Previous Top Ten By Year: 1949 Posts:
Top Ten By Year: 1949 – Poll Results
100 Images from the Films of 1949
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1949: A Love Letter
#10. The Queen of Spades (UK/Dickinson)
#9. Rendezvous in July (Becker)/Au royaume des cieux (Duvivier) (France)
For those unaware of my Top Ten By Year project:
The majority of my viewing habits have been dictated by this project since September of 2013. Jumping to a different decade each time, I choose comparatively weaker years for me re: quantity of films seen/quantity of films loved. I use list-making as a way to see more films and revisit others in a structured and project-drive way. I was sick of spending too much time trying to decide what to watch, or watching films just to cross them off another dumb canon list. I wanted to engage. I wanted films to be enhanced by others, by looking at a specific moment in time. I wanted something that led me to seeing or revisiting things I might not have gotten to otherwise. Lastly, my lists are based on personal favorites, not any weird notion of an objective best.
This is the first year I’ll be doing separate posts for each film. #9 will go up Monday. After that, one will go up each day until the end. Then I’ll post them all together so they are gathered in one place. There are a lot of films I loved that did not make the cut. In particular, Flamingo Road, Such a Pretty Little Beach, On the Town, Inspirace, The Reckless Moment, Reign of Terror, The Rocking Horse Winner, and Samson and Delilah are all films I thought at one point would be on here. Of all of these, Flamingo Road was a sure thing until it wasn’t at the very last minute. Please go watch it.
#8. Too Late for Tears (US / Haskin) (First-time watch)
Unsurprisingly, I watched and rewatched a lot of noirs for 1949. A few of them (Follow Me Quietly, Tension, and Too Late for Tears) are grubby little things; Bs streaked with nasty. I am fond of all three, but Too Late for Tears is in a league of its own. The film bombed and bankrupted Hunt Stromberg Productions. It received mixed reviews from critics. Its star Lizabeth Scott named it as her least favorite of the films she appeared in (why?!?!). The writer, Roy Huggins (adapting his own work), also hated it. They were all so wrong. All this time it was only available in a barely legible public domain copy, until 2016 when UCLA and the Film Noir Foundation performed their incredible restoration on it. Too Late for Tears is not the only film in this top ten that gets labeled as noir, but it’s the only true knock-down drag-out one of the bunch. It scratches that particular itch for duplicitous dames and charismatic lowlifes.
A Love Letter to Jane Palmer,
So many femme fatales play what’s-her-angle with the audience. Not Jane Palmer. She’s got a money complex, which she blames on coming from “the kind of people who can’t quite keep up with the Joneses and die a little every day because they can’t”. The apartment she has with her husband (Arthur Kennedy) is nice and quite spacious, but bare and not a house (or a penthouse); old Hollywood code for Humble Living. But all that could change, because as soon as Too Late for Tears starts, a suitcase of money is tossed into their car. From there it’s up to us to keep up with Jane and up to others to catch her. Her husband certainly can’t do either. From the start it is clear she is on her side, and the side of crisp green paper. In the early going she tries to make her side their side. But that quickly falls through and all bets are off.
Both Too Late for Tears and Caught (which I’ll be talking about later) center around materialism; specifically, the notion of female materialism. In Caught, Leonora buys into the idea of money-as-endgame; she is the average result of the new postwar consumerism. This is all challenged; first by her reality, then more explicitly by another man, and finally, herself. On this point Jane never falters. The gleam in her eye is permanent, one that only the diamond necklace she eventually adorns can hope to match. Her itch for the green propels not just her but the entire film. The suitcase doesn’t initiate a transformation — it provides the welcome mat, an invitation to step into herself. In a telling speech to her husband she claims “I haven’t changed. It’s just the way I am”. What was telegraphed in the first scene (she doesn’t want to see Alan’s “condescending” rich friends) was just the tip of the disillusioned iceberg. She hates it all and she wants out. That suitcase is the starting pistol — anddddd she’s off!
Lizabeth Scott is all high cheekbone and pout, her face framed by the light bouncing off the waves of her hair. Her voice is hoarse with husk and her words possess a slightly mealy texture. Age isn’t readable on her. Angles and lines foreshadow the Lauren Bacall of the 50s, yet there’s also an odd (very vague) Maria Bamford-ness there. In the same year she also plays Liza in Easy Living, another greedy and heartless gal. There, she is afforded no perspective, and the film ends with a shocking act that seems intended to be taken as what she deserved (although I favor a much bleaker, more complex reading). In Too Late for Tears she is seen almost anthropologically, as if the suitcase was part of some sadistic psychological experiment: let’s see what Jane does! This is supported by Scott’s incredible performance, which is full of emotional transparency. Everything shows on her face. Unlike most femme fatales, she is not an enigma. We always see the cogs moving and the fire burning. We understand her all too well, perhaps more than we are comfortable with.
Jane dares to be a woman that goes the criminal distance for greed, not love. Doesn’t she know only men can do that? Jane’s perceived perversity takes on a “what are you?” quality, represented by the great Dan Duryea, resident Roger Rabbit weasel. Danny Fuller (Duryea) realizes he’s in over his head with his dame. His downward spiral, which Duryea milks so much empathy and pathos out of, is triggered by the fact that Jane Palmer is just too evil, even for him.
In the opening getaway chase we already glimpse her barely suppressed smile in the midst of legitimate danger. Later on, Danny slaps and threatens his way through the apartment, demanding his money back. Everything is at risk and she doesn’t have a course of action yet. But we dissolve into the next scene, which takes place that same afternoon, and you’d think she doesn’t have a care in the world! Why? Because she’s too enamored with her new mink coat (also note: mink plays a huge symbolic role in Caught) to let the threat of Duryea get her down. She looks down at her new possession lovingly and packs it away. Any danger she is in cannot eclipse the ecstasy of money.
But she feels the danger — all of it. And at one point her conscience even wavers. It is a critical slingshot moment for her; she is momentarily pulled back and then catapulted forward by her actions. She is hell-bent but not unfeeling. Late in the film she commits a murder. While she doesn’t waver (or regret it) she looks horrified when it happens, as if she didn’t just poison a man!
From the start she’s cracked, slightly deranged even. She’s got an unnerving and unblinking smile when she calls bluffs (and remember that permanent gleam)? Danny knows she’s cracked, Kathy (Kristine Miller) knows she is duplicitous, and Blake (Don DeFore) knows she’s a parasite. She is flying by the seat of her pants. She’s not a criminal, and she’s never had to outsmart people like this before. But she will. Too Late for Tears sustains tension by pitting Jane’s multi-faceted transparency and her inexperienced ruthlessness against the constant precipice of exposure (reappearing guns, missing claims tickets, and a man with an agenda abound) and the fact that every character knows she’s not on the level. You can’t miss her desperation: Jane is on warp speed. Because this is the chance of a lifetime, and you’ll have to pry that money from her cold dead hands.