is able to calm the surging crowd, and regain his wife’s love by recommitting himself to the marriage.

A lone man, doing what’s right (and talking a lot about it) is a go-to device for Capra and Riskin. Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy and James Stewart (twice) took on the role in later films, Walter Huston, as banker Tom Dickson, is no less up to the challenge. Huston has an orator’s voice, and a dynamic physical presence as he confronts the directors in the board room, offers encouragement to his staff and customers, and delivers stirring speeches about what he believes in, to all of them. Unlike later Capra heroes, Huston begins the movie in charge of the institution he must save. He’s not working to reform it from the outside. Only in his dealings with his wife does he seem to be making mistakes. She can’t make him hear that he has neglected her, and learning that she’s been out with Cluett is devastating for Dickson. At the end, of course, that’s all resolved, and while banker Dickson wins over his panicked customers, and overpowers the obstreperous board members, he apologizes to his wife in a way that we are meant to believe will stick.

Despite the essential drama of the plot, including the ugliness of a crowd that could become a mob if a solution can’t be found, American Madness has its share of humor, mostly provided by character actors in small parts. The film opens with the bank’s ditzy switchboard operator (Polly Walters) who yawns and baby-talks her way through directing calls. We’ll see her several more times during the movie, including a pivotal moment when she unthinkingly contributes to the bank panic. There are bits of business between Huston and various hapless bank employees, and even a recurring gag which works less well, wherein a timid board member (Arthur Hoyt) never manages to finish a sentence, because his colleagues cut him off. Bank customers, and a hard-nosed police inspector (Robert Emmett O’Connor) round out the entertaining minor players who take the edge off the panic as they wander through the film.

Critics, mostly with the benefit of Capra’s entire body of work to mark it against, suggested that American Madness is less thoroughly realized than later works, like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. But American Madness seems more a part of the time in which it was made than do Capra’s later films. In fact, the movie closed in Baltimore after two days because a real bank run in the city made the movie version feel a little too close to home. Today, it feels a little like a historical document; of Capra’s development as a filmmaker and idealist, of the Depression, of Walter Huston at the top of his powers, and even as an homage to architecture in the time of awesome bank edifices.

June 2, 2016

Noir City Austin #3

Filed under: Classic Film — Shelly Brisbin @ 9:14 AM

The third installment of the Film Noir Foundation’s (FNF) Noir City Austin filled my weekend. The Alamo Drafthouse’ downtown branch — specifically, Theater 1 — played host to two days and three nights of hard-boiled classics, including a few rarities and new restorations. I want to write about a couple of the films I saw, but let’s start with a bit of an introduction to the roadshow version of Noir City.

Eddie Muller’s Film Noir Foundation has hosted the annual festival of dark films in San Francisco for the past fourteen years. It’s a big deal, in a historical theater, and it attracts celebrity guests on both sides of the screen. A few years ago, FNF branched out, bringing Noir City to agreeable cities around the country. Austin got its first Noir City three years ago; not the week-plus marathon of the Sn Francisco mother festival, but a jam-packed weekend of screenings hosted at the Alamo Drafthouse. The Alamo, it should be noted, has branched out, too, and you’ll even find one in the FNF’s hometown.

Beyond educating and entertaining audiences by presenting great films on the big screen, FNF uses Noir City to evangelize its mission to preserve the history of noir. Film prints fall into disrepair over time. Ownership changes, and the commitment of studios and other rights-holders to preserving films that have little commercial appeal tends to waiver. FNF works with film preservationists, locating missing film elements, and funding restorations. These cleaned up, great-looking prints usually form the backbone of a Noir City event, bringing rarely screened titles, and a much improved viewing experience to film fans.

May 10, 2016

Try, Try Again

Filed under: Classic Film,Random Personal Nonsense — Shelly Brisbin @ 1:02 PM

I have always intended this blog to be a place to collect the work, and other creative projects I make. I created categories and design elements that would make it possible for someone who shares my interest in accessibility, podcasting, or cocktails, to follow just the posts and plugs for those topics. But some projects got more attention from me than others, and a few simply taunt me from the sidebar. Now i’m enlisting you in my effort to broaden and deepen my involvement in what the mashed up there calls long tails. To cut to the chase, your job is to hold me accountable in whatever way you wish to. Spam comments do not count.

Here’s where we’ll start. I read blogs about classic film every day, and watch one or two fabulous old movies a week Last week, I put the #TCMFF hashtag into my Tweetdeck, raptly watching the comings and goings of bloggers I follow. But wishing I’d been in LA for the TCM Classic Film Fesival, or even wishing I’d created a classic film blog or podcast has generated zero results. If I’m going to earn the Classic Film category I made for the blog, I’m gonna have to write.

First project is Noir City Austin, the local imprint of the Film Noir Foundation’s festival of classic, dark movies. I have tickets to five of the seven double features, and I’m committing to at least two posts; either reviews of individual films, or appreciations of the Noir City event itself. 

Next on the calendar, and this is one where promising a contribution to a group project injects an element of personal responsibility, I’ve signed up to participate in a blogathon that goes live in July. In the film blogging world, blogathons are a thing. An organizer sets a theme, and people who want to write about that theme sign up to participate. The organizer posts links to everyone’s work on the appointed day, and voluminous Web traffic results. Or it should result. I’ll announce the actual blogathon later, but I will say that I’m writing about the 1932 Walter Huston film, American Madness

Stay tuned, and, if you’re so inclined, help keep me honest.

April 17, 2015

Wag a Long Tail: Pondering How to Write about Old Movies

Filed under: Classic Film,General Store,Random Personal Nonsense — Tags: , , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 9:43 AM

A few weeks ago, I updated the categories on my little blog. I wanted to give some love to the various long tails referenced up there in the tagline. OK, so write something, already!

I’ve loved classic film since high school, when I…that’s a blog post I’ll write later. Suffice it to say, old movies have been an obsession of mine for EVER. And, like most hobbies, or fandoms, or relic-worship topics, the Internet has been very good to classic film fans like me. My RSS reader is full of blogs about it, and they inspire me. But I continue to struggle with finding a focus for the writing I want to do. Some people review films. Others write profiles of actors and directors. A few film historians place the movies they love in the context of film history. Genres including film noir and pre-codes have their own blogs, too. 

My first film-writing project will be the second annual Noir City Austin festival, coming to town in May. It’s 12 movies in one weekend, all based on the writing of Cornell Woolrich. He, by the way, figures prominently in the detective and suspense dramas of old-time radio. There’s another long tail for the category list! 

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